Iman stood on the sidewalk and looked around. It was not an ordinary day. Unlike the past one month, when her family had been fasting and spending most of the day indoors, the city around her was erupting with activity and life. It was a bright, breezy evening in Karachi. As twilight approached, the sapphire blue sky melted into hints of pink and violet and slowly the sun began to sink behind the mountains. The city was lit up with a thousand lights and a thousand smiles. It was the eve of Eid-ul-Fitr and all the bazaars were twinkling with light bulbs. The shoppers were running around in frenzy, their arms laden with shopping bags full of shoes, clothes, tubes of mehndi, bangles and mouth watering delicacies. As the night progressed, the city started to come alive with every passing hour. Seen from afar, it felt as if nobody slept the night before Eid. Street corners were dotted with tents where girls decorated each other’s hands with colourful henna patterns, and beauty salons were rapidly running out of bookings as more and more people flocked in, aiming to look their very best on this grand day.
By midnight, Iman had left her garden and walked back into her house, her head buzzing with all the ways she could accessorise her blue and green dress the following morning. The rest of her family was still gathered around the barbeque pit outside, unwilling to let go of the festive cheer. It had been their last iftar that evening and they wanted to celebrate mightily; their voices floated up to Iman’s window as she tried to go to sleep. Eventually, everybody else trailed in and went to bed. Iman was the only one left awake. Too excited to sleep she tried counting her imaginary eidi and wondered if she would be able to cross the amount of five thousand rupees she had gotten the year before. Her family was from a rich background. With her father being a successful business investor, Iman and her sisters always received a grand amount of the treasured eidi which was ever increasing as the years went by. They always wore the best clothes and threw the best party on the first day of Eid where the whole neighbourhood was always invited. However, as dawn came closer and closer, Iman felt that this year would be different. She could feel her heart sink deeper and deeper at some strange unknown thought.
She did not know what woke her up from her deep slumber. The room was bathed in darkness while the moonlight was casting small pools of silver on the carpet below. All of a sudden a loud bang shattered the silence and Iman froze in terror. Her heart leapt into her mouth and she clutched her quilt close to her chest. Another loud bang, then another, and another, they carried on like a drum roll, one after the other, never ceasing, and never growing dimmer. Iman could feel that they were coming from outside the house, not from within it, and that made her feel just a bit safer. Her first thought was of thieves, but she quickly realised that their guard dogs could tear any robber to bits and the security guards would show up faster than she could scream … she wondered what to do, for the confusion, fright and curiosity were killing her. Slowly, Iman gathered all her courage and shuffled quietly to the window. Drawing the curtains apart, she saw the most appalling sight she had ever witnessed in her life. A strange, bedraggled old man was standing firmly on the road with a pistol in his hand, and was firing the gun, while a guard was grappling with him for the gun. Frozen in horror, Iman did not see the police mobile that was soon skirting the road. She barely saw as he was handcuffed and shoved roughly into the car and taken off to the police station. In fact, she stood like a statue near her window for what seemed like hours and slowly trudged back to the comfort of her bed and pillow.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny. The house was swept up in the festive mood like it was every year and it was only Iman who slept late. Her door was knocked upon three times and the fourth time her little sister practically had to bang non stop to get her out. Once washed and dressed with loads of eye liner on to hide her red tear stained eyes, Iman was shocked to discover that not a single person from her family, apart from herself, had woken up by the gunshots. They had not disturbed anybody else and her whole family had slept right through the commotion. Iman had lost all sense of cheer and now getting over her shock and fear she was curious to know what drove the old man to start firing in the air like a hooligan gone wild. She soon found the answer to her question in the daily newspaper. As Iman waited for her parents to get dressed to visit her grandmother’s house, she saw the paper resting carelessly on the living room sofa; she picked it up and started leafing through it when all of a sudden a headline crossed her eyes. It was a small piece of news titled ‘Civilian fires away to get food for children’. Iman’s eyes fogged up with tears as she read the account; the old man from the street the other night had confessed at the police station. He lived in the slum areas surrounding the outskirts of Karachi. For several days he had been looking for employment in the city, travelling to offices day and night, anywhere that would hire him as a cleaner, peon… anything at all, but the city had been too harsh with him. His lack of good clothes and unfamiliarity with the English language had for some strange reason given people the tendency to judge him. He was thrown out of offices and never had enough money to pay the bus fare. There had been days when his family had starved and he wanted to give them something to reward their patience. He said he belonged to a fallen nation where nobody had equal rights, and his kind was left to survive any way it could. Fed up of the misery and sorrow, he had accepted that he was an utter failure in life and would never be able to prove himself in the eyes of his children. Trailing into the street that night, engulfed with guilt and grief, he wanted nothing more than to die. He had finally given up on life and when he saw the security guard with his gun, the melancholy took over him. With a Herculean effort, he snatched the half asleep guard’s gun and tried to kill himself with this lethal weapon. But the first shot went off track. There was chaos everywhere, and from out of nowhere several guards had come running at him, screaming, shouting, trying to pin him to the ground. The old man panicked and not knowing what to do or how to feel, he had aimlessly started firing everywhere, hoping one of the shots would get him too.
Iman did not keep her eidi to herself that year. She had always known about zakat, but her family had never really followed its practises very firmly. That year, Iman gave all her money to an orphanage. And, when Eid was finally over, she did not feel the joy of having a ton of money in her money box or a lovely new dress, or even all the rides around the city. Instead, she felt the joy of doing something - taking a small step towards making the world a better place for others to live in, the true spirit of Eid, a time when you must share your own love, happiness and wealth with all those around you, and the sense of accomplishment you feel by bringing a smile to someone’s face. And Iman knew that one day she would tell her own kids the story of the old man who fired in the air to get food for his children.
- Illustrations by Mahaa Ejaz