Sunday, January 04, 2009

Bond of Trust: Two People, One Encounter

Last night, half an hour past midnight, the doorbell rang. It startled me.

I was writing - the windows of my room, that faces the gate, were lit up. I could hear people in the streets, playing winter night sports perhaps. I could hear the laughter of the watchmen though I was not sure whether it was the street watchmen indeed? For a bare month ago, they were driven out of the city amidst tense ethnic strife. I hadn't caught up on whether they had returned, for I have been hibernating deep in the bowels of my home for weeks, oblivious to the world.

I thought I'd check.

With a woolen shawl wrapped around me - both to protect from the cold and to appear imposing to any possible intruder - I stepped out and asked, "Who is it?"

Through the wide slits of our gate, one can see outside-in, inside out from quite a distance. A young boy who appeared scruffy from his hair replied in a broken voice: "Help me! My mother has just died in a hospital!" He did not specify what did he need.

For anyone who lives in highly insecure urban areas such as Karachi - and for myself, whose family has faced a good deal of violence and robbery the memories of which still manage to disturb my sleep - this is ample for alert and suspicion. This is how would-be robbers trick one into opening doors. This is how "they" gauge whether there is a tender-hearted fool in the house who can also produce money at slight prompting. This is how we are used to thinking in Karachi.

I briefly considered the inconvenience of unlocking the door to our terrace upstairs, peering out from the balcony on to the street, look out for accomplices, read the boy's face and body language, and then proceed with a moral analysis of how much money should I give him.

And then I considered the state of my own mind: addled with fear.

For the past few weeks, I have been in a retreat - secluded in my house and mostly in one room - allowing myself to turn out and throw away the conditioning by others from within me, along with the much more dangerous conditioning by my own mental constructions. To just be. To be closer to being a purer human.

If, indeed, this boy who was probably still awaiting an answer outside as I stepped back in after replying with a vague, "Hmmm... OK." (which in my language can also mean, "OK, wait there!") needed help - if he was telling the truth - what would I do?

I sometimes see images of myself... consoling the desperate, putting a hand to their head, and sharing the gifts of God with them: food, comforts, and other rights that humans have over one another. My cowardly turning away was not in conformity with this image.

So I said to myself: this boy, whether a liar or someone who tells the truth, obviously is a person in need. Secondly, his exact story may be true. And if there is indeed a soul out on the streets in the night, looking for consolation or support or charity as his family died perhaps in very desperate conditions, who would help them? Who would be the keeper of the brothers and sisters in desperate need? That there were people in the street and indeed children cackling somewhere in the laps of their young fathers celebrating a late night playing outside on the weekend, gave me some comfort.

I decided: liar, mugger, or truly in need - one thing is for certain. This person has come from God, from within the vastness of this Universe to my door. I do not know what is in his heart. But I can master what is in mine. And my heart choose to believe. To trust. To honor the guest of Allah no matter what his character. For a man might intend to hurt me, but not my God. I do not have the power to help or not help a person. Who am I give or withhold? I have only the power to choose the state of my own heart, and act accordingly. I have only the power to serve from that which is given to me, or to let fear or greed prevent that.

And so, I made the decision: I will choose trust over fear. Love over division.

I went and took a little cash - for my newly faith was weak and still tainted with fear - and stepped out in front of the gate again. The boy, partially covered by the gate's design, appeared to be leaning against it. I asked again, just to make conversation and to gauge the quality of his soul through his voice: "What do you want?" He repeated something broken but made no specific demand. I think he repeated that his mother had died. Some flashbacks of being held up at gunpoint flashed through my mind. My mind whispered that I was a fool who let other people believe they have lots of spare cash. I half expected see the barrel of a gun pointing in my direction through the slit.

I took a deep breath. What a shame that my mind lives in such imaginary violence as if it is really happening! I inched closer to the gate, taking cover behind the adjacent wall, hastily shoved the money through the slit near the wall, stepped back and said: "Take it. Take it!" His fingers slowly pulled out the money. I walked backwards closer to the door of my room, keeping an eye on him - for a diminishing fear for myself, and a growing concern for this urchin. Then I turned back, and so did he.

1 comment:

  1. There is no wrong way to do a right thing :) Alhamdulillah, that you overcame fear for an instant of love.
    Inshallah, that instant will blossom like a rose in beauty.

    Ya Haqq!