Thursday, March 2, 2017

Chapter 3. Innocence and Foolishness

Author: Rizwan Ahmed Memon

My childhood days were full of fun and learning. Each day passed smoothly, until one evening Seemi came to me. With a heavy heart she said, “My father told me . . . that we will be moving to the city.”

Feeling at a loss for words, I paused then asked, “Moving to the city? But why?”

My cousin Seemi looked at me, then proceeded to explain, “He told me that he’s purchased a big three-story house there. However, I don’t want to go there,” said Seemi with a frown.

Early the next morning, the rooster on the wall between Seemi’s house and mine began to crow: “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” Its incessant noise awakened me. I could see it was overcast outside. Yaseen, my uncle’s long-serving, faithful servant, was putting the over-sized luggage on the trailer of the tractor and the donkey cart. While all of Seemi’s family members dutifully sat on the trailer, Seemi held my hand tightly in her own. “I don’t want to go. Please let me stay here,” she cried to her mother.

Her mother Haseena looked at her with a mixture of love and scorn, “Foolish girl! We have bought a new house and that is that!” her mother replied, taking her wrist and dragging her to the tractor. I couldn’t even utter a word to her resolute father. He was unwavering in his commitment to move to the city. The driver started to move the tractor ever so slowly. Yaseen reluctantly sat on the donkey cart. My uncle ordered him to pick up the pace. I ran after the tractor until the last turn of the street, near the pond, but the tractor went so fast that I couldn’t keep up. All I could hear was Seemi’s promise to me: “I will come back one day.”

Tears filled my eyes, and I looked around. There was no one except a cow mooing near the pond, and some birds chirping in the nearby olive gardens. I went home sobbing. “What happened?” my mother asked.

“They took Seemi away. She will surely die without me.”

“She is going to be all right. It was your uncle’s wish. We can’t do anything about it.”

After Seemi left, my world changed drastically. It was not just me–that night, all the stars disappeared in sadness. The dark sky rumbled and the clouds wept. The torrent of rain seemed never ending, and that night I wasn’t looking forward to the dawn. I wasn’t thinking of going to the Flower House to gather berries. All I could do was stare out the window at the ripples created by the continuous raindrops in the puddles below. “Rizwan, it is time for tea. Go buy some biscuits,” my mother demanded.

I slowly went along the muddy, slippery street to the old man’s shop. The biscuits were lined up on wooden shelves, and the old man was standing behind the counter. He gazed at me carefully as I entered his shop, then inquired, “You look sad. Is everything all right?”

I couldn’t reply. Handing him the coins, I said, “Round biscuits, please.”

Just as I left the shop, my foot slipped in the mud. As I slipped, all I could see was the ground below me.

Snap!

The biscuits broke. I started to cry—not for the biscuits, but for Seemi. Having heard me cry, the old man came out and helped me to stand up. “Wait right here and I’ll bring out some more biscuits,” he said.

I didn’t wait. I went home and shut myself in my room. “What happened, Rizwan? Come on, open the door, please,” my mother pleaded. I didn’t open the door and didn’t go to school that day. For many days, my life stayed at a standstill. I stopped going to the Flower House and playing games. I was like a bird flying alone in the sky, seeking my companion who had gotten lost in the wind. One day, Papoo took us to the city to visit our uncle’s new house. We first visited his three shops on the main road. Behind the shops, there was an otaq–which is a kind of guest room where men sit and chat. My uncle’s family lived on the second story. We climbed the zigzagging stairs. Seemi was so happy to see me. Although her eyes shined with delight, she had become painfully withdrawn. She did not talk to me much–she just shook hands with me, and went into the kitchen to help her elder sister with the cooking. We returned home in the afternoon from our short but pleasant visit.

My mother saw a little change in me; she wanted me to live and be happy again. She asked my brother older Saeed, who lived separately with his family, to take me out in the hope that it might lighten my heart. He took me and his son Dani to the tube well, a small water reservoir. That day I swam and laughed with my nephew after many days of brooding over the departure of my dear friend. We ran after the shadows of clouds, listened to the song of a nightingale, and had lunch under a mango tree. On our way back, we stopped at a pond near the tube well and saw big fish eating minnows in the clear blue water. Many fish hid in the weeds when they thought humans or other predators were approaching.

After a few days, Jamil bought a black-and-white TV to watch the news. I watched cartoons and dramas on PTV (Pakistan Television Network) with my older brother, Irfan. I liked Popeye the Sailor, Tom and Jerry, and Ainak Wala Jin, a children’s drama show. Rafiq was my eldest brother, and he lived separately with his family on the same street where Saeed lived. He sent his daughters, Tally and Sabra, to live with us and to help my mother with the household chores. Both of my nieces helped me a lot–it was as if my sister had come back. My mother and nieces watched Natak Rang (A Sindhi drama series on PTV) every Sunday evening.

For the first time since Seemi had left, life for me seemed to return to normal. However, when I was in fourth grade, some terrible boys joined our class. Their snobbish appearance, rude attitudes, and nonstop rowdiness made my school life a little difficult, but I still managed somehow. It had been two years since Seemi left the village. I had grown taller. I did not know what she looked like anymore because she never came to visit. Somehow, I had forgotten her. If I ever thought of someone, it was the girl with captivating dimples. My separation from Seemi taught me that we might not always be able to stay with our loved ones in life. Also, if we would ever part, time would heal our wounds slowly but surely. 

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