His name wasn’t Leosh, but Leos — Elias Leos — and he wasn’t Portuguese, but Greek. Old Greek, but we’ll get to that in a minute. I met him on campus in 1972, under circumstances that I don’t quite remember, but I suspect Mervyn The Jew (who’d been at high school with him, and who himself became one of my lifelong buddies) saw my buddy Zonk and I (Zonk, one of the Four Muscadels) fleecing some witless rich kids at bridge in the student cafeteria. Mervyn was an excellent (but flamboyant) bridge player, and he asked if he could sit in, and we said yes. Elias had never played bridge before, but he watched us and then a week later, rather nervously, asked if we could teach him how to play. Zonk, Mervyn and I saw the chance of having a permanent foursome, so we said yes — somewhat reluctantly on my part, because the three of us were almost tournament-class bridge players and I was a little leery of having a rookie in the four.
I needn’t have worried. Inside a month, Elias was almost as good as we were.
He was, easily, the most intelligent and eloquent man I’d ever met, and to this day I’d still put him in the top three of that class. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t the smartest guy in the room — not even close — but such was our friendship that it never bothered me. He was studying law, and I was majoring in, well, bridge, drinking and virgin defloration. (Shuddup, I’d spent my entire adolescence at a boys’ boarding school; waddya think was going to happen to a 17-year-old kid away from parents and schoolteachers for the first time?)
For some unknown reason, Elias and I affected being Portuguese, our common greeting (and exclamations of rage) becoming “Como es ta?” (pronounced Coom’ esh ta? — our pronunciation corrected by a real Porro, Maria Raposo Soares). His name, ending as it did in an -s, became “Leosh”. His nickname in our group of very close friends became “Greek Bastard”, always said with the utmost love and affection.
Leosh and I spent the next five years together, even after I quit university, an ignominious failure. (He, of course, graduated top of the class cum laude.) We would meet up for lunch, dinner (even though he didn’t drink — a real anomaly amongst the gangsters I called my friends at the time), and he’d come over to my parents’ house often, where we’d just chat, listen to music and try to make each other puke with laughter. It happened often.
I didn’t go over to his parents’ house but once, and I learned why. You see, Leosh had a sister; a very comely, dark and exotic-looking girl a couple years older than I. Leosh saw me looking at her and said, “Don’t.”
“Don’t look at my sister.”
“Why not? She’s lovely.”
“I know. Don’t.” The look he gave me was unlike anything I’d ever seen before: it was menacing, and quite sinister.
“You mean,” I said playfully (never give me an opening like that), “I couldn’t even ask her out for a date?”
“Why? You scared I’ll seduce her?”
His voice darkened even more. “Drop the subject.”
Of course, I wasn’t about to. “Come on…”
“You’re not Greek!” he hissed. “It’s never going to happen. Besides,” he added, “she already has a boyfriend.”
“Greek, no doubt.”
And that was that. Young Playboy Kim meets Old Greek Tradition, loses by a landslide.
I never teased him about it, either. It was clearly not something to make fun of, and I had no doubt that he would have ended our friendship in a heartbeat if I had.
So I never went after his sister; but I did steal his girlfriend away from him a couple of years later. And we still remained friends, after I discovered what he’d discovered: she was a total tramp, the little Scouse tart.
Anyway, Leosh graduated with his law degree, and I couldn’t dodge the draft any longer, so off we went together, by some miracle assigned to the same unit, nay to the same company and platoon even. Our beds were side by side in the barracks, and together we struggled on through Basic Training (boot camp). Then he went off to Officer Training Command (OTC) and thereafter as a lieutenant to the SA Army equivalent of the JAG. I went off as a lowly private to play my guitar at the Entertainment Group.
We stayed in touch less frequently after the army thing ended, mostly because of his work — he became, surprise surprise, the youngest-ever partner in his law firm — but also because I was playing in the band, and trying to start my own career in the process. Whenever we did meet up, though, it was as though we’d only seen each other the week before and not months and months previously.
Then, disaster. Coming home from work late at night, Leosh was in a terrible car accident. Terrible in that his brain was damaged and his head nearly severed from his body at the larynx. He came out of his coma after many months, but while his brain recovered somewhat, the damage to his larynx was devastating, and permanent. Leosh, the smartest, most eloquent and most quick-witted man I’d ever met, couldn’t even speak in a whisper. For the rest of his life.
I met up with him in 2017 when I went back to Seffrica for that brief visit in December. I’d mentioned to Mervyn that I’d be in Joburg, so we met for dinner, and to my delight (and without my knowledge) he’d invited Leosh and his longtime girlfriend Bonita (whom I’d known way back in the day, but that’s an even longer story).
Anyway, I tried to talk to him, but couldn’t understand a word he said. Bonita actually had to translate everything he tried to say, and the evening was marred by my sorrow at what had become of my dear friend, and my frustration at not being able to communicate with him as we had so joyously in the past. Here’s the pic of us at the dinner: Mervyn, Leosh and Yours Truly. (If Zonk were still alive and been there, we’d have played a rubber of bridge.)
Anyway, life went on after that; I came back the the U.S., married New Wife, and the rest you know. Mervyn carried on with his life, smiling as always.
Leosh didn’t. In the past year or so he’d become deeply depressed; the latest operation on his busted throat (the eleventh!) had failed like all the others, and he began talking about ending his own life. So obsessed did he become on the topic that Bonita finally left him, saying, “I don’t want to come home from the supermarket and find you dead!”
Anyway, two Mondays ago it all ended. His brother-in-law (his sister’s boyfriend of earlier) went over when they couldn’t reach him and found Leosh hanging from the rafters.
His last words to Mervyn had been over lunch, only a couple days earlier. Merv was remonstrating with him about always death death death talk, when Leosh croaked painfully, “Mervyn, I died thirty-eight years ago.”
He was quite right, but that doesn’t soften the tragedy of a life crippled and a wonderful, beautiful man brought low by it.
R.I.P. Leosh, you Greek bastard.
Your friend forever,