Looking outside his sumptuous and palatial vehicle a smattering of pink, brown hands splattered across the window panes of his Jaguar. Zahir experienced simultaneously, the conflicting emotions of contentment and anxiety. Rain and darkness spread through the throng surrounding him, the streaks smeared by the excitement of hands and wide, grinning faces. He exits, and shouts of jubilation fill the air. Men, women, children of assorted ages chanted his name.
“Zahir! Zahir! Zahir!.”
He was bombarded, the poverty, the heat, the filth the emaciated men, women and children pressed upon him. As the premier cricket star of his city – Karachi – it was as if God has descended upon the district. For the last three years, he had brought clean water and electricity to this part of the city – his old home, and for the first time in a long time, he has himself returned. Out of all the unacquainted, Zahir pinpointed a face that he could recognize. It was the Imam of the local Mosque. He had been like a father to Zahir and a mentor, and despite the years of separation, the benevolent gaze of the Imam’s eyes had not diminished. He formally gave the Imam a respectful embrace. “Welcome back Zahir, May blessings be upon you,” the Imam had said warmly.
“It’s good to be back,” replied Zahir. “You have done so much for us. All this joy is of your bringing,” added the Imam proudly. Zahir forced a smile to mask his nervous state. He was about to reply with a well acquainted verse when the Imam held his hand and placed another on his palm. “But you are here for much more than that.” He spoke sadly.
Zahir looked at his old mentor in the eyes, saw the regret and sadness, and understood.
“I am too late,” he mouthed. “Allah is merciful,” the Imam replied, “come with me.”
The Imam parted the gathering, and shouted for calm. An instant later, silence descended upon the crowd. “A moment for our brother,” he announced, to which the horde withdrew in sympathy, like loyal attendants. They walked for a short distance that seemed but a second, yet Zahir was able to note the geography of the slum for the first time after maturation. Right beside the major CBD, It laid like an etherized patient; like an island of poverty in a sea of prosperity. They arrived at a boarded up hovel that seemed both alien and familiar to Zahir. The surrounding was identical – the off color paint, the peeling wood, the litter of garbage and the chaotic growth of clotheslines. Yet gone was the door that always hung ajar, the scent of incense and the hum of prayer, the smell of warm turmeric and the chitter chatter of neighborhood women. Everything was obscure and dark.
Zahir was suddenly taken back. Reminiscences of his past impacted him like a great tsunami. Zahir’s father’s working class status brought only a spec of bread and was far from sufficient to build a home of bricks. Consequently their roof collapsed like a feather every time the skies had a tantrum and the storms enraged at them. Yet there was neither want nor need, for Zahir knew that their home was built from bricks of affection and passion. “My son will be an engineer,” Zahir’s father had stated with certainty. “No! My beloved son is going to be a heart surgeon,” Zahir’s mother had shot back. And these continual family debates had reassured Zahir of luminous future.
Then entered Zahir’s his younger brother – a brilliant, bright vassal that excelled in school. Zahir found schooling obnoxious and repudiated its orthodox teachings, distracted by his intangible, yet compelling connection to sport. In time, the inevitable happened, and his father took him out of school and put him to work, the tuition had gone to his brother, and intense bitterness and repulse was planted deep in the earth of Zahir’s emotions.
“We grow in the soil of acceptance and mercy. Forget the past and forgive” the Imam had said bringing Zahir back. But one thing Zahir failed to do was conciliate. His rage injected and suffering accreted memories of his father hindered him from condoning. It raged within him like a vortex, feelings of pity, regret, guilt, anger and anxiety building up a perfect storm of insecurity. Zahir felt dense darkness.
Just as Zahir felt he was about to blow like an old pressure cooker, the Imam interrupted him. “Take this Zahir,” the Imam said, passing him a dusty cricket bat. “He wanted you to sign it…” the Imam added. Zahir stood speechless, being devoured in half by an intricate inner conflict between his fury and his desire to forgive. “He did?” Zahir inquired. Again, his mind sunk back into the haze memories of youth.
A sun lit street. His father was smiling. An old bat he had pawned from a distant uncle.
He smacked the ball with all his might, its dull, torn skin skidding across the pavement and into the folds of the sprawling slum. Someone somewhere swore loudly. They laugh. “And that’s a six!” Zahir’s father had yelled with sheer pride. “You will be big one day son, I know it!”
Zahir was brought back by a mellow touch of the Imam. He took out a pen and dusted off the bat gently. On it he professionally imprinted his renowned signature, which the entire nation aspired for. He took the bat in his hands.
Allah, forgive us and have mercy on us, Thou, the Best of all who show forgiveness.” Zahir said, as be bathed in the warm light of reconciliation.
“I forgive you father, please forgive me too.”
“He knew you would ask for forgiveness. The truth is Zahir, he was never angry with you. You don’t need his forgiveness. He loved you too much to be angry,” the Imam replied.
Zahir smiled and held the bat warmly in his rough palms, free from the burden of anguish and lit by the light of his faith and love.