I never was the class clown. I never was the popular one. I never was the coolest cat. I was just a normal teenager. I had bad hair days. I had an insane amount of chocolate. I had crushes that lasted a day and some that even stretched as far as a week. I also had one of the greatest gifts life can offer - a best friend. We jumped off sofas into parallel universes full of creatures named Zodbod and Bodzod. We dived into the deep ends of swimming pools and found the lost island of Atlantis. We grew up to re-write songs like 'smooth-criminal' into 'sweet-tooth criminal.' We grew up together, as best friends do.
Three words then came along. They managed to wheedle themselves into our daily lives and changed the way we acted. I mean, I'd read the words of Shakespeare and felt the power of his golden tongue. I'd listened to the words of 'where is the love?' and felt the power of the words spoken. The three words my friend uttered though destroyed the power of every single word I'd heard throughout my life so far.
"I have cancer", she said.
Cue the sharp intake of breath. Cue the silence. Cue the wish for some sound. Any sound. I left her house in a daze. All I remember was constantly praying for her health in my head. I still can't quite remember how I even got home. She text and she called; I didn't respond. I'd start a sentence then delete it. I'd dial her number and before I got the chance to hear the first ring, I'd end the call. I didn't know what to say or how to carry on speaking to her as normal now that a shadow took the third wheel in our friendship. A day passed and I found her at my doorstep. I was tentative, tempted to pretend I wasn't in. I caved in however and opened the door. I let her in and offered her a drink. As she spoke I marvelled at how she looked no different, nothing had changed in her face or in her voice. Something was different though. That 'c' word.
As the weeks passed, I digested more and more of those three words hanging in the sombre air. Some degree of normalcy was gained as the holidays ended and we resumed our last year of school. A week into it, she stopped attending. The effects of the shadow gained and her energy levels sunk to zero. She would ask for copies of my school work and I would go through every lesson and fill her in on school gossip. I let her know that Mr. Donnelly burnt his tie on a soldering iron, that Adam had written the theme tune to 'Fresh Prince of Belair' on a whiteboard and that someone told someone who told someone else that Mr. Connor was going out with Miss Johnson. I didn't tell her that people at school were slowly finding out about her condition.
My friend started to wear a headscarf. I knew why. She started to put on weight. I knew why. I couldn't see her when I was ill and I knew why. The 'c' word slurred her Bolton accent, it became a struggle to remember her without it. It made our synchronised laughs out of synch. You could smell the fear. You could touch the pain. She never complained though. We'd be talking, she'd vomit and she would make a joke about it: "Look, this batch of sick, it looks like you" or "look, modern art!" The 'c' word changed her life, but it didn't kill her spirit.
Lubna was strength; I never did see her cry. In the end she was smiling; she was hope. The day she left us all behind was the day that changed my life. I remembered how she still worked hard, no matter what the 'c' word threw at her and that's the attitude I took with me to college, to university and to my work life. Most importantly, Lubna taught me that happiness was a choice. You can be sad about all the things that are going badly, but if you take a moment to think of the things that are actually going pretty well, you will smile. And that one smile will make you feel that bit lighter. I don't want pity because my close friend died. I want you to smile because you're alive and you have chances that other people dream of. You have the chance to get an education. You have the chance to go somewhere. You have a choice to smile. You matter and you have a chance to live, not just survive.