“Bang bang,” I was startled by the loud noise. A hard object had to have hit my cart. So I turned around to see what had happened.
A stern-looking middle-aged man in navy blue, civil service uniform was staring at me, inquiring explanation. His long, solid wooden stick was leaning on the top edge of my cart, seeming eager to provide another blow.
“Where’s your dad?” the man asked.
Then, Hasan and I were left alone to tend our cart on the side of the road. My dad and mum were inside the huge mosque across the road. My mum had intended to clean little Husain for sometime, but only found the right place when we reached to the junction where the mosque was seen. My dad, at the same time, had wished he could stop over somewhere to perform his voluntary prayer.
“He’s at the mosque,” I stood up and reluctantly answered him.
I noticed Hasan was no where to be found. I had to have daydreamed, not aware where he had disappeared to. My dad would be furious if he had known.
“What’s his name?” the man persistently continued.
“Ermmm….,” I paused for sometime, confused.
I just realised that I had no knowledge of my own dad’s name. We call him Aba, but I am not that stupid to think that it’s his name. Just like Hasan calls me Kakak because I’m his big sister; I know Kakak is not my name. My dad said that Aba is how we call our father in Arabic.
Nervous and shy at the same time, I responded, “I don’t know his name.”
“Bang!” the man hit my cart again. “How is it possible that you don’t know your dad’s name?” he was getting furious.
Petrified, I replied softly, “We call him Aba.”
Frowning, the man banged my cart for the fourth time, “You’ll need to move elsewhere.” With instructing tone, he continued, “Tell your Aba to see me once he’s back!”
“OK,” I said, apprehensive.
I watched the man closely as he walked away from my cart. He headed towards a group of similarly fierce-looking men in the same outfit, banging rows of street peddlers’ buggies to shun them away from the location. Nearby was a large pickup of similar uniform colour, loaded with two or three two-wheelers owned by some of the poor peddlers.
“Why on earth are those carts put on board?” I wondered.
Out of a sudden, I was struck with the idea that my dad’s cart might eventually be picked up as well if he hadn’t shown up. So, I thought of assigning Hasan to find my dad.
As I looked around in worry, I captured his figure hiding behind a huge tree in front of the mosque, watching the whole terrifying episode in fear. I ran across the road and tapped his shoulder from behind.
“What?” he brushed off my hand.
“Look for Aba inside,” I ordered him, “I’ll guard our cart.”
Hasan ran, up the staircases of the mosque entrance.
“Quickly!” I exclaimed.
I returned to my cart and observed the distress and crying of men, and women, of the street peddlers. Some of them tried to dissuade and deter the officers from taking their buggies away; others who were at the far end of the incoming tyrants packed up their goods hastily and escaped to rescue.
My dad, mum — who’s carrying little Husain, and Hasan ran crossing the street and approached me breathlessly.
“Hurry,” my dad took Husain from my mum and put him in the cart, “We have to flee the scene!”
“Aba,” I firmly pulled his hand, “That man wanted you to see him,” pointing at the corresponding person.
Not knowing the outcome if he’d seen him, my dad consulted my mum, as always.
“Should I see him, Ummi?” my dad turned to my mum, “What if he’d take me to his station?”
Ummi wisely suggested, “Think positively, Aba. Let’s just show our good intention.” It might not necessarily be a bad idea to see him.
My dad nodded, “Wise advice, Dear. Wish me luck!” And he walked away from us, towards the hysterical crowds at the junction across.
From the far I could only observe my dad talking to the man I referred to earlier. He seemed to be the chief of the group. My dad lowered his posture in humility in face of power, listening to his words. At the end, the man tapped my dad’s shoulder in a friendly manner. My dad shook his hand and asked permission to leave.
“He only advised me not to leave our cart close to peddlers next time,” he informed us in relief.
“Phew,” I was relieved. All of us were similarly comforted.
We arranged ourselves and got ready to head elsewhere. Alhamdulillah, we hadn’t had to encounter traumatic experience of having our only vehicle of income taken away from us. And alhamdulillah, dad is still with us.
As we were walking away from the worrying scene, I approached my dad as he was pulling the cart.
“Aba, what’s your name?” I asked, for the first time in my life.
“Harun al-Rashid,” he gently said, “Like the the name of the just caliph of Arab Abbasid regime on the 8th century,” and he smiled.