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Brother of man who drowned in river: ‘I tried to reach him. ... I just lost him.'

All afternoon Thursday, Asad Jaffry’s 7-year-old nephew, Moeez, begged him to take him to the Ocmulgee River to play. The boy pestered his father, too. But the men kept putting him off. It’s hot, they told him, let it cool off some.

That evening, Asad, 45, and his younger brother Azfar, the boy’s dad, took Moeez and a co-worker to Amerson Water Works Park. The riverside park lies on the backside of a Pierce Avenue-area neighborhood, not far from where the motel they run overlooks Interstate 75.

None of the Jaffrys knew how to swim, and neither did the co-worker, but the water was knee-deep or shallower in many spots. Besides, they’d brought along some innertube-like rafts, one of them a two-seater that looked more like a bobbing blue-and-white lounge chair. The outing seemed safe.

The Jaffrys, Pakistan natives who also own a motel in Decatur, where Azfar lived, didn’t often take time off work to goof around.

“We are immigrants. ... We just try to work, work and work. That’s what’s our hobby, try to make a living. It’s tough,” Asad says.

Azfar, divorced from Moeez’s mother, had recently gotten remarried to a woman in Pakistan. He’d been back in Georgia for about a week.

For the Fourth of July, Azfar, 41, rode down to Macon with his son to visit Asad at the motel that Asad manages for him on Sheraton Drive. They’d recently renamed the place United Suites. “A Home Away From Your Home,” the slogan goes.

On Independence Day, they grilled marinated leg of goat and chicken cubes. Azfar brought candies from Pakistan. He gave his big brother, Asad, a new shirt from their homeland.

The Jaffry brothers first came to America in the early 1990s. They opened a 12-by-12-foot convenience mart on 86th Street in Brooklyn, N.Y., not far from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

Four months ago, Asad was living in Connecticut, where his daughter attends medical school, when Azfar called and asked him to come to Macon and manage the motel.

“He was like my baby brother. He treat me like father,” Asad says. “It’s like old-tradition family. ... I take care of him like my son.”

Azfar was fond of Pakistani comedy shows on the Internet. On Thursday, he called one up on his computer and, excited, told Asad, “Watch, watch, watch. This one’s soooo hilarious.”

Later that afternoon, they took the new rafts to the river. They snapped pictures and splashed around.

The plan was for Asad to drop his nephew, brother and the co-worker off at the riverside park and pick them up after they drifted downstream to the Spring Street boat ramp.

But before he left, Asad noticed how his nephew, Moeez, kept hopping off the raft and into the water. That worried Asad.

So instead of leaving, he rode downriver to another part of the park. As it was already evening, closing in on 7 o’clock, he hoped the rafters might choose to get out there instead of riding the lazy Ocmulgee all the way past the Interstate 16 bridge into downtown.

“I stopped them,” Asad says, “and said, ‘Do you want to go to Spring Street another two hours, or do you want to get out here?’ ... I told them, ‘Let’s come out here.’ ”

They knew the park was about to close as they pulled the rafts out of the water.

“The park guy was there, the cleaning guy. He told us, ‘OK, I’m still cleaning. You have 15 more minutes. Hang out, no problem.’ He was a nice guy. So I get up on the land and it’s too hot, so I say, ‘Let me wet myself, too.’ I joined them. ... We were just like sitting in the water and started talking about swimming. I said, ‘Listen, don’t nobody know the swimming.’ ... When you don’t know the swimming, when you go in the water you try to do a little bit here and there to learn how.”

And that’s what Azfar did. He floated around without the raft in water that was maybe a foot deep. But further out, it was deeper -- more than 10 feet in spots.

“He goes in the water,” Asad says, “and suddenly I see him like 15 feet away from me and he was like drowning. He waved to me. ... I jumped in. I tried to reach him. He holds my hand, and he pulled me down, too, but I pushed myself up. He didn’t come back. ... I don’t know when he lose me. ... I come up and I was like, going in and out. I try to call people, ‘Help me! Help me!’ ... I wish I had more strength to go down, but because I have asthma I can’t hold my breath and I just lost him.”

The park attendant heard Asad’s cries and leaped in.

He used one of the rafts to tug the breathless, gagging Asad to shore.

But by then Azfar had disappeared underwater.

Sometime after 7:30, divers pulled his body from the river.

As of Friday morning, Azfar’s family still hadn’t told 7-year-old Moeez that his father was dead.

Asad, meanwhile, can’t believe his baby brother is gone, or that his funeral is at an Atlanta mosque this weekend.

It was only this past spring when Azfar had called needing his help.

“I’m by myself,” he’d said. “Come on.”

“Now,” Asad says, his voice breaking into a wail, “he left me.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.

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