Title: Anything For A Friend
Characters: Toby, Oz, Olivia, Charlie
Genre: Humor, Friendship
Word Count: 3812
Summary: When Oz decides to observe Ramadan, Toby finds the only way to help him is to join him. Will the two survive 30 days of fasting?
“You’re serious?” Toby questioned incredulously casting a disbelieving look to the left where his partner in life saving sat.
“Of course, I’m serious,” said Oz defensively taking his eyes off the road a moment to gaze at Toby. There was a slight hurt look in his eyes.
It was a late afternoon in August and the pair of paramedics were between calls taking their ambulance randomly through the streets of Toronto. Oz as usual had control of the wheel still not completely trusting a man who occasionally received sudden telepathic messages to drive even if he was his best friend.
“What?” continued Oz. “You don’t think I have a spiritual side?”
“No. It’s just…” Toby hesitated a moment trying to figure out a way to explain his doubts without offending his friend. “You’ve never really shown that much interest in religious stuff before. I mean you don’t go to the mosque. You don’t pray.”
“I pray sometimes.”
Toby raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” Oz replied. “And I’ve been to the mosque too, well when I was a kid. Mom was always more into that sort of thing than Dad. She took me a few times so I could see what it was like.”
“But you don’t really practice now days,” Toby pointed out.
“No,” Oz agreed. “But I’m still Muslim. Why shouldn’t I celebrate Ramadan?”
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t,” said Toby raising his hands. He wondered how they had ended up in the middle of a conversation on religion. He was sure they’d been talking about Disney movies only ten minutes ago. “I don’t really know that much about Ramadan but doesn’t it involve fasting for an entire month?”
“Only during the day.”
“Oz, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you go without food for two hours let alone an entire day.” Oz had always loved food, good food, take-out food, whatever food Toby had leftover in the fridge. It was hard for Toby to imagine Oz going without for so long.
Oz’s eyes narrowed accusingly. “Oh. So, you’re saying you don’t think I could do it?”
“I think you can do anything you set your mind on.”
“Good, because I’m doing it,” said Oz stubbornly.
“Good for you,” Toby replied nodding. “Really. I think it’s great that you’re exploring your spiritual side. Just one question though: Why?”
Oz shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said quickly and evasively. “I guess I just feel the need to cleanse my soul.”
It certainly could use a good clean, Oz added in his head though the words were loud and clear to Toby as if they’d been spoken out loud.
Toby had to bite his cheek to stop himself from asking what Oz meant by that. If Oz didn’t want to tell him, he didn’t want to tell him. Toby would have to respect that. The urge to find out what was going on with his friend was strong though. He’d never been that good at minding his own business. Maybe he’d have the opportunity to find out later.
“So when does it start?” Toby asked.
“Tomorrow? I thought it was in the fall some time.”
Oz shook his head. “Nah. It goes by the Islamic calendar. It’s different every year.”
“That doesn’t give you much time to prepare,” Toby observed.
“Who needs to prepare,” said Oz. “Besides I’ve got a plan.”
Toby grinned. That was more like the Oz he knew. He always had a plan or a scheme up his sleeve. “So what is it?”
“Nightshifts. Nothing but nightshifts for the whole thirty days.”
“Nightshifts?” questioned Toby. “Isn’t that cheating?”
“Of course not,” said Oz. “The rules say you don’t eat or drink during the day. They say nothing about not staying up all night to eat.”
“You do realize that this will mean I’ll be doing nightshifts too,” Toby pointed out.
“So? You love nightshifts.”
Toby just gave a strained smile which more closely resembled a grimace.
Oz didn’t notice. “Now I just have to clear it with Rider,” he said smiling to himself.
Toby should have been able to predict what would happen next.
“He said ‘no’,” said Oz a few hours later in the locker room after they’d finished their shift and handed their rig over to the next team of paramedics. He slumped dejectedly onto a bench, shoulders sagging. “Rider said he’s already set the schedule for the next few weeks and he doesn’t want to change it. We’re stuck on days.”
Toby admittedly wasn’t too upset about that fact. “You can still do it though,” he said encouragingly as he stuffed his uniform away in his locker. “And this way it’ll be more true.”
“I guess,” said Oz though he didn’t sound convinced. “But just think of all that time I’ll be spending riding around the city past all those pizza parlours and hot dog carts, all those people going by eating ice cream and drinking mochachinos while I’ll be going without.”
“You’re not giving up are you? I thought this thing was really important to you.”
“It is,” Oz insisted. “I just…” He trailed off.
Toby sat down beside him. “Hey, it’s just a matter of willpower. You have to get your mind into the zone. I’ll help.”
Oz looked up at him. “Really?”
“Yeah. Besides nothing can stop the Oz man from doing what he wants to do, right?”
“Right,” Oz agreed nodding. He sat up straight, his body filling with renewed resolve. “But you’re going to have to do it with me,” he added.
“What?” That hadn’t been what Toby had meant when he’d said he was willing to help. “But…”
“You can skip the praying and the Quran reciting,” said Oz interrupting. “But you have to at least fast with me. No way am I going to be able to ride around all day with you chomping chow beside me.”
“Then I’ll eat outside,” said Toby searching for a way out of this.
Oz snorted and shook his head. “And come back with your breath smelling of onions and freshly baked bread. No way. We are in this together.”
“In this together,” Toby agreed with a nod and a wane smile. Well, he had wanted to help. Maybe this way he’d be able to find out why it was so important to Oz. The next few weeks would obviously prove to be interesting.
“This isn’t so bad,” Oz declared five hours into their first day of fasting.
Toby yawned. “That’s because you had enough at breakfast to satisfy three grown men.”
They’d gotten up early that morning to fit in the traditional Suhoor meal before dawn which had mainly consisted of Oz eating all of the food in Toby’s apartment.
“Just shoring myself up for the day,” said Oz.
“And the rest of the week.”
Oz ignored Toby’s comment. “Honestly, I really think this’ll be easier than I thought.”
“Sure,” Toby agreed. “No food. No drink. No problem.”
“Oh. And no sex or swearing,” added Oz. “Or anything remotely sinful or evil.”
“What?” Toby exclaimed starting to wish he’d done a bit more research before he’d agreed to this.
Oz shrugged. “Only during the day. It’s suppose to help direct our hearts towards higher things.”
“Awesome,” said Toby unenthusiastically.
“Don’t worry about it. The month will be over in no time and then we’ll celebrate with a giant feast at my parent’s restaurant. It’ll be great.”
“Put down the banana,” Toby said slowly approaching his friend with his hands raised as if Oz was holding a knife rather than a piece of fruit.
“No,” Oz exclaimed gripping the banana tightly. “You can’t make me.”
The two were in Toby’s apartment. They had just returned after a long and tiring day handling multiple calls all over town and it was still a couple of hours until sunset. In retrospect, Toby realized he probably should have put the fruit away instead of leaving it out temptingly on the table, but it was a little late now.
“Oz…” said Toby. “What about cleansing your soul?”
“I don’t care about that anymore. I’m starving. I’m going to eat this banana and I’m going to enjoy it.”
Oz began to remove the peel.
Toby did the only thing he could think of to do. He tackled Oz. The two fell to the ground and began rolling around on the floor as they wrestled for the banana. It wasn’t long before the now slightly smushed banana slipped from their mutual grips, slid across the floor, and landed next to an old pair of Toby’s sneakers.
Still lying on the ground, Oz looked across forlornly at the lost banana. “Okay,” he said with a sigh. “You win.”
“Come on. Come on. Come on. Come on,” Oz muttered to himself.
Going to a football game had seemed like a great thing to do to help keep their minds off food.
Rogers Centre. Argonauts vs. Lions.
But Oz wasn’t watching the game. He was watching the clock as the minutes ticked down to sunset.
“Five more minutes and that pastrami sandwich is mine!” Oz cried.
They’d bought their food earlier and it now sat at their feet as they sat in the stadium.
Stomach grumbling, Toby found himself unable to help looking at the clock too. The minutes passed by painfully slowly until finally it hit official sunset time.
Toby and Oz dived for their food ready to break their fast. They gave contented moans as they bit into their giant deli sandwiches. Around them the crowd suddenly leapt to their feet with a loud roar.
Oz gazed about in confusion. “Did someone score a touchdown?”
“You have got to get me out of this,” Toby begged leaning across the reception desk in the ER to gaze pleadingly at Olivia.
Looking up from the documents she was checking over, Dr. Fawcett gave him an amused smile. “Isn’t it a little late for that?” she said. “I thought you had committed to going through this with Oz.”
“It’s never too late,” Toby insisted desperately. “Please, Liv. I spend all my days thinking about nothing but food and waiting for the sun to go down. It’s driving me crazy.”
And here I thought he already was crazy, thought Olivia unaware Toby would overhear.
Toby rolled his eyes. “I’m serious. Can’t you give me some sort of medical excuse?”
“I happen to know that you’re perfectly healthy,” said Olivia. “Studies have even shown that fasting can be very good for your cholesterol levels.”
Toby’s shoulders slumped. “Thanks a lot, Liv,” he grumbled.
Smiling knowingly, Olivia leaned forward so she was resting her elbows on the desk too putting their faces only a few inches apart. “Come on now. Both of us know you’d never weasel out of helping a friend.”
The corner of Toby’s mouth twitched. “Yeah, I guess not,” he admitted. “I just hope I can get through this with the remains of my sanity intact.”
“Stop thinking about food,” Toby moaned.
They were in the EMS station going through their weekly ambulance washing routine and it was proving of little distraction to their current hunger.
“I can’t help it,” said Oz as he tiredly rubbed a soapy sponge against the outside of the rig. “It’s all I think about. Giant slices of pizza dripping with melted cheese, a giant hunk of roast beef between two thick slices of sourdough bread, chicken and cashew chow mein smothered in soy sauce, Mom’s famous lamb stew with…”
“…with baklava for dessert,” Toby finished for him able to see all the food perfectly pictured in Oz’s mind. “You’re making me hungry.”
“Then stay out of my head.”
“I can’t help it,” said Toby. “You’re thoughts are too strong. Think of something else.”
“I don’t know. Anything.”
An image of panda bears ridding unicycles appeared in Toby’s mind and he chuckled. A song began repeating itself in Oz’s head and one of the panada’s began to juggle, another began to play the kazoo, and another reached for a juicy burger and took a giant bite.
Toby never realized he’d miss the ability to swear so much.
“Is there a reason you’re staring at my coffee?”
Toby shook his head moving his gaze from the paper cup in Charlie’s hand to her face. “Sorry. What?”
The detective gave him an odd look as if she was re-evaluating just how sane he was, but Toby was used to that sort of look from her.
“You’ve been staring at my cup almost the whole time we’ve been talking,” she said.
“I was just thinking,” said Toby which was true. He had been thinking about just how much he’d love to have a cup of coffee right now. You didn’t do shift work without developing a habit of having multiple cups of coffee per day. Just one in the morning didn’t quite cut it. The aroma currently coming from Charlie’s cup was intoxicating. His eyes slowly drifted back to the cup.
“If you’d like…” she said offering the coffee to him.
“No,” said Toby taking a step back, hands up as she was offering him a cobra instead of a cup. “No. I’m fine. I’m fine,” he insisted.
Detective Marks looked at him in that odd way again clearly lowering his sanity level on her mental chart another notch before shaking her head and continuing on with the case they were discussing.
Toby did his best to listen forcing his mind away from thoughts of sweet smelling coffee.
“I can’t believe how many places there are to eat in this city,” said Oz during another foodless day in the ambulance. “Did they just spring up overnight or something? I’m sure there weren’t that many before. Restaurants, eateries, diners, cafes. And there’s so many I haven’t tried yet.”
He pointed out the windshield to the right side of the street.
“Hey, there’s that Ethiopian place I’ve always wanted to try."
He pointed to the left.
“Oh, and that new fancy burger joint has finally opened.”
A hot dog cart could be seen in the distance doing brisk business on the sidewalk. Oz looked longingly at it practically drooling.
“Hell, I’d just settle for a simple sausage in a bun with ketchup and mustard and onions and corn relish and…”
Toby’s hand suddenly shot out and yanked the steering wheel pulling the ambulance which Oz had unconsciously been letting drift in the direction of the hot dog cart back into the centre of the lane.
“Eyes on the road and off the food,” said Toby.
Oz sat up shaking himself and refocusing his gaze. “Right,” he said. “Right.”
Toby sighed hoping he’d get through the rest of Ramadan alive.
Mrs. Peters was the most stereotypical grandmother Toby and Oz had ever met. She had grey curly hair and a round wrinkled face with more laugh lines than frown lines. She was short and slightly plump, and wore a flower print dress under an apron lightly dusted with flour.
The reason for the flour was evident the moment they entered her house. The entire place smelled of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
“Would you like some?” she asked waving a tray full of them under their noses as they checked over her husband whose worsening cough had inclined her to call 911 bringing them there.
Toby felt his mouth watering. He glanced over at Oz and saw his eyes widen with desire.
“No, thank you,” Toby said quickly.
“Oh, but I insist,” Mrs. Peters said, her smile wide. “I make the best cookies in the neighbourhood. You really should try them.”
Toby saw Oz’s fingers twitch in the direction of the tray of cookies. He put a hand on his partner’s arm. “Be strong,” he whispered.
Oz shot Toby a pleading look. But we don’t want to be rude, he thought knowing Toby would hear.
Seeing his friend was about to cave, Toby put himself between Oz and the cookies. “They smell wonderful,” he told Mrs. Peters. “But we’re not allowed to accept gifts. You wouldn’t want to get us in trouble, would you?”
“Oh, of course not,” she said and thankfully put the tray away.
Toby went back to checking her husband and breathed a sigh of relief at their narrow escape.
“Only five more days to go,” said Oz as they pulled into the station at the end of their shift. “You know I think we’re actually going to make it.”
“Of course, we are,” said Toby as they exited the ambulance. “We’re like rocks, man. Nothing can touch us.”
“Yeah,” Oz agreed. He continued talking as they grabbed their gear out of the back of the rig and headed for the locker room. “No food no matter how tempting will sway us from our quest. We are immune to all of its alluring ways. We are untouchable. We are indomitable. We are… Do you smell that?”
Toby sniffed the air. The station was filled with the very familiar and very enticing scent of pizza. Passing the station’s lounge area, they found it packed with their fellow paramedics along with several large boxes of pizza and a large frosted cake out of which several slices had already been taken.
“There you guys are,” Rider called out from amongst the crowd. “I thought you guys were gong to miss Alex’s birthday celebration. Don’t worry though there’s still lots of pizza and cake left for both of you.”
Oz and Toby turned to look at each other.
“Run,” said Toby.
Spinning around, they raced out of the room leaving a very confused Rider behind them.
The last day of Ramadan which also happened to be the last day of summer was a glorious warm sunny day. Oz and Toby had stopped the ambulance beside a park and were leaning against it as they enjoyed the view and soaked up the sunshine.
“We made it,” said Oz. “We actually made.”
“We are the untouchable,” Toby declared and they bumped their fists against each other. “So does your soul feel cleansed?”
Oz thought about it for a moment. “You know I think it does. Or at least, my head seems a bit clearer.”
“Does this mean you’re going to tell me the real reason you wanted to do Ramadan?” asked Toby.
Oz scowled at him. “Have you been reading me again?”
“Maybe a bit,” Toby admitted. “But in this case, I didn’t really need to. I know you, man, and you don’t just invest yourself in something like this without a really good reason.”
There was another moment of silence before Oz responded. “You know those guys down at the station and at the hospital too, the ones who have been doing this sort of stuff for decades. You ever notice how some of them seem to have just, well, stopped caring.”
Toby nodded. He knew the sort of people Oz was referring to.
“They stop seeing people as people,” Oz continued. “They treat them like they’re just machines on an assembly line there to be fixed up and shipped out as soon as possible. They become…”
“Complete bastards?” Toby finished for him.
“Exactly,” Oz exclaimed. “It’s like they’ve seen so much that they’ve become numb to all the suffering around them. And I… I don’t want that to happen to me.”
Toby stared at Oz in surprise. “Seriously? Come on, man. You’re like the last person I’d expect that to happen to.”
“You think so?’ said Oz. “You remember Crazy Fred?
“Crazy Fred… You mean that homeless guy who always hangs outside that corner store near your place, the one with the paper clip necklace and the squirrel fixation?” The corner store was a frequent stop for them whenever hanging out at Oz’s place and the unusually dressed homeless man had long been a permanent fixture on that block.
“Yeah. Well, he’s not going to be hanging out there anymore. Alex and Montague brought him in about a month ago. Apparently, he was found lying unconscious on the sidewalk. He’d had a seizure and passed away shortly after he arrived at the hospital. They say he was probably lying out there for hours all those people passing him by.”
“They probably thought he was just sleeping,” said Toby.
“And when did someone sleeping on the street become such a good thing?” Oz said bitterly. “I was one of those people who walked by him. I’m supposed to be a paramedic and I didn’t even notice that I was walking right by a dying man. Heck, how many times over the past couple of years did I walk by him and never offer to help? He clearly needed some.”
“Doing Ramadan is supposed to help improve your empathy towards those less fortunate and encourage charity. I thought it might help me before it was too late. I thought it might help stop me from becoming another one of those drained out husks that doesn’t care about anyone but themselves and only save people because it’s their job.”
“Oz,” Toby said for the second time placing his hands on his friend’s shoulders to stop the continuing tirade. “You do care about people, obviously you do and I don’t think you’ll ever stop. Next time you see someone like that you’ll know better and you’ll help him, but we can’t help everyone.”
Oz snorted. “That’s rich coming from you. How’s the superhero business going by the way?”
Toby fought the urge to roll his eyes. “Yeah, I try to help who I can, but even I know I can’t solve everyone’s problems, and everyone has problems. Believe me. I can hear them,” he added tapping his head. “If I tried to help everyone, I’d burn myself out in no time, and then I’d be no good to anyone.”
“So you’re saying I should concentrate on helping who I can?”
“Exactly, and you’re already doing a great job of that. You already go above and beyond what most paramedics do.”
“I do?” said Oz sounding pleased some of the old cocky Oz confidence coming back.
Smiling, Toby patted him on the shoulder before letting him go. “Yeah, you do.”
“You’re really sure I’m not going to turn into one of those complete bastards then?
“I’m sure,” Toby said. “And if I ever see any sign of you doing anything bastard-like, I promise I’ll be there to poke you with a stick, hit you upside the head, go through Ramadan with you again, anything you need to get you back on track.”
“Thanks man. Same goes for me,” Oz said nodding. “A Prod, a poke, a slap, whatever it takes. We’ll watch each other’s backs.”
“Right,” said Toby grinning. “After all, what are friends for.”