If you enter the home of the Ambassador to Malaysia in Havana, Cuba,
you will find this sweet portrait prominently displayed in the front hall.
And once you read my story, you will understand why.
Pictured here is Amierul Wafiq Bin Khairi, third son and fourth child of my lovely Malaysian hosts in Cuba.
Wafiq was a precocious little boy from the start. Born in Washington D.C. of his diplomatic parents, he learned English as his first language and considered himself an American. When his family finished the U.S. posting and returned to Kuala Lumpur, two-year-old Wafiq expressed his displeasure with the move and wondered when they might go back to DC. Still, he contented himself by playing with Hot Wheels, memorizing the makes and models of cars, and otherwise being a normal toddler.
Until he woke up one morning complaining of aching feet.
And was soon diagnosed with leukemia.
Surprisingly - or maybe not - Wafiq handled his illness with maturity and calm. Though he didn't like staying overnight in the hospital, his treatments did not set him back for long. He handled the dreary procedures like a champ and usually came home in good spirits, ready to play with his beloved toy cars and carry on his happy little life.
But over the course of a year, he grew weaker. His appetite paled, and his family began to fear the worst. On a quiet Friday afternoon, he laid down on his bed, closed his eyes, and peacefully left this life for the next.
Bless his sweet soul.
Now, back to the photo. This is the last photograph ever taken of Wafiq.
It seems that one of Wafiq's relatives had come visiting, and the boy asked this favored uncle to take his picture. Posing himself on a formal chair, Wafiq - who typically presented a serious face to the camera - surprised everyone with a smile. His mother says this is the only photo she has of her son's beautiful smile.
I can certainly understand why she treasures this precious portrait.
And I appreciate why she feels especially grateful to this particular relative whose special bond with Wafiq made this photo possible.
And it brings a special smile to my own face to hear that this uncle is the one and only Mohd Yuzairie, my first and best Malaysian friend, without whom I never would have met this lovely family and shared in the beautiful story of Wafiq's life.
And now my story is all told out. But the circles of friendship and family, life and love, continue to spin and spiral around us all.
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Check out more stories about my once-in-a-lifetime trip to Cuba and my wonderful friends who lived there: