School was out for Eid and all the children were delighted. As soon as the school bell rang, all of them darted out, yelling and making a playful noise. It was a happy scene with some of the young children trying to pick up pace, some dragging their heavy school bags along, some young ones were accompanied with their elder brothers or sisters, little girls in white head scarves giggling their way back home in flocks, while boys were jumping and displaying stunts as a display of excitement; their uniforms brown instead of what should have been white. The shopkeepers in that little dingy ally usually had a tough day, and their lives clearly didn’t have much charm. Watching the children laughing and so happy were just one of the simple pleasures the day had to offer them, and they were thankful.
In this sea of children, was a little boy grinning and tip toeing his way back. He held his sister’s tiny hand, who was taking baby steps trying to catch up with her brother. Occasionally Hadi had to stop for her and she beamed thankfully at him each time. With distance, the mass of children kept on decreasing as more and more children turned to their own routes. Hadi and Menahil’s house was farther away from the rest, probably the only one to go that far. Despite the heat in this part of the world, they didn’t mind going the extra long way. They could always enjoy watching the colorful items put up for display in shops that they passed by. Beautiful dresses for ladies, some were simple, while some were adorned with small stones that seem to shine like little stars. Hadi and Menahil’s mother wore similar dresses, except that hers were very simple. She had only one dress that had shiny starry objects on them and she told them she wore it when she and their father got married. The kids were thoroughly fascinated with the way the dress had little stars on it and imagined how beautiful their mother would have looked. Hadi stopped by a big store that showcased bicycles. Ali, a boy from his class had gotten one from this very shop and everyone was in awe of it. The shop was known all over for its good name and excellent goods. Hadi hoped that his father would buy him one this Eid, as promised. The girl liked the store just next to it. It was filled with treasures for a 4 year old like her. Dolls, accessories for those dolls, teddy bears, tiny tea sets, crayons in eye catching boxes, doll houses, plastic make up kits and much, much more. There were goodies like sweets and candies in all flavors, jelly beans, Quality Street chocolates which she had at a friend’s place last Eid, yummy M&Ms and many more which she had never tasted. The only treat she had had with brother more often was cotton candy and ice lolly in the summer. She and Hadi would save some money from their weekly allowance and feast themselves over the weekend. Sometimes when she had been careless of saving, her brother would generously give her his cotton candy. She loved him a lot. He always protected her, be it at school or home. Once her brother had to stand all day in the sun, as punishment, because he had beaten up a boy who tried to bully Menahil.
“Come on Meenu”, he said as he shook her tiny hand in his. The girl was completely absorbed in what she saw. No response. “Meenu”, he tugged at it. “Let’s go home. Ammi will be waiting.” Meenu turned to her brother innocently. She had soft cheeks with a touch of pink and big imploring eyes. A dot of longing there that instantly changed into a radiant smile.
“Okay!” She jumped for the first step, then on one leg for the next three holding on his hand.
“Be careful Meenu”, he said in monotone. He smiled at the little angel. How much he loved her! She was a bundle of joy for everyone at home, and Hadi had loved her dearly since the day she was born.
“Hadi bhai...” she said panting and jumping, with her scarf coming lose on her face. She did it perfectly with her tiny hands.
“Are you still going to get me that doll you promised?” She wanted a Barbie on her birthday but their father didn’t get her one. He said it was not as good as she thought it was, yet every girl in school believed otherwise. Being a girl, Barbie seemed like a necessary possession. She was upset and had cried till her brother promised to get her one for Eid. He had some money tucked away and had decided to add his eidi as well.
“Yes I will”, he said brightly. She was ecstatic. They walked in silence, Meenu, taking her usual baby steps and Hadi, holding her hand protectively, leading them home.
“You know why I like Eid?” she was breathless.
“Because”, she paused to catch her breath. “Because we have no school and we play all day… And ammi makes siwayyaan… I like siwayyaan, do you?” She looked up at his expectantly.
“Yes”, he said with his eyes on the way. “And what else do you like?”
“I like wearing new clothes and when papa gives us eidi after he returns from the mosque with you.” She was smiling all the way.
“Yes, I like that too”, he was distracted. He remembered last night, when he was up way beyond his bedtime. Their parents were talking about something. He peeped in and saw his mother put a hand on his father’s shoulders. Father looked upset.
“It’s everywhere Ayesha. Everywhere I go, the prices are so high. I’m sorry I couldn’t get you anything for Eid this year. I had to choose between us and our children. You know how Menahil loves Eid, and she’s too young to understand why I can’t buy her the toys she wants or a new Eid dress. Hadi is my son and I can’t ignore him either, can I? Ayesha”, the father took mother’s hand in his. “My dear Ayesha, how beautiful you are, and how I wished to see you in something lovely this Eid, something befitting you. I had saved for it, but with Hadi’s torn shoes, I was left with no option…”
“Hush”, she put a finger on his lips. “You must know I understand…” Hadi left after that, realizing he had heard something that wasn’t meant for him. The words stayed with him that long night and he decided not to feel sorry for himself and his family. Ever. They had each other and that was all that mattered.
“Bhaaiiiii”, Meenu’s sound caught his attention.
“What are you thinking?” She seemed tired. With a whoosh, he scooped Meenu in his little arms and she instantly clung to him.
“Nothing Meenu, nothing.”
“Okay”, she made a face like the one she always made when she felt he had a secret from her. It only made her look cuter. He laughed.
“What’s that face for?”
She remained silent and hid her face in his shoulder. Turning into another ally, they took their last steps towards their house. It was a dirty one and no one from their school lived there. There were mud puddles everywhere from the rain last night. He walked slowly, careful not to get his new shoes wet. As he came closer, he could hear his grandfather’s voice from inside, asking his mother about the children’s return. He smiled instantly as he thought “Home!” Hadi held his baby sister protectively and knew he loved her more every minute. He promised himself he would get her that much longed for Barbie this Eid and everything else, on some bright day of his bright future. He was young, young enough to be pure and pure enough to know what real happiness truly was.
Writer's Note: Heartbreaking as it is, I take it on myself to write it, still. With the Ramadan in it's 3rd ishra (part) and more and more iftar parties and buffets, this is just a call to ask you people: Have you forgotten them? The ones who need your charity? Forgive me to disturb you, but I must. All that food we waste on parties and buffet, they silently feed people in homes where there's no food. They need our zakaat, yet they will not ask for it themselves. Give zakaat, give charity. The good will come back to you in many ways. May Allah be with you, all of you, everyone. Ameen.