"Where are you from bro?" He slings out a casual conversation starter. When you’re walking down the street with a friend, who bumps into another friend, sometimes the former will forget you temporarily exist and start a hefty conversation with the latter. If your friend’s friend has their own tag-along who is left twiddling his or her thumbs, you make small talk.
Back to his ice-breaker; ‘where are from bro?' Firstly, why am I a bro, and everyone else a mate? And I’m not the ‘blood is thicker than water’ type of ‘bro’, I’m the ‘brother’; a forced relationship I have with the guy standing in front of me, and the 3.5 billion odd other ‘brothers’ who happen to have one X and one Y chromosome. Just a matter of fact. Of instance. Of coincidence, rather than that of endearment. I digress.
I weigh him up head to toe. Looking nonchalant, this guy really is just passing the time, I deduce from his gestures, intonation, and eye contact. He has bigger fish to fry, women to (attempt to, at the least) seduce, beers to guzzle, joints to roll, greasy kebabs to inhale at ungodly hours, and throbbing Sunday morning headaches to nurse. He would rather talk about prostates and pension funds with a geriatric than hear what I’ve got to say, in its raw, unadulterated form.
‘Perth, mate’. That’s my response (he’s just been catapulted from ‘bro’ to ‘mate’, while I’m still languishing at the former). In relation to where I’m from, I take the easy way out. The 6 years in Perth (a small city on the west coast of Australia) were a moving experience for me, but that’s not half the story. Heck, that doesn’t even scratch the surface. But it’s the most palatable to this guy. Or at least, I think it is.
We make small talk about Perth. Airy fairy topics, not much more enrapturing than taxes, or cumulonimbus clouds. When my friend ends his conversation with his friend, the ‘bro’ and ‘mate’ bid each other farewell. A meek handshake (clearly I wasn’t the conversational upper echelon of his night) ends the torture (torture barometer; somewhere in between being kicked in the vitals, and being waterboarded), and we head off on our respective paths, throwing no caution to the wind.
It’s only a while afterward, that I introspect; sit down and put a lens on what just happened. I judged this guy based on 10 seconds of interaction, and I boxed him in. I pigeon-holed him as one of the countless others who don’t want to hear how my narrative was sown (how I have been woven from the social fabric of the multiple societies I have inhabited, molding me into the person I am today). I just thought he would listen to what he ‘wanted to hear’. The familiar. The understandable. The digestible.
Having lived in multiple cities in Pakistan and Australia, and at crucial times of my personal growth, I’ve encountered success and failure, just like he has. I’ve been sky high, and also hit rock bottom, just like has. I’ve had first crushes, cutting rejections, and surprising reciprocations, just like he has. However, some of my experiences have been in environments and cultures outside of his comfort zone (or at least, I think they were). But why should that stop me from sharing them with him? Maybe what I say strikes a resonating chord with him. Maybe one of my experiences clutches at his heart strings. Hits close to home. Or maybe home, point and center. Maybe that’s all we need to start a life-long friendship built on curiosity and inquisitiveness, an open mind and an open soul. Finding the familiar amongst the alien, and finding the enthralling within the mundane.
I’ve got to give people a chance, put myself out there; genuine, authentic, and with naked vulnerability written all over me. I’ll be shot down multiple times; turned away with blank expressions or deadpan silence, or even laughed off as the recessive gene. But there will be that one time, the person standing in front of me will stare back with wide eyes, and quench their curiosity with questions, complimentary experiences, and fascinating anecdotes. That one person is worth all that authenticity. I’ve got to give them a chance. I’ve got to change my ways. Better late than never.