Illustration by Ghazala
“EID is incomplete without gifts!” I announced, looking significantly at my parents. “And, preferably, nice and expensive ones!”
“Well,” Mum rejoiced, “I didn’t know that.”
She turned to Dad, but Dad immediately backed me up.
“Farhan is right!” he said, “That’s a talk of a grown-up man!”
I gave a triumphant look at mother and tried to draw myself up to appear a bit taller.
“So, sweetheart, this holiday we will be getting some great Eid presents!”
“Really?” Mum smiled.
“No doubts! You’ve heard our son talking,” Dad was serious as ever.
I opened the mouth to say that it was in fact me who should get the gifts, but quickly bit the tongue. What an embarrassment it would be to disappoint my dear ones. Oh, my! What a nice situation I’ve got here — I wanted to receive gifts not give them! And with just 10 days left to Eid and 50 rupees in my pocket, what am I going to do?
Okay, the money issue I would work out later, first of all it was important to figure out what kind of gifts would make Mum and Dad happy. I really had no clue. Probably, I am a bad son, I thought to myself and felt sad. And suddenly I realised that in my whole 10-year-old life, I had never given any gifts to my parents. Yes, we used to make some unattractive patchworks in kindergarten, or painted some ridiculous cards in school, but they were nothing more than chaotic outcomes of the “do-it-yourself” classes.
After fruitlessly pondering for quite a time, I finally approached my mother.
“Mum!” I asked her, “What does Dad want most in the world?”
“That you always be healthy!” Mum said.
“And happy!” she added almost immediately.
“Not that,” I waved. “What kind of gift Dad would like to get?”
Mom was thoughtful for a while. “Well, might be a nice fountain pen,” she said. “It’s a shame to look at what he writes with.”
Thanking Mum, I cornered my dad. “Dad, what would Mum love for a gift?”
After some reflection, Dad said that Mum’s favourite perfume was about to be finished.
The next day after school I decided to take a tour of shops in a shopping mall near our house, however, the results had me literally jarred. In one of the shops I did find an excellent Chinese Parker pen with golden nib! And yes, in the perfume department there were some really nice smelling bottles that I knew Mum would love. The price of the pen was Rs3,000, while the perfume was for Rs3,300!
From where will I get such a huge sum?
That night I dreamt about our cat Basil, who peered at me and purred, “You can borrow some mmmoney from mmme.”
With that I woke up, knowing very well what I had to do. I had a money bank in the shape of a cat, where — partly through donations, partly via direct extortions — money for the purchase of a digital camera was being saved up. The camera cost a crazy amount — Rs6,000! But it was more than a mere target. The camera was a cherished dream! And now I had to give up the dream.
With a lumpy throat I spread the paper on the floor and took down the ceramic cat from the top shelf. Well, it had been with me for a very, very long time, more than a year in fact, and I got used to him. I felt as if the cat looked at me reproachfully.
Hiding my eyes, I hit its bottom plate with a hammer. Too mildly, I guess, as the bottom plate didn’t even crack. I hit harder, and then more.
And suddenly, instead of making a hole, I broke the cat into five pieces! Tears blurred my vision, but I manned up and picked up the all bills and coins from the rubble. The accumulated wealth counted to Rs5,856.
For the next two days, I begged my Mum to send me to buy the groceries. And why not! After all, the change left from shopping — under an unspoken rule — always went straight into my money bank.
One day my maternal uncle, Uncle Adnan, visited us. He stayed for a while, and before leaving took out two red notes from his wallet.
“Well, Farhan,” he called me. “Bring here your cat!”
“I do not have it,” I muttered.
“What do you mean “don’t’ have”?” Mom was amazed. “I saw your cat just recently!”
“I broke it!”
I fetched the rubbles of the penny-bank which, for some reason, I had carefully preserved, and showed them to Mom.
“And money?” asked she.
“I won’t tell!”
Sensing something wrong, Uncle Adnan slid the notes into my hand and pushed me to the door, “Come see me off, sonny.”
“Seems you got yourself a trouble back there,” he said me in the yard, nodding to the house.
I shrugged, overwhelmed with bitterness.
“At least, the money might be well-spent, I guess,” he sighed.
“Not yet…” and I told him everything!
“How much is lacking?” the Uncle asked in a matter-of-fact tone and, for the first time in my life, gently caressed my hair.
“No, I’ve got enough now.”
“Hmmm, can you please race to that bakery on the next corner and get some fresh doughnuts for you and your parents? They are great remedy for all problems!” Uncle handed me some banknotes.
“Let’s go together!” I perked up. “Your house is on the way.”
But Uncle Adnan excuses himself, quoting some urgent business and I had to leave alone.
When I returned home with pastries, Mom and Dad looked very confused. They jollily hailed doughnuts I brought, but for some reason, gave half of their cookies to me. Not a word was said about the broken cat, and the bank rubble also mysteriously disappeared. The next day I bought a pen with golden nib and perfume set, and hid them in my drawer. But to tell the truth, I couldn’t stomach the secret till Eid, and on the Chand Raat I proudly presented them to the parents. They were very delighted, and thanked me profusely. It was so nice!
When I woke up in the morning, the first thing I saw was my ceramic cat, sitting by my bed. Glued up by a skilful hand, it was of no more use for banking of course, yet I was glad to see it.
But it took an instance for the smile to turn into dismay. A glued-up cat? That’s all? Have I deserved nothing but this? I sat on the bed, choking back tears, and promised myself that I would express my gratitude for the gift and would never reveal anyone how much I got disheartened.
And then all of sudden a middle-sized cube, which served as a stand for the cat, caught my eyes.
It could not be!!
But, yes, it was! Served as a pedestal for the broken penny-bank was a cartoon box, and I knew — knew for 100 per cent — what I was going to find inside of it!