Last week we had Dario spending friday with us.
Its amazing to see how someone who played in my arms as a child since he was just three years old has now blossomed into this fine young man, fully grown into a responsible adult. A twenty one year old college graduate, stunningly polite and educated, with manners that astound any parent, smart and good looking and now playing with my own three year old son. My heart warms with a glow when I observe him interacting with Irfaan and my older seven year old. His attitudes are refined, amazingly joyous in manners and an absolute fabulous company for my children and great social buddy for me.
Any parent will understand the full impact of the words I am about to write to exteriorise what this young man has turned into. If I ever see my own sons grow into a young man like him I will be a happy and fulfilled father.
The significance of Dario's growing up and the various stages of his life through his young days till his adulthood gains more signficance still when I look back and remember the hard days that his parents had to endure. And my life was intrinsically linked with them from the very first years of my arrival in the UK. Here I was, a young twenty odd years old struggling in an environment where I had no family and whose closest biolgically linked relatives were thousands of miles away in Africa. My quest of adventure and freedom had brought me to London from across two continents after a long stay in Portugal for eight years. Having been born and raised in a tightly knit community where everywhere I looked there was always a grandpa or uncle or auntie, a familiar and safe pair of arms, I had never experienced what it was being completely isolated in a cold environment where everything and everyone I looked was either new or a stranger. This by itself wasn't an issue that I consciously brought into my mind everyday. I spoke several languages including english so it was pretty easy to get involved in various communities and be part of it. But at the end of the day all relationships and friendships had to be forged from scratch. Each face was a new face, each situation was a strange one, and while the thrill of getting to know lots of people at a fast pace the fact remained that the true emotional links, those ones that you feel that they warm your heart and soul and you truly are part of a family was inexistent. It takes time to forge such relationships and I suppose it only comes as a byproduct of weeks and months sometimems even years of closeness and affectionate approach.
My encounter with Dario's parents happened in these circumstances. I can never forget the first time we met and the circumstances leading to this moment. I am sure they will not mind me writing about it and certainly if Dario reads about this it might add in him the respect and admiration he already has for his parents.
I remember Fatima, Dario's mum, when Dario was hardly three years old literally crying because they had no money to buy milk for the children. Dario who has a twin sister Diva would be crying for milk and Tony, the dad would have gone out looking for work and struggle to get anything, so that he could return with money to buy food and milk for the children. I remember Tony when he managed to get freelance work working outdoors on the concrete floor mending cars without any shelter and on his bare knees that after a few days his knees had got inflamed with fluid and I took him to hospital where doctors had to insert needles to drain the fluid out. All this for a meagre £30 pay for the day.
These were the times I had happened to meet them and got very close to the family. For me they were my family away from home. I shared all their moments, their ups and downs and I became part of the household. I would feel the comfort of having a family in all the aspects and would get involved in every aspect of the family issues. From the struggles to the successes of moving on the ladder economically and socially, in terms of comfort and educating the children, the lows and highs of life's pitfalls, I was always an integral part of the family. One thing I have learnt is that true effort and struggle always pays off. Tony was never shy of any hard work and he always put his family above anything else in life. I saw that man work 16 hour day shifts, struggle to make ends meet at times but then good times followed and today he has three young and beautiful children grown up to the point that he can look at them and feel proud of their achievements. Ana the elder one has grown to become a successful council worker in the children's protection department. And she is due to have a baby next January. What a beautiful ending to a most heart wrarming family story. But unfortunately faith still had to throw another blow at them. I got to know that Fatima was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months ago. She has gone to have a successful treatment and when I saw her yesterday she looked pretty good and recovering. She told me of her stressfull moments and that she worries now constantly, and that she is constantly looking over her shoulder as she has been told by her doctors that the next five years are crucial in order to see if there is any recurrence. She told me how she constantly worries and with every single niggle her mind immediately boggles and thinks that this is it, the monster is back.
I then reminded her of her days. Told her to have positive attitude and look ahead towards her brilliant future. Learn to enjoy the fruits of her labour and reminded her of those painful old days when she shed tears for not having enough to even provide her young children with milk. I had to tell her that life has bestowed her with some of the most wonderful things that a human being can aspire, have children grown up and turned into these beautiful young adults that any parent could be proud of. I know I would if I my children one day grow up to be like Dario.
I left her after taking a few photographs and promised her to send her the copies after processing them. I also promised her to delete any that wouldn't have come out making her look nice. That turned out to be a needless worry because as I sat down here to process the photos I notice how beautiful she still looks. Her looks have not suffered one single bit over the years and its just as if she hasn't aged. Apart from just a couple of pounds extra that she has put on over the last 18 years and a couple of wrinkle lines on her neck below her chin, which I told her I would photoshop it :), she is still the same beautiful lovely open smile and great hearted warm soul lady I met 18 years ago. That lovely lady who would open the door for me every single time I would come knocking and had a wide open genuine smile and the first question would be "have you had anything to eat?" and most times even at those late hours of the day I wouldn't have had much to eat and she would prepare me a quick warm meal or a sandwich for me.
Coming to think of it what else would children from such warm hearted parents and special humble soul humans turn out to be if not really this special wonderful young adult like Dario has. I see in his eyes and attitude when he plays with my own children. He carries it in his natural behaviour and soul the goodness love and affection that he always witnessed in his parents.
Dario with his dad Tony and mum Fatima
Dario with Irfaan playing