A Living Legend

June 18th, 2017by Diem S. Sky

N.K. Those were his initials. N.K. When I met him, he was old, probably 65 or 70. He lived in a small village in the East, where I was visiting relatives with my family.

He was no sage, or wise man. No, that’s not how he was at all. He was strong, and he was proud. He was born into a poor family, so as a young boy, from the age of 13, to make ends meet he would work two jobs, and tutor. Every day he would be up at 4 am, teaching students math. He would go to school and sleep. And then all night, he would be working manual labor until 2 or 3 am.

And he failed. A lot. He slept through school and barely studied, so of course he would fail. The other boys would make fun of him, but he would never apologize, never look down in shame. His irises shining an almost blindingly brilliant blue, he would stare others in the face and say something like, “I’m not a rich kid, sir! Have to work to earn my bread!” He would call everyone ‘sir’, man or woman. Gender was irrelevant to N.K. To him, everyone was just ‘sir’. An abstract entity he didn’t give any f*cks about.

When he wasn’t working or sleeping, he would be training. He would be studying, he would be working his body. He was no martial artist in body, but at heart he had the principles of a true warrior. And it showed physically. His torso was like a whip, not an inch of extra weight on him. It was the body of a man that did not indulge in any pleasures, and it was beautiful.

Even at 65, I was struck by how artful, how poised he looked as he sat across from me, back straight, legs crossed, head high. When he taught, he would be teaching so loudly you could hear it down the entire block. During early mornings his voice would filter into our house, even a couple streets away.

And he didn’t mince words. None of this american ‘no such thing as a stupid question’ b.s. No, if someone said something idiotic, he would call them out and say, (and I’m translating from a different language), “You’re such a dumb rock, sir. Go read the book!” And sometimes, if he felt like a student wasn’t working hard enough, he would just tell them to leave. Money didn’t matter to him. No matter how wealthy, everyone was treated the same.

He made the wealthy kids pay more for his teaching, and the poor kids often didn’t have to pay at all. If they could endure his brutally honest sessions. He could not be bought. He was above greed.

Once, a couple former student whom he had expelled sought retribution. They decided to rob him, and bought guns in the black market. They entered his house (and there was a classroom full of witnesses to this story), and told him to hand over every penny he had. It is said that when N.K. walked over to them, he wore an expression so terrifying that the robbers had to look away from his eyes. And he grabbed the two guns and told them, “You two will not get a penny out of me. If you’re going to shoot me, then shoot me. But make sure you kill me, because if you let me live, I will find you, and I you can be sure that I will kill you.”

No one dared mess with him after that incident.

I met N.K. a few times in my life, and I believe every word I heard about him. The man is, was, and always will represent the spirit of a true warrior. He was unyielding. He was unapologetic. He was fearless, greedless. He worked hard, and he lived by his principles. And he was proud of it.

The last time I met him, I was in 7th grade. He looked at me then, and I looked away. I wanted to show that I wasn’t defiant. I wanted him to like me. And he looked at me and he said, “Why so much fear, sir?”

But I also won’t forget the last thing he said to my mother. “Great kid, sir. Great kid.”

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