I had always had a grudge against these big car owners. They all seemed to be too arrogant, too selfish and too proud. They were so engrossed in their own lives that they rarely had time to think of others, or to just notice how some people around them lived a poor life.
They never seemed to notice me. As if I was an unimportant, invisible figure. And even if they ever did notice me, they talked so rudely that I was better off when they didn’t notice me.
Just yesterday, a man with his family in his big car, stopped at the signal on a main road... and I, too eager to sell my tablecloths, handkerchiefs and dish-covers, hurriedly ran towards them and offered to them those pretty things, I was told to take away ‘these filthy, used things’!
When I tried to explain that they were neither filthy nor used, I was ‘shooed away’! Can you believe that? He thought I was a stray or homeless animal that brought with it disgusting things, and needed to be ‘shooed away’! With tears in my eyes, and realisation of my value, I turned away to my place on the footpath because the signal was about to turn green.
I did two jobs in a day to earn a living in this era of extreme inflation. Selling balloons from morning to evening, and then selling handkerchiefs, tablecloths and dish-covers at night. I had no stall of my own and, like other street children, carried the cloth stack on my shoulder and the balloons in my hands. But never did anyone realise the hardships I was going through and neither did anyone care. Some called me with bad names and some stared at me so angrily, as if they would eat me up if I didn’t turn away.
Just a few days later as I was waiting for children to buy balloons from me, a young lady passed by me with her little daughter.
Her daughter somehow broke loose of her mother’s grip without being noticed and began admiring the balloons. Then her mother turned back to find her child standing beside the balloons. Instead of buying them for her, she slapped her tight for leaving her mother’s hand and took the child with her.
Disappointed by the situations I and my family were facing, and how my mother had got severely ill because of working hard in many houses, I sat down on a broken bench in a nearby park in the locality. I was staring hard at the nearest tree when a man appeared from nowhere and sat by my side. He was a tall, young man with a finely trimmed beard and a thin moustache. His brown eyes seemed to look at me from within, as if he was trying to understand what I had been thinking of.
Then he put his warm hand over my shoulder and asked my name. I replied shrewdly, “My name is Ahmad.” And without waiting for a moment’s silence, he flooded me with other questions. He asked about my family, my education, my age and what I did all day long? He seemed kind to me, and so I began telling him my sad story, which he listened to intently.
“I belong to a poor family. My father died in a bomb blast a few years ago. After his death, my mother started working as a maid in bungalows, but she soon fell seriously ill. The housekeepers refused to help us out in our difficult times and even refused to hire my younger sister in place of my mother. Now my mother is on her sickbed, ‘packing for the other life’ as she would call it.
And I do two jobs in a day to earn a living.”
By now I was almost in tears and my throat choked and hurt. That man too looked at me with pitiful and understanding eyes.
He stroked my hair and began, “My dear! Many years ago, I too was a ragged, poor boy. Homeless, hopeless and helpless! Until one day a wise man approached me and took me out of my dark life. He made me his son and treated me like one. He gave me good education, good clothes and a good future. Whatever I am today is because of him. And all it took was a promise. A promise, that I will return his favour by doing the same virtuous job like he did. I will help a poor person and make him a gentleman, so that I give my country what I owe to it and to utilise my abilities, my wealth and my power by sharing it with others.”
He continued, “And here I find you! I will help you out, make you my younger brother, give you shelter and food, and provide education to you and your siblings and also proper medical facilities to your mother. But it only needs that simple promise… that when you are able enough to stand on your own feet, you will pay me by fulfilling the same promise that I am trying to keep, and help some poor child, raise him to the level of a mannered and civilised citizen of our country, for that is certainly what we owe to our Allah and to our motherland!”
Content and pleased with what the kind man said, I headed with him on a new path — a path that guaranteed fulfilling of my dreams, based on a commitment that I had made to serve mankind!