Macaque monkeys in Hokkaido do it. Form friendships that is: they place a value on forming small communities, helping each other out and spending time together. Anthropologically, the desire to form groups and to go through life in packs is a function of survival. Humans embraced such line of thinking millions of years ago. It was about protection, hunting and physical help then, it’s more about emotional stability now but little has changed. Instinctively, we seek friendship.
Less prone to conflict than business partnerships and devoid of the projections we place on romantic relationships, friendship can be the purest form of human interactions. Friendships thrive in the absence of judgement and in a blind fostering of trust: when both bonds are never broken, or solidly repaired when mishaps happen, we are left with some of the most satisfying and enduring relationships.
When I met her, it was in a still empty office at the top of a mews carriage house in a tony part of town. It was my first day on the job, quite unsure what to do, as both my boss and my desk hadn’t arrived yet. She strolled (or, most likely, stomped) out of one of the offices that already had an occupant, and I was struck by the wavy flaming hair down to her shoulders, the immense blue eyes and the funny accent I was still unfamiliar with. She was wearing an unfashionable denim skirt that revealed a pair of long and way above average legs.
I have an uncanny ability to recognize at first glance the people who will play a pivotal role in my life. I was intrigued by her, by her kindness and her sense of purpose when I had no idea what I was doing. We became friends. When she split up with the South African boyfriend she was living with, she asked whether I would be interested in becoming her flatmate. I remember exactly where I was when she asked me: relieving the receptionist at lunchtime, trying to navigate a switchboard that was utterly unfamiliar, and dropping one call in three.
We didn’t know yet I would become a camparigirl and she a sofagirl. We didn’t know about transatlantic moves, marriages, children, dogs, heartache, money, losses, wrinkles or blogs. But we knew about managing our meagre incomes, having fun, being a long way from home and the sizes of our boyfriends’ penises. We didn’t know about friendships that last thirty years but we lived as if that was a given.
And here we are, thirty years later, with an About Us pages on a funky blog we doggedly persevere on from, literally, opposite sides of the globe. For all my hate of Facebook and loss of privacy, there are undeniable benefits to technology, and being able to see her face while I tell her about my latest craziness, is one of them. The “It’s me you are talking to” wouldn’t have the same poignancy without the visual of her finger pointed at me.
She asks me the questions no one else thinks to ask. There is no hesitation in opening her arms in times of need. She has taught me to be more outspoken and assertive but, for all her bark, she is the gentler of the two. She is fiercely intelligent, a bit combative and I probably taught her that being vulnerable is not always bad. She has seen me through all my love disasters and was quick to recognize which one was going to work. I stopped her from feeling unnecessary regrets.
We couldn’t look less alike, yet someone asked us if we were sisters. I recently took a language test to assess what kind of English I speak: it turns out the algorithm pinpointed my dialect to be South African. After thirty years, some osmosis is unavoidable, I suppose.
Today it’s her birthday.
I cannot be there to cook her a sumptuous meal or bake her an extravagant cake (I hope sofa brother is doing that), to reciprocate all her veggie stews that helped me survive the English winters.
I cannot be there to share a trip the way she did when I turned 50, and Campari and Sofa was born.
She doesn’t feel this particular birthday is momentous but I beg to differ. Then again, I am more egocentric than she is.
But I can be there, not so virtually, from my sunny kitchen in Los Angeles, while winter is closing in on Cape Town, to wish her a happy birthday, and many more years of health, joy, laughter and, at this point sooner rather than later, funny hats. And, above all, thirty more years of friendship.
* Title borrowed from the opening of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 104
Images found in the public domain unless otherwise specified