Arshad had been out window shopping with his parents. That was all they did these days because they didn’t have enough money to afford all the shiny clothes, shoes and other fancy items the windows displayed. Even from a distance, they looked so promising and inviting that one couldn’t help but go over and look at them.
Ever since Arshad’s father lost his business and had to close down his garment shop, Arshad’s family barely had the money to make ends meet. They even had to move to a rented house, which was smaller and was situated in the shabbier part of the city. Unlike his previous house, where he had a big luxurious room all to himself, here Arshad had to share his room and bed with his naughty younger brother who always had the room in a horrible mess.
What was worse, the playground in this neighbourhood was nothing like the one in his previous neighbourhood; the swings were all broken, the monkey bars were all rusted and grimy, and the see-saw only had one seat. There weren’t even any bookshops nearby where he could spend his free time, flipping through his favourite comic books and novels.
Without all these things, there was not much to do except do one’s homework, stare out of the window or watch Cartoon Network.
That day, Arshad and his brother were terribly bored when their father decided to take them all out for window shopping. Arshad asked what that word meant.
“It means a trip to the mall, except we will not buy anything,” his father explained. “We will only look at things. We have to save money, remember?”
When his father saw the sad look on Arshad’s face, he sat down next to him and said in a solemn tone, “Remember, there are children out there who don’t even have the things you do, like, warm clothes, a roof over their heads, good education and all the delicious meals that your mother prepares for you, three times a day. You should always be grateful for what you have.”
After the trip to the mall, Arshad’s father decided to take his two boys to a government school in their neighbourhood.
“What is this place, Abba?” Arshad asked as they parked outside a small, dull-looking building. The gate was painted in bright red, yellow and blue colours and had the words “Love can conquer hate”, written across it in Urdu.
When they took a little tour of the place inside, Arshad saw what the place was. The children in the school barely had chairs in their classrooms. Instead, they sat on rugged carpets draped over a hard, stone floor. Three or four children shared torn, second-hand books amongst themselves. The playground didn’t even have any swings and there was not even a cafeteria!
Arshad felt a rush of guilt. He thought of how he always complained about the swings in his playground. At least he had a playground!
Despite all these things, Arshad noticed how happy and satisfied all the children were. How they played and laughed, with not a single frowning face or a complaining voice amongst them.
On their way back from the school, Arshad’s father said, “This is what I was talking about.”
That night, Arshad had an idea. He prepared a gratitude list, jotting down all the things he was thankful for. Then he pulled out an empty cardboard box from the store-room and put in all the things that were always lying about the room but which no one used — colouring books, pencils, toys and other such goods that he thought the children in that school might need. Then he packed the box and bold red ink wrote the word: “HAPPINESS” across the front.
The next morning, when his mother asked about the box, he told her how he planned to donate these things to the school children they went to visit the other day.
“I am sharing happiness,” he told his mother, his face beaming.
Published in Dawn, Young World, November 17th, 2018