Star-crossed, roads intertwined, woven from the same fabric … whatever you want to call it, you know when someone is in it for the long haul.

I remember ever so vividly the first time David and I met. I was sitting on a black, rubber-tyre swing in the neighbourhood park, legs tucked in, dangling to-and-fro. The breeze was blowing behind my ears and against my back.

Suddenly I was under attack, by the local gang of boys. They surrounded me, all four of them, casting an overlapping shadow across my daunted face.

“You think you’re better than us, huh, stick boy?! How about giving us R20 and we’ll let you go,” Israel, their leader, said. He grabbed me by the scruff of my neck, and squeezed tightly, while his boys held my hands firmly behind my back.

“Let go! Let go, please,” I scrambled to say.

But angels do trot amongst us mortals. A person of tall, bulky stature appeared, while I was gasping desperately for air.

“Put him down, and step way. Put him down now!” the stranger shouted. And the delinquents slowly loosened their grip, and stepped away, tails between their legs, except one, who seemed to have frozen.

“Israel, you don’t listen, do you? Do you want me to give you the beat down again?”

Israel abruptly jolted away from me, leaving traces of his hands around my neck.

Agitated by what had just transpired, Israel swore: “One of these days, we’ll catch you in a compromising situation, you tall thing! Don’t ever, even for a day, think we’re scared of you!”

He walked away, followed in suit by his disgraced henchman.

“Thank you, thank you, dude! I don’t know how to thank you for this,” I said.

“Nah, it’s no big deal … David by the way. And you are?” He extended his thick, veiny arm towards me, and shook my hand, almost lifting me from the ground.

“Sibusiso. Sibu for short. Thanks again, David.”

“Don’t sweat it, bro. Just watch your back around these Kempton Park streets.”

When he walked away, I knew I’d like to befriend him, and be like him: admired, feared, respected. But deep in my belly, envy too spiked up like hot magma, threatening to blow up over the surface.

I had recently moved to Edleen, Kempton Park, from Cape Town, and had no true friend until David. And we grew close, our friendship strengthening in leaps and bounds through the years.

Grade 7, Edleen Primary School, during Physical Education at the local sports grounds: that’s where I first got a taste of his sheer physical prowess, and the range of his talents. Different classes had come together, with a variety of different sporting codes represented. And for the entire sequence of events, they were almost all bulldozed by David. He was the star of the show, and we basked in his glory – including the girls.

During the 100m sprint, I was lined up against him, amongst eight other participants. By the end of the race, he had blown us all into the wind. And I came seventh.

The crowd was full of joy, chants blazed his name. His charisma worked like gravity on the girls, who worshipped him like planets going around the sun.

I breathed heavily, my lungs feeling like they were going to collapse in on themselves. ‘Hopeless, worthless …’ A self-inflicted diatribe echoed round my mind.

There’s no place for losers in the universe; they disappear into obscurity. A friend David may have been, but from then on, I considered him a rival to be toppled from the high-horse of popularity. And so, with all the strength bestowed upon me, I’d cultivate my pent-up jealousy towards my goal: to be better than him. Somehow.

Once, when we were playing football in the neighbourhood with other boys, the ball ricocheted towards the infamous Mr Kunta’s window. We all scattered in different directions with the panic of insects. My respect and adulation for David was cemented when he bravely walked up to the hot-headed old man’s house. He picked up the ball, knocked on the door, and had a proper conversation with him, preventing the man getting too riled up.

“Be more careful, boys. And buy me my windowpane by tomorrow, or else there’ll be trouble, you jackals!” Mr Kunta shouted, his clenched fist lifted towards us. But he allowed the issue to flow as water under a bridge.

My envy just grew tenfold.


Tell us: Do you think jealousy can ever be positive? Is it natural to be envious of what our friends are good at?