Wearing colorful clothes in the spring of their lives, girls are singing the sweetest melodies on my uncle’s wedding. It is Friday. Yards ahead I see my mum wearing Kohl in her eyes, reminding girls- in her voice, deep and down to sing the sweetest songs. Songs sung on her own wedding years ago, songs they all share with love and passion. She smiles, joins with them too. She gets tired yet happy to continue songs in a voice so down women hardly hear. Songs that reflects her love in the silence of her heart for Baba.
I go to a room where the bride sits-shy. Dressed up in red clothes her cheeks are gushing like red rose. Girls of her age are teasing her- of what? I don't know -perhaps I am too young to know that. She kisses me on my cheeks; soon I will be a man I am thinking, soon a bride will wait for me too. I come out of the room like a man. Mum asks me to dance with girls. I refuse -for kids in my school will call me a girl, I am a man after all- I am thinking.
In the Hujra I sit with guests, see them in their dresses, good and bad. I can smell Atar/perfumes they wearing. Some feel good, some make you feel bad. I go to see my uncle, he asks me to sit with him. Guests are coming, they embracing him and me too. I am thinking I am a man now.
A call for the food now. Everyone eats Pulao, Qurma and Halwa- everyone seems happy. The weather is hot; fans are running yet hot bellies enjoying hot weather and hot food.
In the afternoon, Baba takes me out for a walk along the bank of the canal. I release my hands from Baba' index finger and starts running straight- like an arrow.
“Why are you running so straight?” Baba asks
“Practicing” I say.
“Practicing what?” he inquires.
“Baba I have heard from the mullah of the mosque the other Friday” I explain “that on the day of judgment only those who run and walk straight will go to paradise” I say this as I am a learned man too like the Mullah of the Mosque.
Then I run and run and run- straight like an arrow. Baba enjoys every moment of that.
“Baba see, Baba see- I am running straight, straight like an arrow, see” I shout.
He laughs, he is blissfully happy for he sees his childhood in me-and can feel the love of Moor Jan in her songs too. I know this for I am no more a child- I just turned 7 last week.
“I am tired Baba” I complain.
He takes me into his big hands, I enjoy this ride.
“Baba, my feet are growing” I am excited now.
“Zwaya, when the size of your feet is growing, Villages become small and distances become larger” I don’t get this but I smile as if I know what he means.
Azan starts in the mosque, everybody is preparing for the prayer now. Shopkeepers close their shops, farmers in the fields stop working in their fields too.
Baba asks me to stand with him for the prayer.
“Stand shoulder to shoulder” Imam/prayer leader asks us.
My shoulder touches Baba’s knees- I am wondering how to touch my shoulder with Baba’s shoulder. But then one day I will stand up with him shoulder to shoulder- everywhere. I will be like his right hand; I will carry a gun, will serve guests in the Hujra, will help my people and stay humble. Moor Jan always tells me that I should be like him. Soon I immersed in the future- soon I forget the present as I go for Allah-o-Akbar with the Imam. Then I stop thinking of the future for everything comes from God and that we should embrace what He offers to us- I am told.
"Allah-o-Akbar- Allah is great" Imam begins the prayer
The prayer begins and Imam recites Holy verses from the Holy Quran. I start looking around observing what people are wearing and how are they practicing their prayer. Then I stop that too. I remember weeks ago, Mulla warned us in a Friday prayer to stay focus in the prayer and those who don’t, they go astray.
Prayer comes to an end I start running to shoes racks. I take Baba shoes- black shoes made in charsadda. I am happy I am capable of doing good things, I can enter into paradise running straight and I can serve my parents too.
Baba asks me to go home, I refuse that. But I understand the reason for he needs sometime with his friends too.
It is evening now, guests have gone back to their houses. I see Grandma in the veranda. She has Tasbih in her hands reciting Istighfar/forgiveness. Women and girls -all round her -everyone asks her question, I am thinking if she is the only one who have answer for every question.
“Where were you my prince, my Zwaya/son?” She asks me to sit with her.
“Grandma I am so tired today, I helped Baba too. I run a lot and my legs are tired” I complain with a glimmer of excitement. She gets concerned. But I start running in the house again. She asks girls to bring me to her. She gets hold of me, presses my legs gently as if I have run for a marathon, as if I have traveled a journey of thousand miles and thousand years. Her hard hands feel so comforting and soothing against my legs.
Moor Jan/mum calls us for the dinner. The dinner is served on the floor; I sit beside Grandma and against Abida- my sister. Baba asks grandma to begin. She does so by reciting “Bismillah”/ in the name of Allah and then everyone starts eating. I look at Abida- Her golden necklace, her bangles, and colourful clothes.
“Why good things in the world for girls only?” I complain.
“Do you want the same for yourself?” Grandma asks with a smile.
“Yes” I aptly reply.
“Do you want to be a girl then?” she continues.
“No way, no way, I am a man. I am not supposed to wear girls' dress. I was just joking” I shrewdly change the topic.
Everybody laugh at that.
It is evening now-darkness comes undressing the day. In the evening I go to bed with grandma and tell her all that happened today. I know she will tell me a story too- a story of birds or perhaps a story of a fairy that falls in love with a prince or perhaps a story of her husband/Grandpa valor and strength.
In a while she starts a story- the story of a Prince from the East and a princess of Greece. I become attentive to every word she utters. But soon the barking dogs far in the fields disturb the rhythm of her story and distract my attention too.
“Grandma, grandma, I am so scared of barking dogs. These dogs frighten me” I continue “The darkness of the night is scary Grandma”
She smiles and kisses my forehead, hold me close to her chest, so warm so soothing. Then she takes me out of the room to give me strength and courage . We are in the veranda now from where we can see the stars and the moon too.
“Zwaya/son, don’t ever get scared from the darkness of the night. We all are archers, these stars that you see are good friends to us and to the night” she points to the stars and moon.
“Be an archer my son” she rubs my head.
“I am tired grandma, let’s go to the bed grandma” I ask
She takes me to the bed and I fall asleep in a while. I don’t know if Grandma carries on the same story or not. Perhaps she goes on thinking that I can hear her stories while sleeping. If we can dream while sleeping we can hear stories too. Finally the day ends with so many stories- stories of my childhood- stories that I will keep in the cupboard of my chest forever.
Farid Gul, Peshawar, September 6,2009