Longing – Part 2
Tawny eyes scan the vicinity with rapt attention while a small hand clutches the scratchy material of his father’s clothes in a tight grip. Bright-eyed and only at the tender age of four, he has no worries, and he watches as people gather in front of them. He cannot differentiate amongst them for they blur and look like a blob of black and white that demands and shrieks too much for his young mind to comprehend. Hands emerge from there that grab at the vibrant and shiny treats, a direct contrast to the rickety cart they rest on for it looks dull and dreary, not of much interest to the child.
There he sees it, one of those shiny objects falls on the ground where he stands. Temptation overcomes apprehension, and reminiscent of an infant grabbing an item for the first time, he seizes it only for a loud rebuke to ring and his precious prize snatched from him. He sees his father standing above him, a look in his eyes so different from the warmth he is used to, and can’t help the tears that gather.
Nothing is free. It is his first lesson in this world, even if he can’t comprehend it yet.
He is seven now. A little older and more astute than one his age should be. Still, he whines and grumbles as his father takes him to the same street that has now become like a second home to him. He likes to claim he can transverse it with his eyes closed, but his father laughs and always ruffles his hair in response.
But he does not want to be here today. The scorching heat that beats down relentlessly makes his clothes stick to his skin, and he feels thirsty and uncomfortable. His clothes are dirty from when he ran headfirst into a bush to hide from his father in an indignant tantrum to avoid going today, but there is no one at home he can stay with save his father, who, he has realized, can’t miss a day out on the street because they need the money, as his father tells him every day. And they have to be prompt, his father says, or their spot will be taken by someone else.
As he glowers at nothing in particular in a mutinous manner, he hears it; the first ring of the bell in the building in front of their weather-beaten cart signifies the start of the mob that in only minutes is situated in front of them, clamoring for attention. Notes and coins clutched in hands get exchanged for brightly colored sweets. Demands, greetings, and every shout fades away in the background as his eyes focus on the crowd, all decked out in the pristine black and white ensemble customary of the school he sees every day.
His father seems to go still every time this hour approaches, an air of melancholy surrounding him despite the bright smile on his wrinkled countenance. He wonders what it would be like to be among that crowd. Wearing the same uniform, carrying one colorful bag, among people he knows are called friends. He looks up to ask his father and sees him already looking towards him, eyes brimming with remorse and sorrow much deeper than before. So he looks down and resolves to say nothing.
Now ten, he sees the world with different eyes than before. On the same street, in front of the same school, they stand. He is now deemed old enough to help his father whose health has deteriorated over the years (he hides it, but his son has always been an observant one). He sees all those students pressing for attention and silently hands them brightly colored treats in exchange for the money they give. He ignores the pangs of longing he feels to be among them as he does every day now. He yearns to be the one smiling without the burden that those in front of him know nothing of, something his father cannot give him. Not without a lack of trying.
He has seen his father hunkered down on the meager pile of earnings they manage to acquire each day. He is supposed to be tucked in bed, but sometimes he will stay awake and listen to his father shake and mumble, trying not to let his cherished son see the extent of his grief at not being able to do enough. A good and hearty meal nowadays is sporadic. School, he knows, is something utterly unattainable.
The well-dressed man is here again. He comes regularly with his son and often talks to his father who lights up with pride and joy at the sight of him. He is not the only one who comes. There are plenty his father seems to be familiar with. This one, however, seems to be one he is the fondest of. The man warmly exchanges a few greetings with his father before bending down to his level and asking how he is doing. He politely replies in the affirmative and solemnly offers his hand to shake as his father has drummed into him. He notices how compared to his father’s rough hands of this man is smooth.
This pulls his attention back to the building in front of him; would his hands also be like that if he went there? He is unaware of the sharp gaze his musings have attracted. Unaware of how an act of kindness and gratitude can so thoroughly change one’s life.
Graphics- Areeba Ali