|The Remover Of Obstacles|
(This post was featured in BlogAdda's Spicy Saturday picks for December 28, 2013)
*****The warmth of the tea slowly spread outwards from her throat and stomach to her numb hands and fingers. She had been cold from the time she came to know and her head and eyes had started aching soon after they set out before any of the neighbors woke up. She had put on all the clothes she cared to have and tried to make him do the same, but he would not listen. She feared that if they packed a bag they’d be too conspicuous. She feared they were already too late. They followed their long shadows down the narrow lane out on to the main street. She knew the city poorly, rarely going out beyond the local grocers or to the nearest theater on Sunday mornings when they had a single screening of films from their land. She knew that if they kept going along the big road that all the buses took they would reach the station. And that is what she had done, holding his hand tightly in hers, their shadows looping between the pools of sodium vapor melancholy.
Hamid turned the pump stove off and in his mind made a checklist for the afternoon. He had to pack up and reach the prayer hall before people arrived so that he could dust the chairs and keep the water ready. The milkman had already reminded him that he was due for last month’s money. Thankfully, his landlord never complained even when he was two months behind on the rent. He probably thought of it as alms to the faithful. The rains had cut business back in a big way, with fewer people out in the streets. He had hardly made any money all morning in spite of it being a regular working day. He had less than a month to save up money to be able to visit home. Like the two customers at his shop now, he too was an immigrant. He looked at the two of them, their quiet conversation slipping out reluctantly from between their clenched alien teeth, and hoped they would order a second cup. The boy asked for a biscuit. He had a lisp. She first said no, and then after some time, asked Hamid for one. Hamid dipped into the jar and handed the biscuit to him with a smile. He believed that as long as he continued to create the right causes, his victory was assured.
Though it was well past nine in the morning, it felt more like daybreak. The normally frenetic crossroads wore a deserted look. The boy pointed upwards tilting his head and the glass of tea dangerously. She noticed the sliver of fog that hovered over the flyover. She straightened the cap on his head and snapped at him lovingly to finish his tea first. He had crumbs all over his chapped lips and sunburned face. She asked Hamid in faltering Hindi how far it was to the station. He suggested that they take a bus. She asked if it was too far to walk. He nodded in a way that meant both yes and no.
Hamid looked at the boy and how he looked at her after every sip of tea and wondered what it would be like to be married and to have a family. He looked at her shrunken face and the dark circles around her eyes. He shook his head as he remembered his father, a good man who treated his wife like dirt. Though his siblings had all grown up believing that their father was right, he had sought answers, and kept seeking till he chanced upon Azadbhai in his teens. He silently thanked the now old man for having introduced him to what he now knew as the correct teaching, who had shown him that marriage created attachments that would stand in the way of his faith. He was married in a manner of speaking, he told himself. Being married was not easy, no matter who or what you were married to. Sometimes his body would freeze and he would feel like he were looking at himself from without and wonder if what he was doing was right. Sometimes he would wonder is what he was doing was what he meant to to. But it would always be too late for him to even consider answering the question. While he was lost in his thoughts, he had turned the stove on, put some more milk and water to boil, and once it bubbled up, thrown the tea powder in and turned the pump stove off again, letting the tea boil in the residual heat.
|Bridging the human and the divine|
They finished their tea and handed the glasses back to Hamid. He asked if she wanted another one. She didn’t reply, and pulling out a tattered purse, thumbed her way past a few folded notes, picked out some coins and began counting them. She wished she could go back in time to when her husband had first come back to the village and announced that he had rented a room where they could all stay. She wished that she had not been tempted by the certainty of the plains and the bright lights of the big city. As she counted the coins from one hand into the other, she wished over and over, till she had finished counting. Hamid took the money, smiled and handed her a fresh glass of tea. She shook her head. With his other hand, he signaled that she didn’t need to pay, that it was okay. She hesitated for a moment, but his being was so full of compassion and understanding that she broke into a sad smile, and took the glass.
She knew there was no point in searching for him. She knew what might have happened. She knew she was not strong enough to face the truth. All she knew now was that her mother had been right when she had said that they didn’t belong, that the world was waiting to get you, that people were lowly or great because of where they came from, how they looked and who they worshiped. She knew there was no point in spending time thinking about what might have happened. All that mattered to her now was to take the boy away from the silence that she was locked into, to take him back to the tinkling of the spring that flowed down beside their home, to take him back to the smiling faces that looked like their own, to take him back and let him dirty himself in the soil that he would not fear to call his own. She finished the tea and handed the glass back, making a gesture of paying, which he turned down with a smile and a wave of his arms. She pointed in the direction that he had said the station was, looked at Hamid questioningly, he nodded in the affirmative, and the two of them set off.
Hamid put the glass in the tub of water, the tub into which he placed used glasses all day long, rinsing them out in the turbid water, and using them again. He knew it didn’t matter. He had come to see that all lives were like glasses being washed in the same water over and over again, that all that happened to one life in one lifetime was insignificant in the greater scheme of things. He wondered how the supreme being made it so easy to spot the faithless, how he made them so alike, how he made them so convenient to find them. Perhaps they felt the same way about believers, he thought. Anyway, he knew it didn’t matter. He knew nothing mattered as long as you did it with a pure heart. He looked at the mother and son as they walked away, and he felt a tightening sensation in his chest. God and his strange ways, he thought to himself.