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Coming of Age Friendship High School

           Lessons on the move


The sounds of nightlife in Africa's largest gaming reserve were menacing to say the least. What was even worse were the growls, and glowing eyes that lurked hunching low in the grass.


As morning came and the sun began to rise we moved through a field, in the humid African plains thankful to be alive. The blend of dried dead brown and stark healthy green blades of thick grass irritated our face with annoying little cuts. We edged slowly toward the extraction site, thinking about the dumb luck that landed us here. No time to worry about that now. We crouched low and moved through the grass hoping we did not hear the menacing growl again. We certainly didn't want to see the lion's face. This was his turf, he had every advantage here.  


I looked at Gary, and he glared back. We didn't like each other, but here in this moment our hope for survival far outweighed our longstanding feud. A feud that had kept us enemies for so long that neither of us could remember how or exactly when it began.  


Sergio, was the name the locals gave the "man eating" lion that was lurking somewhere in the foliage. Gary and I couldn't believe our horrible luck, ending up here together 30 miles from the camp. If he would have listened we would be on the air conditioned bus watching the wild cats hunting antelope instead of us.  


If I'm being honest here, (as we tend to do in life and death situations) the feud was probably my fault. I was young and immature when I first met Gary in the third grade and he already knew he was going to follow in his father's footsteps and become a doctor. His parents were wealthy and my dad struggled mightily to put food on our table. My mom and dad had divorced when I was seven. Gary seemed to have the perfect mom and dad. They traveled together and-


"Yo, Marv?" He tapped me on the Shoulder, "You daydreaming again?"


"Um no!" I snapped back, not willing to admit I could barely keep my eyes open from the nearly thirty -six hours straight without sleep.


"Hey, Marv. Open that sissy fannypack and give me another drink from that canteen. Then check that map to see how far we have to go?" I ignored him and continued forward. We had just had a sip. The canteen was nearly half gone and I knew exactly how far we had to go. 


I just wanted to wallow in self pity just a little longer. Besides, now that I think about it; It probably was his fault. He was cocky, arrogant and driven for perfection. He was pre-med and I would be lucky to land a Job at a factory somewhere in our small town.  


What directly led us here was the fight at school. We exchanged a few blows in the hallway near our lockers. Even though the teacher pulled him off of me I felt like I got the best of him. Sarah thought so too, and that's all that mattered to me. He came here because he wanted to keep his precious scholarship and stay in his parents' good graces. I came here because, his parents talked mine into the stupid Idea with a few thousand bucks each. Can you believe it? 


"Earth to Marvin." He tapped me again.


"What?" I snapped back. 


"You might want to look where you are going Marv." He said with a flat tone. I stopped quickly puffing out my chest. I was ready to give him a piece of my mind. Marv was reserved for my closest friends and family. He didn't qualify on either front. In an instant I learned what he was talking about. There was a large dead tree in front of me, and in that tree were several snakes. One of them was near my face about to strike. His hand reached forward with all the authority of a well trained ninja. He snapped his arm out, then straightened it in front of my eyes with a snap of the wrist. 


"What would you like to do with him?" Gary said, as he held up an African Boomslang (tree dwelling) snake in his outstretched hand. He looked down at him slowly and weirdly passionate. "He is, kind of, cute don't ya think Marv? I tried to warn you. If we want or get out alive you need to stay alert."


"Okay Gare," I said, trying to give him back a little of his own medicine. I stepped toward him a bit. "I don't care what you do with him and and-" I searched for more words that didn't, no, wouldn't come out of my mouth. Instead I leaned in close and looked that boomslang directly in his beady little eyes. I would show him, I wasn't afraid. 


"Put him back, let him go, Gary!" I said with all the courage I could muster. We stopped moving and just stood there for a moment in silence. His eyes shifted focus from the snake's head to mine. The snake was surprisingly calm in his grip. "I said, let him go, Gary."  


"Have it your way then Marv." He opened the hand on his outstretched arm and released his grip from the snake's head. The white in his palm and fingers began to regain the reddish tint as the blood began to flow back into it. The snake flailed aimlessly back and forth, landing in the tall grass next to the tree. His head raised up looking toward us slowly, as if to say thanks for not killing me. Then he slithered away, disappearing into the thick undergrowth.


I took a good look at the tree, the other snakes seemed utterly uninterested in us. In fact they never slithered a muscle. Gary and I eased around the odd tree and continued forward in the blazing heat. Gary may have just saved my life. I wiped the beads of sweat from my forehead with my shirt, searching for a way to say thanks without sounding like I was saying thanks. 


"Speaking of snakes Gare, what do you think old Mrs. Gunderson thought when she pulled me off of you in the hallway?" I asked with a nervous chuckle.


"She probably thought, my, you look a lot like Marvin, considering all things." He laughed. "I have a question for you Marv, since you got us into this mess. Why Do you hate me?" He managed to say this jokingly yet seriously in the same sentence. I had never really considered the question because I don't know that I ever hated him. I hated the idea of him, I wrestled with the questions of why were some people blessed and born into wealth and good genes, physical specimens (freaks of nature) if you will? But- in that very moment when he asked why I hated him, I couldn't help but to see him as a struggling human being. Did it bother him, to think that someone as gifted as himself wasn't adored by the likes of me.


I blurted out, "I hate you because of Maria, and Susan, and that other girl from the fifth grade that liked you and wouldn't give me a second look. I hate you because you have a nice car, you are strong and smart you make all A's at school and Marvin Greenlee Jr. Plays second fiddle for no one. Got it?" 


"So that's it huh? You hate me because girls are interested and I work really hard in school while you are hanging out with those hoodlum boys you call friends. They will get you nothing but trouble. You know what your problem is Marvin?" I paused waiting for his harsh "truth" to spew forth from his lying lips. That's what I expected, and in a lot of ways it would have been easier than what I got. "Your problem is that you waste your talent and brains on nonsense. You have every excuse why Marvin Greenlee Jr., as you so eloquently put it, doesn't measure up. Your parents divorce, you don't have money, as if that gets you C's in school. Marvin you are smart, but you do dumb things and hang around trouble. You are afraid to apply yourself because God forbid you have expectations for poor little Marv!"  


I was seething mad. How dare he. I clenched my fist tightly. I wanted to punch his lights out. I wanted him, just once, to feel the pain of failure or just plain mediocrity. I took a deep breath and drew back my arm… 


A roar louder than you could imagine, snapped me back to the harsh reality of where we were. According to the pamphlets we received with our maps when we got in the bus this roar can be heard in the wilderness five-km away. The thick blades of grass parted quickly and Sergio emerged, leaping from about twenty feet away. I lept on top of Gary with my best form football tackle. Sergio seemingly flew over us claws swiping in mid air, his mane swaying back and forth as he tried to adjust in midair. I grabbed Gary's hand and helped him up as Sergio landed and slid to a stop several yards away.  


"RUN!" I yelled. Then I thought how do we get out of this. "The tree, the snakes, Gary. Maybe our only chance." I pulled him toward the tree where he saved my life. Hopefully the snakes were there. 


I released my grip from Gary's hand then stopped. "Get back to that tree!" I yelled. Sergio regained his grip and stood up straight. He turned to face me. Our eyes locked for a moment. He let out another ferocious blood curdling growl then lowered himself down. He disappeared into the thick grass. He didn't chase us directly. He blended into the lush undergrowth. The silence was unnerving, He could leap at us from anywhere at any moment. 


Gary made it to the tree first. I was close behind. "Gary do you see any of the snakes?" I asked in a panic. Gary and I scanned the tree quickly looking for the uninterested snakes.  


"Exactly what is your plan here and why do we want to be near a severely poisonous creature that can kill us?" Gary asked.


"You don't remember, do you Gary? Mr straight A's. Maybe I am pretty smart after all. I guess it's time to apply myself. This tree isn't real Gary, its an emergency communication center for the reserve. Here take a look."


I sat down next to the tree and wiped the sweat from my forehead once again. I unzipped my "sissy" fanny pack and took out the map of the place and pointed to E-9. I took a drink of water from the canteen and offered a drink to Gary. He stood trying to regain his breath while I sat back with a sly smirk on my face pointing at E-9.  


He sat next to me. "Have you lost your mind Marvin?" He asked. I didn't say a word. I just took another sip of water, stood up and located the small cluster of snakes. Then I picked them up in a quick scoop and tossed the whole painted plastic snake pit at him. He nearly fell over as he tried to dodge it.  


"The thing is Gare, this is a phone station and those imitations were hiding this phone!" I reached inside the hollowed cavern that the faux snakes had previously concealed and pulled out a large phone that looked like something from the eighties. I held it up and exclaimed. "E-9 Gary. If you had read the info they gave us and took that sissy fanny pack maybe you would be prepared Gare!" Oh the look on his face was classic. All we had to do now was call and tell them our location then they would send out a rescue jeep and we would be back in that air conditioned bus sipping on an iced coffee before noon. 


I pushed a big red button on the bottom labeled call. Gary scrambled back to his feet and inched close to me. The phone clicked and beeped and then we heard a glorious sound. The phone was ringing. I never thought the old generic ring tone could sound so good. One ring, then on the second ring someone picked up.


"Hello, you have reached Selous home of Africa's largest gaming reserve. This is an automated emergency line. If you are lost and know your map coordinate please press one now." Beeep… I pressed one and listened intently for further instructions. The line clicked and beeped for a few seconds. "Please say your coordinate now. Letter first then number and we will connect you to the nearest rescue station" E-9 I pushed the letter then number on the monstrous phone.  


Beep…beep…beep- connecting. You think it's nerve wrecking waiting for a utility company well think again. The thirty seconds we waited seemed like hours. Finally a voice, broke the series of clicks and beeps. "You are located at phone station E-9. Thank you for your patience. We have dispatched a jeep to your location and it should arrive before sunset."


Gary plopped back down, sprawling out in the thick grass. "Well that's just great, before sunset they say. That could be thirty minutes or eight hours." He slapped the ground with his hand causing the plastic snake den to hop on the grass nearly scaring him again.


I smiled then began to laugh uncontrollably. I looked down at Gary offering him a hand up, still laughing like a mad man. I think it was a combination of lack of sleep and euphoria. "Oh Gary lighten up." The laughs kept coming. After a few minutes I was able to get my hilarity under control. "Okay Gare, now I'll ask you since we have some time to kill." I paused for a moment and began laughing again. "Or be killed. Ohh look at the grass move it's Sergio coming for ya Gare!" 


"You are not funny." He managed to say through gritted teeth. He took a deep breath, then stepped close to me. "Is everything a joke to you Marv. Is this just another day in the unfulfilling life of Marv. Jr?"  


"My life is fine Gary! You asked me earlier why I hate you. Now I'm going to ask you the same. Why do you, Gary Sinclare Adams hate me?" His eyes lit up, he brushed a hand through his perfect hair and shook off the drips of sweat that collected on his fingertips.  


"That list Marvin would get us past sunset." He chuckled then looked around as if he were checking for someone else listening in. "I don't hate you Marvin that would mean I give a damn. But I'll answer your question. One, you think I have it so perfect, you raze me every chance you get about having money and parents who stay together." He took a deep breath and continued. "My mom, is having an affair and my gutless dad doesn't have the guts to say a thing. She had the nerve to take me to his house and act like I wasn't smart enough to figure it out." A tear rolled down his cheek and he wiped it away. "I hate you Marvin because you don't have to live under pressure. No one expects anything from you. You have it easy, just sit back, do nothing and play the victim card!"


I wanted to be mad. I just couldn't. He may have been the first person to actually tell me the truth. I had no idea that people saw me that way. I also never even considered that people like Gary, that seemed to have it all together, were just as messed up as me. 


I walked over to him and embraced him in a bro hug. I half expected him to push me away and take a swing. Anything. He didn't. Gary and I hugged and cried together under that fake tree next to some fake plastic snakes. It was ironic in this moment of truth between two struggling teens entering adulthood. We both wanted the same thing. We both wanted what most men really want. Respect, its as simple as that.


Before we could mend all of our brokenness and share our darkest fears the roar of an engine broke our embrace. We couldn't have a group of rough and tumble men in a rugged jeep rescue us in Africa's largest gaming reserve see us crying and sharing feelings. Yuck.  


So we did what any red blooded American men would do in our situation. We vowed to never tell a soul that we understood each other and connected. Even if for the briefest of moments. 


Gary and I spent another month there in the Selous summer program. We learned a lot about each other and life. When we got back to the States we remained and became even closer friends. I stopped making excuses and he stopped being so hard on himself. For the first time in my life I'm excited and looking forward to my future. I'm studying to become a veterinarian. Specializing in large Cats and with a little luck someday my good friend Gary will mend a broken human heart and I will mend that of a beast like Sergio. One thing is for sure Gary and I will never be the same again.


July 09, 2022 02:58

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3 comments

Eshawnial Lowry
19:17 Aug 25, 2022

Thanks to all of you who liked the story and many of you for reading, liking and commenting on others. Another outlet some of you writers may enjoy is vocal writting- they have contests with large cash prizes and its another great community of writers and a way to showcase your work and get paid without even winning a contest. Check me out Eshawnial Lowry read, comment and and see what you think. Thanks again and good luck in all your future writing.

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Betty Gilgoff
20:58 Jul 14, 2022

I like your dialogue. It feels real. Not quite sure though that how you deal with Sergio works for me. It seems like they are in danger and then suddenly they aren't. I kept wondering where Sergio went That said, I enjoyed reading the story. It definitely works as a story of two young guys working through a long standing feud.

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Eshawnial Lowry
19:06 Jul 15, 2022

Thanks for the kind words, Betty, I kind of felt the same way about Sergio lol I simply ran out of words for completion it ran at over 2900. The original idea was going to have a guide attacked and killed and the boys escape. Just ran out of real estate, so to speak.

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