When I first met Sibu. I was taken aback by his frailty and sensitivity. His calmness was the exact opposite of my big, wild personality. An apple amongst oranges, I think the saying goes. He was truly odd, and yet, from the day at the park, I wanted to be his friend. At first, it was out of feeling pity for him, but then became because of his brilliance.

At the beginning of our friendship, I didn’t seriously pay attention to his gifts. He was seen everywhere we went as my lap dog. To some twisted degree, I enjoyed this. “Go buy us some snacks, bro!” I’d order, gladly sending him on errands, while I stood there like a king watching his most loyal servant.

But, soon I was humbled at almost every interaction, when I realised how his brain soaked up everything. He’d remember the smallest of details, and his calculating abilities blew me out of the water. He was learning how to memorise ‘pi’ up to a crazy number of decimals, and he could multiply three-digit numbers, without a calculator, in a matter of seconds.

“What the hell, dude! How do you do that? You have to teach me, bro,” I’d say in awe, and he’d brush it off as if anyone could do it.

One day, during computer literacy class, I was dozing off in my chair, feeling hot as the sun flashed through the window, when Sibu entered our classroom. We were in different classes, so I assumed that he’d come to borrow something from me.

“Ahh, Sibu, what brings you here, bro? Here to see me, huh my boy? Couldn’t wait until lunchtime? Me too,” I said, pleased, and leapt towards him.

The teacher wasn’t particularly happy with my behaviour. “Eish, yerr marn, David. Sit down, please. You can be such a thorn in my side at times. Where do you borrow your energy, huh? He’s here for me.”

Mrs Oosthuizen proceeded to address the entire class, with Sibu standing by her side, timidly, not engaging us in eye contact. He was like a puppy that had just pissed on the rug again, after being rebuked by its owner for the hundredth time.

“This brilliant young man is here today to show you how to access the internet. The configuration, settings relative to the intranet and other technicalities of that nature. He’s very savvy, to some degree above my scope of understanding.” She gleamed proudly, looking at her shy prodigy next to her.

“So, Ma’am, is the school going to refund us a cut of our fees?” I remarked slyly. “Because he’s clearly doing an adult job that’s above you.”

The whole class erupted in laughter, but Mrs Oosthuizen wasn’t impressed.

“How rude, David! You can never have the spotlight off yourself for one second, can you? You’re such an attention-seeker. You’re going to remain and clean my class after this. Sies, nee marn!”

She turned to Sibu. “Please take over, Sibusiso, my boy. Don’t mind him. He’s just jealous of you.”

Sibu, with his four eyes, timidly started to instruct us in a soft, restrained voice. The advancement of the internet was still something new to everyone around the world. Owning an email account called for a celebratory party at a nightclub, and was accompanied by prestige. And here was my friend, already a master of it all, and admired by many in seventh grade for it. I won’t lie, it made me hot under my collar.

The second time I realized he was someone I had to compete with was during the eighth grade top achiever’s year-end awards. I won the top achiever for Life Orientation, but Sibu swept the floor with all of us, taking-candy-from-a-baby style. He’d won five of the awards from the available nine subjects.

It’s not just that he won so many of the awards that drove my jealousy. The gorgeous, nerdy Buhle was also smitten over him. I couldn’t give an Alexandra township rat’s behind how many other girls were after me. I wanted her above them all. But there she was, at the podium, tightly pocketed within Sibu’s space. I wished I could grapple him to the floor then and there, to exhibit my dominance, and win her over. Or maybe go for the pants dropping, to show her I was way more fun and humorous than Mr Robot next to her.


Tell us: Have you ever been friends with someone who is very different from you? Do you think David can learn anything from Sibu?