Wednesday, April 1, 2015

My Very Best Friend

Fawad tip-toed stealthily down the stairs. He was in a hurry to go out but he did not want to alert anyone.

“Fawad, my son, would you come here for a minute?”

Fawad paused at the bottom of the marble stairs and groaned as he heard his grandfather’s voice. He had been hoping to get out of the house undetected. He dragged his feet reluctantly towards his grandfather’s room.

“Yes, grandpa. What is it?” he asked a little impatiently.

“If you are free this evening, I thought we could go to the park together?” asked his grandfather.

“Sorry, Grandpa. I am going to Bilal’s place to study for my math test. I’ll be home late.” The lies came easily to Fawad as he sought a way to avoid his grandfather’s queries.

“Oh! All right then, ” his grandfather blessed him as he watched his only grandson depart.

Mr. Habib was almost seventy. His son and daughter-in-law were both doctors and led very busy lives. He had all the material comforts of life but he wished that his family had more time for him. His only grandson Fawad was also busy with school studies. In the evening, Fawad usually went out to play with his friends leaving the old man alone with their servant Kareem. Lately, Fawad had started spending a lot of time away from home. This worried Mr. Habib but Fawad was always evasive when questioned.

Fawad went out and heaved a sigh of relief. Thank goodness he would not have to spend the entire evening listening to the nostalgic memories of the old man. “Why doesn’t he leave me alone? Who wants to listen to tales of glory and valour, of wars fought and won hundreds of years ago?” he thought irritably

His mood improved when he saw Bilal at the end of the street, straddling a gleaming, blue motorcycle. The bike belonged to Bilal’s older brother who was abroad for his studies. Though he was underage, Bilal had no qualms about borrowing the bike without his parents’ consent or knowledge. He grinned devilishly when he saw Fawad.

“Got away from the old man, eh?” he asked. “Come on, let’s go.”

The two friends got on the bike and rode away. They zigzagged through traffic at neck break speed. Then Bilal started free wheeling. Before Fawad could stop him, Bilal lost control of his bike. It somersaulted in the air and Fawad fell on the concrete road with a sickening thud. He felt blood trickling down his head and sharp pain exploded in his legs and shoulders. As if in slow motion, he saw people running towards them. Shrouded in pain, he heard them shouting and then there was the siren of an approaching ambulance. Then mercifully, everything went dark and he could feel no more.

Two weeks later, he was discharged from the hospital. Although his right arm and leg were in plaster, he had sustained no lasting injuries. At home, he remained confined to his room since he could not move about much… Once his life was out of danger, his parents had given him a thunderous scold over his reckless behavior. His misery was compounded by the knowledge that Bilal who was the main culprit, had escaped the accident with a few scratches.

“Life just isn’t fair,” he thought aggressively.

His complete lack of activity and his parents’ displeasure had made Fawad very low spirited. During these trying days, it was only his grandfather who showered him with unremitting love and affection. Whenever Fawad opened his eyes, Mr.Habib was at his bedside. His anxious eyes would be filled with affection and concern but Fawad was feeling too morose and angry to appreciate his grandfather’s love. None of his friends came to visit him. He was sick of watching TV or rifling through magazines His head hurt, his shoulders ached and his legs were itchy…Life was pure hell!

One day, out of sheer boredom, he picked up the phone and called Bilal.

“Hi Bilal, I was thinking that if you are free and can come over for a visit.” he started but Bilal cut him short.

“Sorry Fawad. I am going to Ali’s house to play his new computer game. Anyway it is quite boring to visit a bedridden person. You can’t even move a joystick.. What would I do at your place?” he added rather callously.

Fawad slowly replaced the receiver. He thought of all the times he had lied to his grandfather to be with his so-called friends. He had never listened to his cautions and always rebuffed his love. Now he was thoroughly ashamed of himself. Tears of remorse and self pity sprung up in his eyes.

There was a gentle tap at the door.” Fawad, are you awake, my son?” Mr. Habib asked.

Fawad suddenly realized how difficult it must be for his grandfather to climb the stairs everyday. He was seventy and had arthritis. He brushed away his tears and tried to sit up.

“Come in, Grandpa,” he said, his voice quavering.

“I’ve asked Kareem to bring some sandwiches and tea. Meanwhile, would you like a game of Ludo? Let’s see if you can beat an old man, eh?” his grandfather chuckled.
Fawad’s spirits lifted. He could roll the dice with his left hand. As he munched his sandwiches and Kareem laid out the game, Fawad asked

“So, what are you reading nowadays, grandpa?”

Mr. Habib started talking about the book he was reading. He talked about wars and conquerors and kings and traitors. His knowledge amazed Fawad who had never paid any attention to his grandfather’s stories before. He listened to them now, mesmerized.

“Your turn, Fawad.” Mr. Habib said gently.

Fawad had not realized that it was his turn to roll the dice. He looked down.

“I am sorry, Grandpa.” He wanted to apologize for all his lies and deceit but words stuck in his throat. He was too ashamed.

“It’s all right, my son,” Mr. Habib. “Children make mistakes. It is what you learn from them that matters.”

Two months later, Fawad’s cast was removed. He was now completely fit. His grandfather smiled fondly as he heard him come down the stairs, two steps at a time.

“Are you going to Bilal’s house, Fawad?” he asked.

“No, Grandpa. I am going to the park with my best friend,” he said, putting one arm around his grandfather’s waist and taking the walking stick from Kareem.

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