a short story by Mina Wong
Two years ago, Elon Osman and Bill Poon met at a basketball event and became fast friends. Knowing Elon needed a place to stay, Bill lent him his Toronto apartment while he was teaching in the Yukon.
Bill found Elon to be a gentle soul with a stubborn mind. He would reject help from others saying he did not need it. But seeing that Elon accepted kindness from him, Bill believed there was more to find out about his friend’s stubbornness.
When probed, Elon told Bill that he would turn down assistance if told completely what to do, much like authoritarian parental rules.
But he confessed to “messing up many times” because of refusing help, and recently, “my new year resolution in 2022 is to learn to appreciate kindness.”
Elon also admitted that he had started to rebuff help right after his family’s arrival in Toronto from Armavir, Armenia in 2005. Starting Grade seven that year, twelve-year-old Elon had already envisioned his Canadian life to be free of parental control.
When teachers offered Elon help with school, he said he could manage just fine. “I should have been grateful to my teachers”, he lamented.
Soon in Grade eight, he found reading, writing, math, and science extremely difficult.
To support Elon, his school recruited a tutor from a group of Grade eleven students: sixteen-year-old Benny Seth had only emigrated from India in Grade nine, but prepared to work with firm parental expectations, he studied hard to earn top marks in all subjects.
When they first met, Benny told Elon, “School isn’t always fun, but getting good grades isn’t the hardest thing in life either.”
Somehow, the boys got along and soon, Elon was reading better and showing more interest in math and science. Before summer holidays, his writing skills were still weak, but he managed to get a C in English and in science, a C+ in math, and an overall C+ to start high school. His best subject was basketball with a B+, also a benefit from playing with Benny each week.
Benny said, “If I were you, I would take a summer course in reading and writing.”
Preferring basketball, Elon quickly forgot Benny’s advice about summer school. “That was another time when I was too stupid to accept help.”
Halfway into high school, Elon’s school gave him a choice: to get serious remedial help or drop out. He was failing every course except sports.
Mrs. Osman would cry after meeting with Elon’s teachers. Then she said, “At sixteen, you can think for yourself. If you don’t like school, you can work at Dad’s hardware store.”
But wanting no parental input, Elon moved out in search of work and his own place. “I was a fool to take off like that.”
The next decade turned out to be much harder than Elon had ever imagined. Drifting from hostel to hostel, he realized even fast-food jobs expected high-school literacy. He also tried dishwashing and janitorial work but quit many times: exhausted by the physical demands, his hourly output always fell below industrial targets.
It was Elon’s good fortune to meet Bill, who let him stay in his apartment while he worked up north. Bill would come home for holidays, but “Elon and I can work something out when I’m in town.”
With Bill’s encouragement, Elon applied for a part-time office assistant position at a property management firm. Bill also helped him prepare for the interview and tests in spelling and computer skills.
Using Bill’s wardrobe for the interview, Elon’s dress code was impeccable. When asked how he would succeed if hired, Elon remembered what Bill had gone over with him: “I would always be on time, read everything carefully, file documents correctly, and work as a team player.”
Informing Elon that he had done “not too badly” in spelling, the firm took a chance on him. Management was patient while he got up to speed, but within five months, he almost lost his job by ignoring advice from colleagues before an office party: “Go easy on the liquor. It’s really for our clients.”
Somehow, amid the party’s speeches and merriment, Elon passed out after just one drink. A manager took him home, but she sternly described his behaviour as unprofessional.
Elon remorsefully pleaded for another chance. He also decided to start appreciating well-intentioned advice.
“When I learned the meaning of honest help and support, my work improved a lot. Even my parents now think I am more mature. They must also think a regular paycheque is absolutely incredible for an idiot like me.”
Halfway into 2022, Bill still lets Elon share his apartment while he works in the Yukon. Mr. and Mrs. Osman have also offered their son joint ownership of the family home. Elon vows to learn to accept advice and support not as constraints, but as opportunities to build success, to reciprocate in kind, and to gain upward mobility as his own personal achievement.