At times when I feel that life on the streets is harsh, God would show me people who are even less fortunate. I would emphatise them instead and forget about my own share of trials.
On our way home today, I nagged my dad to buy me an empty book which I could write our stories on. It wasn’t me to showcase such a childish behaviour, but I couldn’t seem to restrain myself. All this while I’ve written my heart out on looseleaf of paper or carton I found among our piles of daily collection. And I’ve figured that keeping those loose pieces together safely intact is difficult. I thought if I could have a binded book, it would be much easier to retrieve any page.
“Aba, do you have some money to spare?”
“Would you mind getting me a book to write on?” I begged him.
“I’d get it next time, dear,” my dad tried to stop me from bugging him.
“But, Aba, I’ll fast for the next couple of weeks. You can use my meal money to buy me a book,” I (less) cleverly pushed him.
“Haven’t we been fasting on most days?” he reminded.
He’s right. We — my dad, mum, Hasan, and I — are trained to fast. I have been used to skip afternoon meals and whole-day drinks since I was about 6. Hasan similarly. When we fast, we only have two meals each day, at early morning before dawn and breaking our fast right after dusk.
You may perhaps think that frequent fasting was why we were skinny and seemed to be relatively undernourished. Yet, to tell you the truth, we are in fact stronger than Ms Thurayya’s 20 something son, who is used to driving around the city. I bet he wouldn’t be able to walk long distance like we do every day. And I bet he wouldn’t survive one hour under the sun, without air cooler within his vicinity.
Besides, fasting helps us save more cash for the day, or the next.
So anyway, my argument (for the book) didn’t work. Well, it wasn’t actually well thought of.
I was about to give another argument when I saw them. A blind man squatting next to his two-armed bamboo lever on which packs of crackers were attached to. Leaning comfortably on a lamp post, the cracker peddler supported his son’s head resting over his old shoulder. The son was almost my age.
Many times I’ve seen the duo. The blind cracker peddler would go out in the morning, from somewhere he stays (I don’t know where), and walk around the housing complex guided by his seeing son. But, never once I fell into deep contemplation for the routine I usually witnessed. So, what’s different today?
As I observed them — the father and son — I was struck, noticing the peaceful expression of his son, closing his eyes, facing the bright street light above. Still in his eyes closed, a slight smile of contentment appeared on his face. I froze. That moment was so surreal that I felt everything stopped there, at the beauty of the moment. No wind. No sound. No swaying leaves. No passing vehicles. Nothing.
I completely froze. Standing still. Staring on his face under the shining rays of fluorescence street light — the only working lamp along the street. I didn’t budge, even after Hasan dodged my hand slightly.
Mum had to tap my shoulder to wake me up from the fascination of the moment.
“Humayra,” she called.
And I continued walking, with my mum next to me.
However, I couldn’t let the boy go off my sight. As our entourage was passing by in front of them, my eyes were fixed onto his face. Only then, I began to wonder, “What could possibly be going on in his mind?”
“How can he be so in peace?”
I started to compare my fortunes in comparison to his. My dad can see; his dad can’t. My dad has more opportunities to earn money than his dad does. My dad can mow grasses, sprinkle the garden, fix bicycle; his dad may not. If his dad can sew, my dad can definitely learn too. My dad can see and praise how beautiful I am; his dad can’t compliment how handsome he is in seemingly believable manner. And can his dad teach him how to write? I don’t think so.
Most importantly, I don’t have to show my dad where to go; he does with his dad.
Yet, at that moment, he seemed to be content, having no complain of his condition. I felt embarrassed, and instantly felt so fortunate. Who am I to whine about not having a book while there are others who have much less?
I wish to capture that surreal moment, keeping it somewhere safe in a hidden space of my heart — so I could recall it again whenever I feel less thankful.