Illustration by Ghazala
A LITTLE old man with a long white beard was sitting on the bench and drawing something on the sand with the tip of his furled umbrella.
“Move over a bit,” Bilal said to him, and plopped on the edge of the bench.
The old man moved away, examined the red angry face of the boy and asked, “What happened to you?”
“Nothing! And besides, it’s no concern of anyone!” Bilal snapped at the stranger.
“Well, that could be no big deal, indeed. But here you are, lonely and distressed after all these shouting, weeping and quarrelling with someone.”
“You bet!” the boy muttered angrily. “I won’t bear it anymore! Very soon, one of these days, I’ll just escape from home!”
“Really?” the old man asked, surprised.
“Oh, yes! That wicked girl, my sister Maria, is sufficient to make me run away without a backward glance!” Bilal clenched his fists as he spoke. “She was about to get a nice whack from me in the morning, if grandpa hadn’t intervened! You see, she’s got so many watercolours, but she never shares them with me! Even one!”
“Hmm, but it is not a reason to leave the house,” said the old man.
“Not only this! Granny … because of one petty bun … shooed me away from the kitchen. With a kitchen towel!”
Bilal sniffled, bitter with insult.
“Still nothing to mind!” smiled the old man. “Whenever someone scolds us, there is always someone who feels compassion for us.”
“No one has compassion for me!” Bilal yelled. “My brother is going for boating tonight, but he refused to take me along with him. I told him, ‘You’d better take me as I’d never back off! I’d hide your oars otherwise, or sneak behind your back into the vessel’!”
Bilal banged his fist on the bench in frustration, and suddenly went silent.
“So why he refused to take you?”
“And why do you ask about everything?” Bilal asked.
The old man stroked his long beard and spoke, “I want to help you. There is a magic word that works wonders.”
Bilal opened his mouth in astonishment.
“I’ll tell you that word. But remember, it must be uttered softly, looking straight into the eyes of the person you are addressing. It is very important — gently and softly, and looking into the eyes,” the old man told.
“And what’s that word?” Bilal asked.
The old man leaned to the ear of the boy. His soft beard touched Bilal’s cheek. He whispered something and then loudly added, “That’s the magic word. But do not forget how it should be spoken.”
“I’ll try it,” smiled Bilal. “Right away!”
He jumped up and ran towards home.
Maria was at her desk, busy painting. Her colours were in front of her and when she saw Bilal, she immediately shielded them with both hands.
“Ah! The old man might have played a prank on me!” the boy thought with irritation. “How can such a greedy person understand the magic word!”
He slowly approached his sister and pulled her by the sleeve. Maria suspiciously eyed him. And very next moment, looking straight into her eyes, the boy softly said, “Maria, give me one of your colours … please …”
The girl’s eyes widened. Her fists opened and, removing her hands from the table, she embarrassedly mumbled, “W-w-which one you want?”
“Blue,” said Bilal shyly. He took the colour, held it in his hand for a while, made a round of the house and finally gave it back to his sister. Now he did not need the colour: the only thing that occupied his mind was the magic word.
“Grandma is still in the kitchen, cooking. Will she again show me the door?”
When he entered the kitchen, the old lady was plating out hot sweet buns from the baking tray.
Bilal ran up to her, flung his arms round her neck and, looking straight into her kind eyes, whispered, “Granny, give me a piece of your delicious bun ... please …”
Grandma straightened up. The magic word was shining and sparkling in each of her wrinkles, the eyes and the smile. “Here, the freshest bun for my honey!” she happily hustled, choosing the best, hottest bun for her dearest grandson.
Bilal jumped with the excitement and kissed his granny on both her cheeks.
“Magician! He is definitely a magician!” he repeated to himself, recalling his old acquaintance. During lunch Bilal was unusually quiet, attentively listening to the conversation at the table. When the eldest brother, Kamal, mentioned that he was planning to go boating tonight, the boy put the hand on his brother’s shoulder and softly said, “Take me with you, brother! Please!”
Silence settled over the table. Kamal raised his eyebrows and smirked.
“Please Kamal, take him,” suddenly said Maria. “It’ll make him so happy!”
“Of course,” grandma smiled. “Let him come with you, Kamal beta”.
“Please!” pleaded Bilal, his eyes bright with hope.
Kamal laughed loudly, patted the boy on the shoulder and ruffled his hair, “Oh, you, the voyager! Okay, get ready!”
“It worked! It worked again!” It took the boy a few seconds to rush up from the table and storm out of the house, but there was no trace of the miraculous old man in the park.
The bench was empty and only strange characters, drawn with the umbrella tip, could still be seen on the sand.