How Can We Be Friends?

School children at Stephen Tolbert Estate

‘How can we be friends?’ he said.

He spoke in that thick local accent that is so hard to understand because of the way it swallows the ends of words so that they sound like a firing of short, terse syllables. I was walking home from the gym and I had a podcast coming through my earphones so that his question did not register at first.

Often when I walk someplace I get stopped at least once or twice because of the novelty that I represent. Sometimes it is because the solicitor wants just to greet me but mostly it is because someone wants to sell me something. In these cases I have found that wearing earphones is the surest and politest defense. Those who want to sell you something always begin with a greeting of some kind so that I acknowledge the gesture of greeting with one of my own and then quickly divert my attention as though I cannot hear the sales pitch that follows.

‘How can we be friends?’ he said again.

I heard it and understood it this time and because of its strangeness I decided to respond.

‘These things just happen, I think,’ I said.

He was an older boy but he was small and clear-faced so that he looked younger than he really was.

‘Where do you live?’ he said.

‘In Sinkor,’ I said, which is the neighborhood of Monrovia where we were.

‘No, I mean where is your house?’ he said.


‘So that I can come visit you sometime,’ he said, his local accent breaking the last word into a staccato ‘son-tie’.

‘We need to be friends before that,’ I said.

‘OK,’ he said.

He extended his hand and then I mine and we shook and then he walked away.

‘I guess he couldn’t argue with your logic,’ Jess said when I arrived home.

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