“You must either use all that money on things that are useful, or give it away to those who are in need”, I told Naveed that morning when we met at a Café near his house and that is how we got the notion of starting a programme for the children in need.
We set off in search of a proper village where we could setup our campaign, the very next day. On our journey, we met a lot of people who suggested various places to proceed with our cause but nothing seemed convincible. After travelling for about five hours, I rang a good friend of mine who worked as a journalist at a town nearby and she suggested that we must go to a village called ‘Bahmoon’.
Bahmoon was not very far from the spot we stopped. Just an hour of drive through a thicket and we reached the place. As Naveed parked the car under a tree at the entrance of the village, two children came running towards us. A lean, brown-skinned girl tapped on the window. “You can’t park here”, she said as Naveed pulled his window down. When asked why she said, “This place, we play” and exchanged looks with the other girl who looked like her friend. We did not want to disappoint the kids so Naveed decided to park in a place that would not disturb the kids’ play.
The sun shined bright that afternoon in the azure sky as we set the campaign up near a village man’s house. We were told that he was the head of the village and all the village related matters were handled by him. ‘Except education?’, Naveed asked in an undertone and I nudged him before the man could hear his sarcastic remark. Before we proceeded with it, the headman called out to the people and made a quick announcement about what we were up to and why they must talk to us. The adults did not seem to completely understand why we were exactly here for but the children seemed attracted by the candies and toys Naveed had arranged on a table beside us. In fifteen minutes, a family of three walked up to us; a father, mother and a boy who looked like he was thirteen or fourteen years of age.
The parents looked at Naveed and I curiously as they took the seats in front of us. “You two husband and wife?”, the woman asked to which Naveed said, “I wish” and I returned him an angry stare and told the woman we were only friends and smiled. “So, this is your son?”, Naveed asked the man and he nodded. We started on a quick questionnaire on the basic details about the boy and recorded it in the laptop. The boy’s eyes widened as he watched Naveed’s fingers tap the keys fast as his parents spoke. Breaking away from the conversation I had with his parents, I asked the boy if he liked to go to school and he remained silent. “He does not need a school”, his father laughed. “He is fifteen now and soon he will join the big men in our village who go to the city and find a job”, he said. The boy did not seem to agree with the father, or simply he did not even give heed to what his father was saying. “Do you know what a school is?”, I asked the boy trying to create a conversation with him and he nodded. It was a nod of satisfaction to me, cause at least he knew what a school was. “Manish uncle’s children go to a big school in the city. They told me they have a room where they can study about animals. I like animals!”, he said and for the first time I saw excitement in his eyes. Naveed took his turn of explaining the kid’s parents about how much their kid needed education. He promised them that we will provide them with their basic necessities and to only give permission to admit their child in a school. The couple took few minutes to stare at each other and finally agreed. First attempt, successful. We sighed together in a relieved satisfaction and handed the family their first hamper of basic needs.
This followed about five more families and then we took a break. I watched Naveed as he took a bite of his late lunch and he looked back at me. “I’ve told you not to look at me while I’m eating”, he shouted and I laughed at how pieces of food fell off his full mouth and he rolled his eyes. “How can I not when you are so irresistible, Mr. Darcy?”, I joked and we both laughed. We shared the remaining food with the headman and his wife and got back to work.
The brown-skinned girl walked up to us, alone. Her friend was not in her assistance and she looked very nervous. I looked gleefully at her as she took a seat in front of us and adjusted her little self in the chair that could fit two more girls like her. “Hello there”, Naveed welcomed her handing her a little bag of candies we had packed for the kids and she refused to take it from him. “Aunt Phashir had told me not to receive anything from strangers”, she said and looked down at her feet again in embarrassment. “But we are not strangers, we met you at the entrance and you spoke to us… remember?”, I took the packet from Naveed and pressed it in her little hands. She remained there in silence for a while and looked up at us. “You are sending my friends to school?”, she asked. Naveed and I exchanged looks before we told her anything and I asked her why she wanted to know. “They told me that their mama and papa talked to you and that is why you are sending them to school. But I don’t have them. What do I do?”, she inquired without looking up at me. Her little fingers played with the tussles of her pink floral frock, awaiting an answer from us. I could not talk for a while because I was shocked at how dead her feelings were at such a tender age. “Who do you live with then?”, Naveed asked her and she replied that she lived in any houses that let her in whenever she was hungry. “Mostly at Shahira’s, because she is my best friend”, she said and that was the only time I saw a little sparkle in her eyes. We did not want to further inquire her or give her a lot of information about what our campaign was all about because we knew she was too little to take in that much. I decided that we must talk to the village headman and tell him that we will take this little girl along with us when we take the rest of the kids for school.
The campaign ended successfully at Bahmoon at around 8.00PM when it was too late for us to drive back home. We were invited to stay at a house three blocks away from the headman’s and we accepted the invitation happily. The house was small but big enough for a family of four to reside. The walls of the house were painted in custard green and everywhere we turned, we could see Arabic alphabets painted in Black. As the lady at the house served dinner for us, Naveed pointed at two little girls standing at the door. One was Shahira and the other was the little girl who we met at the entrance. I called them both to join us for dinner and they came running like they had been waiting for a word from us. Shahira sat beside Naveed and the other little girl squat beside me. I made her sit down comfortably and served food on their plates. “What is your name?”, I asked the little girl and she said her Aunt Phashir had told her that her parents had named her Ruhaima. I smiled at the familiarity of her name and we ate in silence.
Before we all went to sleep, Naveed started up a conversation with Shahira’s parents. He wanted to know more about Ruhaima because he felt that she had a past that had been left concealed. From the conversation we got to know that she had been brought to Bahmoon by her parents when she was two years old.
“Why did they leave her here?”, I asked them and the lady after a few moments of hesitation said, “They were afraid that they will not be able to feed her. They said they already have a girl that they must look after and they expected this child to be a son who’d serve them in future but they were disappointed. The father of this child told us that he will send money and all the other necessary things that is needed for her whenever he could but he did only once and that was on her fourth birthday. We never heard from him again.” Nobody said a word after what the lady had told us. We were all in utter disappointment.
Naveed and I sat outside that night, sleep deprived. “Have you ever had a sister, Bishara?”, he asked me and I looked at him expecting him to have his usual sarcastic smile whenever he made a serious situation into a joke but I could not find it. He was serious. I shook my head and told him that my parents have never told me of one. “Even if I did, why would my dad leave her in such a remote village? Or why would he ever orphan her like this?”, I asked him feeling a little uncomfortable on hearing such a question from him. He shook his head, still unconvinced. “What IF she was your sister?”, he asked again and I looked him straight into his eyes that reflected the bright nightlight of the house. “My father taught me the importance of being loved. He told me that to be loved is a blessing and above all, a right of any being. Do you then think he would have snatched away that right from his own daughter?”. “But not all of us stick to the words we utter, Bish”, he said. “Not even you, or me. All of us are influenced by situations. We tend to break our norms, come out of our zones, sometimes.”
I did not understand why he was so strong about his point that night but I wanted to know more. We had fallen asleep at the doorstep on each other that night, we realised that when we woke up the following morning to the first rays of the beautiful sunrise that fell on us. “So, I’m really your Mr. Darcy now?”, he chuckled and I rolled my eyes. We prepared to leave that morning after handing over few leaflets to the headman, advising him to hand it over to the minority in the village who could read. After having distributed all the hampers to the families, we walked up to the car with heavy hearts. Before opening the door, I turned to take one last look at Shahira’s house hoping that Ruhaima would walk up to me and say she was really my sister. Naveed held my hand, like he understood what was really going on in my mind and I looked at him.
“It was just an intuition, Bish. Don’t confuse it with your thoughts”, he said and I nodded. As we got into the car and Naveed started the engine, we saw the same two girls come running up to us. ‘Please God, let this be a sign’, I prayed and let my window down to talk to them. “Can we come with you?”, Ruhaima asked me not taking her eyes off the ground. Naveed said yes without a second word and I said, “Hop in”, opening the door for them behind. We did not know what we had in mind, but all we knew was that we were going to promise a better life for the two of them, at least if we can’t guarantee to provide such for all the children in the village or many villages like Bahmoon.
“Am I Mr. Darcy yet?”, Naveed asked me as the two kids came forward to listen to us and I said, “I don’t know, but you are definitely my pride” and we drove off.