You know, I said that would never forget him and yet I can no longer remember his name. I feel sad and angry at my failure. It seemed the very least that I could do and yet I have begun to let him slip away. The world has continued to turn, my life has gone on and he has fallen behind.
I’ll just call him, John. I first met John when I first started work at the local University after completing my Masters degree. I was one of a group of research assistants that worked in the Biochemistry Department. We also doubled as student tutors and part of our job was to supervise and give advice to final year undergraduates as they try to carry out mini-research projects as part of their credits.
John was one of the smarter students and he often entered into lengthy academic discussions with us and eventually he begun to hang out with the research assistants socially as well. We thought nothing much about it at that time, but he was particularly close to a PhD student which we will just name Jane. John was quiet, thoughtful and sensitive. Jane was quite different in that she was an extrovert, a rebel against convention and the life of the party. Somehow they hit it off and were often seen together in the labs. She would be working on an experiment and he would be studying for his exams; both just seemed content to be in each other’s company.
A love story? I didn’t think so then and I still don’t today. Jane had just gotten married before starting her PhD course. It was an arranged marraige. The husband, even though he had left school when he was 15 years old , had become a successful trader in a remote part of the country. The big fish in a small pond, as it were.
What really happened will probably never be revealed. However, from what I could gather later, Jane’s husband became increasingly unhappy of her carrying on with her studies. He felt threatened, thinking that she was spending a lot of her time away from him with smarter men.
These began to lead to arguements and when upset, Jane turned to John and poured out her troubles to him. Jane’s husband in turn became more and more suspicious that his wife was being unfaithful and that she despised his lack of academic learning.
One rainy night almost 18 years ago, Jane’s husband drove all the way from their hometown to the University; a journey taking 8 hours. He called her and told her that he was coming to end her affairs. Jane was scared at the tone of his voice and called John for support. John, the young, gallant and foolish lad decided to confront Jane’s husband and be her knight in shining armour. All three met outside her rented apartment. Jane’s husband accused her of unfaithfulness and she accused him of being an unreasonable control freak. When things got heated, John tried to stand between them.
We were later told, the husband took out a hunting knife and went after John. Jane screamed for John to run and he did, getting onto his motocycle and fleeing the scene. However, Jane’s husband got into his large 4-wheel drive and set off in pursuit.
It was along a lonely, dark and winding road near the University, in the midst of torrential rain and a thunderstorm, that he caught up with John and rammed the motorcycle. John went flying off the motorcycle and rolled on the road. Despite his injuries, driven by adrenaline, he was able to get up and leaving a trail of blood, hobbled to first one and then another of the few houses along the road. These were large houses with hedges and locked gates. He yelled for help as he ran from one house to another. In the storm, his voice would have been barely audible. Jane’s husband followed slowly but steadily behind and at the gates of the fifth house, used his hunting knife to viciously extinguish John’s young life.
We never did see Jane again. The day the news broke out, the University merely said she had taken an indefinate leave of absence and she never came back. Her husband was found guilty of murder and sentenced. As far as we can tell, Jane was never unfaithful. She was flirtatious by character and that contributed to her husband’s fears but she never had an affair with anyone. John and Jane were just good friends, maybe even more like an older sister – younger brother relationship. Somehow, insecurity, jealousy, miscommunication and mis-guided gallantry led to this tragedy that shattered three lives and those of their loved ones.
For a long time, I use that road to go home from work and I always offered a prayer for John. I wonder at what kind of life he might have lived if it had not ended that night. This story comes to mind because the authorities are beginning to redevelop that road and the neighborhood. Perhaps, I will no longer be able to recognise the landmarks when they are done. I am sad that even more of his memory is being eroded by time and progress. I wonder how many others have already forgotten this life cut short.