Monday, April 20, 2015

Shoe-Shine...a short story about honesty

Gul Zeb was only twelve years old when his entire world shattered around him. A powerful earthquake left him and his seven year old sister homeless, destitute and orphaned. Their house was reduced to a pile of rubble and along with their ailing grandfather; the two siblings were taken to a relief camp. Kind strangers took care of them, clothed and fed them as the two children and thousands others struggled to come to terms with their loss and misery.

Time passed and Gul Zeb and Zuhra came to Islamabad with their grandfather. They were placed in a temporary relief center. It was run by Mr. Azmat Ali, a kind man who tried to comfort them and ease their sufferings. Gul Zeb was sent to school but he hated living on charity. His father had always emphasized on hard work and Gul Zeb wanted to work for a living.

Seeing the young boy’s determination, Mr. Azmat gave him some money. Gul Zeb bought shoe brushes, polishes and some other supplies. Everyday after school, Gul Zeb would put his things in a worn out satchel and carry them to the market nearby. He made a placard bearing the words “SHOE-SHINE” which he used to place on a make shift counter.

Men would stop at his work-top to have their shoes cleaned and polished. Back and forth, back and forth, his brush would sweep away all the dirt and grime and bring shine on dusty shoes. Gul Zeb worked hard and was always awarded some money for his efforts. His thin shoulders would sometimes ache with all the effort and beads of perspiration would shine on his brow but he was satisfied He would spend some of his hard earned money on food and medicines and gave the rest to his grandfather for safe keeping.

In the evening, he would pack up his bag and go back to the centre. At night, he would tell Zuhra about the bustling market with its glittering wares, the shiny cars and the well-heeled men and women who shopped and dined there. Zuhra would listen to these accounts with fascination and wonder. The trauma of losing home and parents had left her weak and silent, but her brother did his utmost to amuse her and keep her happy.

One afternoon, there was a light drizzle. Gul Zeb was sitting on the pavement with his tools ready when a big, sleek car stopped near him. From it emerged Mr. Hussain Agha, a wealthy business tycoon. Mr. Agha had some last minute shopping to do before attending an important function and he was in a great hurry.

As he stepped out of his car, his foot went into a puddle and muddied his shoes. Cursing slightly, he came over to Gul Zeb’s counter. “Hurry boy. I don’t have much time,” he ordered brusquely. Gul Zeb bent over his shoes and quickly polished them. Without glancing back, he dropped a fifty rupee note in Gul Zeb’s lap. Gul Zeb eyes widened. He decided to wrap up his work early and buy a small doll for Zuhra before heaDeeng heading home.

As he packed up his supplies, he noticed a fat, glossy rectangular object wedged under his work stool. Puzzled, he picked it up and realized that it was a wallet. He opened it gingerly and the thick wad of money inside made him gasp. He snapped it shut quickly. He looked around to see if someone was watching and then tossed it in his satchel amid the shoe cleaning rags.

He went home. His grandfather was surprised to see him so early. Gul Zeb mumbled an excuse to explain his early return. Later that night, when everyone was asleep, he opened the wallet again. He took out the money cautiously and the crisp notes crackled in his trembling hands. Gul Zeb had never seen so much money in his life. He was sure that the wallet belonged to the rich man who had tipped him Rs.50 for his shoe polish..

“I can keep the money and no one would ever know,’” he thought.” I will spend it on Baba and Zuhra little by little. I will take Baba to a good doctor who might be able to cure his cough and Zuhra can have new dolls and maybe we can buy new blankets. Winter is almost here…”

But his innate honesty would not let him rest “Is this right thing to do? This money is not mine to spend. What should I do?” His grandfather’s bout of cough snapped him out of his reverie. He quickly stuffed the money back in the wallet and put it under his threadbare pillow. It made an uncomfortable lump under his head but Gul Zeb did not mind. He was not going to let this money out of his sight!!

That night, sleep did not come easily to Gul Zeb. He tossed and turned in his bed but peace eluded him. After a long time, he fell into a troubled slumber and dreamt of his parents. His mother, who used to teach Quran to the local girls when alive, appeared to be in tears. “I did not raise you to be a thief, Gul Zeb,” she seemed to be saying. “You cannot take what does not belong to you.” Gul Zeb’s father appeared equally sad. “The money might last for sometime, my son,” he said.” But the guilt will last forever.”

Gul Zeb woke up with a start. He was sweating all over. How real did his dream seem. He felt as if his parents were in the  room with him, comforting him and urging him to do the right thing. As the sound of the fajr azaan rang outside, Gul Zeb opened the wallet once again. He fished out its contents but this time he did not look at the money. He found some cards and some receipts in the wallet but best of all he found a photograph of the wallet’s owner with his name and address.

Next day was Sunday and Gul Zeb woke up early. After a hurried breakfast, he snatched his satchel and bade a quick farewell to Zuhra and his grandfather. He had become familiar with the streets of Islamabad and found the address quite easily. He was rather daunted by the sight of the mansion and the two guards that stood in front of the gate.

One of the guards, thinking that he was a beggar tried to shoo him away but Gul Zeb stood his ground. “I have something of great importance to give to Mr. Agha,” he said. The guards were surprised at his audacity. One of them, a kindly old man that reminded Gul Zeb of his grandfather, told him to wait outside while he himself went in to get permission from Mr. Agha. Moments later he returned and took Gul Zeb inside.

Mr. Agha was having breakfast in his sprawling, green lawn. Gul Zeb approached him with a hammering heart. The opulence around him had unnerved him. He fished for the wallet from his satchel and handed it to Mr. Agha. Timidly, he explained how it got into his possession.

“Do you know what is inside this wallet?” he asked the trembling boy. .

“Yes, sir. I had opened it. But I did not take anything from it,” he added quickly.

Mr. Agha was dumbfounded. He was used to dealing with corrupt officials who wanted to be bribed, dishonest friends who cheated on business deals and committed tax frauds and avaricious greedy relatives for whom amassing wealth was a lifelong ambition. But this simple act of honesty left him amazed.

“Sit down, my boy and tell me about yourself,” he said kindly.

Gul Zeb plopped down on the comfortable lawn chair and told him about his circumstances. Mr. Agha was much moved. “What would you like as a reward?” he asked next. Gul Zeb hesitated. He was tempted to ask for money for Zuhra’s doll and his grandfather’s blanket but he felt awkward doing so.

Seeing his hesitation, Mr. Agha gently urged him to ask for anything he wished for. When Gul Zeb did so, Mr. Agha was overcome with emotions. He thought about his two teen-age sons, always demanding more and more money for luxuries and self indulgence.

He hugged Gul Zeb and told him to bring his grandfather and Zuhra to his house. He promised to give them accommodation in the servant’s quarters and take care of their education and other needs.

“And little Zuhra will have as many toys as she wants and your grandfather can have the warmest blanket money can buy, my son,” he said.

3 comments:

Anthony Davis said...

Mr. Agha was certainly pleased with the boy's honesty in returning his wallet in tact with all the money and personal items inside. The boy followed his own conscience, and had gone through terrible times as a boy and showed ambition and motivation by starting his own shoe shining business.

This story touched my heart and I was moved by it in a very positive way.

Magla Learner said...

Lovely story, well written and showing all the emotions that would run through anyone's head. I am glad the boy followed his heart. He will do well.

Bill Kasman said...

Nice story. What a pity this kind of behaviour is unusual in our materialistic society.

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