Friday, December 17, 2010

#fridayflash~In God We Trust

In God We Trust

We departed Rawalpindi early that cool morning, driving towards Murree in the north-eastern corner of Pakistan. The hills and valleys of the single-lane highway snaked through the western Himalayan foothills and made for slow progress. A pall of smoke hung over one region—the result of burning to cover up the large-scale timber theft occurring in these temperate forests.

We arrived in Murree at noon and went our separate ways seeking adventures within the busy mountain village. Christmas was only a week away and I wanted to find unique gifts for my travelling companions. And a decent cup of coffee.

The local market was packed with vendors selling a wide range of goods. They waved to me, calling me to drink their chai or perhaps sample a falafel. Booths selling fine fabrics were next to others peddling questionable looking vegetables. I peeked through the grimy glass of one shop window. Cheap trinkets and plastic prayer beads were proudly displayed on a dusty cloth; not a single thing I would want to give to my friends as Christmas presents.

Most of the men wore round pakol hats and had shawls wrapped around themselves to fend off the lingering morning chill. They wandered through the market, hands clasped behind their backs, thoughtfully examining the goods for sale. Occasionally there was shouting as they haggled over price. The few women in sight had their heads covered with hijab but the more traditional wore the body covering burkha.

Several children ran to me with dirty hands extended. “Baksheesh, Baba,” they shouted in unison, pantomiming eating by pinching the air and drawing their fingers to their mouths. As I had done in many countries previously, I ignored the beggars and continued my trek down the busy street.

The cluttered commercial district eventually evolved into haphazardly stacked tenement-style buildings. A man leaned over a balcony rail and eyed me suspiciously while smoking his cigarette. I proceeded down a hill and stopped at a school whose courtyard was about 20 feet below me. Orderly rows of children, dressed smartly in their blue uniforms, stood at attention. They began to sing melodically and march in unison. Their song, presumably, was in Urdu but every so often the word ‘Pakistan’ rang out and I assumed it was their national anthem.

“Sahib.” The soft voice came from behind me, accompanied by a gentle tug on the arm of my Columbia jacket. I spun around to find an old man looking up at me expectantly. A wool shawl was draped over his narrow shoulders and his ears stuck out from the red checked scarf that covered his head. His almond eyes were sunken into his face; his cheeks and forehead had deep wrinkles that reminded me of folding, geologic strata. Most noticeable, though, was that he carried a large sack of belongings over his shoulder and the bottom of his grey beard looked like it had been dipped in red henna.

“Baksheesh, Sahib,” he repeated and pantomimed the eating gesture the children had demonstrated earlier.

“Sorry, pal,” I said, shaking of my head. “I don’t give money to beggars.” I turned and began to walk away.

“Allah.” He said softly, his voice breaking. I stopped. I slowly walked back to the old man and dropped a few rupee coins into his outstretched hand. He smiled at me, exposing his tooth. I quickly turned and made my way back to the market in search of my gifts.

I've often wondered if the old man was pleading to God—or if he was calling to me.


* Note: Photo credit to J.E. Kirkebo

25 comments:

Sam said...

It's stories like this which make me think. I like that. :)

Laurita said...

Love the setting, and you've created some excellent images.

This was a better gift than plastic trinkets.

Gracie said...

Good story, Alan. Cuts right to the bone of what the phrase "spirit of giving" (or Christmas) means.

Very well told.

Cathy Webster (Olliffe) said...

Wonderful story, Alan. Your description of the old man was outstanding... I particularly liked the "dipped in henna." I really felt like I was in an exotic place when I was reading this.

Maria A. Kelly said...

Love the descriptions and the spirit of this story, Alan.

John Wiswell said...

In those circumstances, it's easy for someone who can be of help to seem like a finger of God. A departure from any setting I can recall out of you, Alan. Good experiment.

Alan W. Davidson said...

Sam- Thanks very much. I've heard about this 'thinking' thing. I may have to give it a shot sometime.

Laurita- Thank you, kind lady. I don't know...you get some cool plastic toys from McD....

Grace- Thanks for the kind words.

Cathy- You mean it sounded more exotic than Newfoundland? How is that possible? [thanks]

Maria- Thanks, Maria. I think that it's these small, thought provoking things that mean the most this time of year.

John- Thank you, sir. You are correct, I'm sure the narrator would appear 'Godly' to a man in his circumstance.

Bukowski's Basement said...

I agree with John ... A great departure that I hope to see more of. But only now I wanna go on a trip ;)

Jarmara Falconer said...

WoW! What a wonderful story! It brought a tears to my eyes. Thank you, Alan It loved it.

Best wishes to you and your family for Christmas and the New Year.

Sue H said...

Alan - wonderfully descriptive writing! And an excellent reminder that the vast majority of us have so much to be thankful for, yet so often we neglect the 'good' we could so easily do....

(Spookily, my entry for this week's 'Lily Child's Friday prediction' had a similar theme, but a slghtly different ending!)

Steve Green said...

Very nicely written, some good descriptive lines in here Alan, a person could just as easily read this as fact as fiction.

theothersideofdeanna said...

Wonderful story Alan, so unique from the ones we normally hear of the area. I love your descriptions and felt I was walking along with the narrator. Good stuff!

Alan W. Davidson said...

Ant- I highly recommend the overland treks through that part of the world. Cheapest way to travel, but can you afford the time away? I did it when I was young and foolish.

Jarmara- Thanks for that. Merry Christmas to you and your husband. I'm sure that you're counting the days until the job ends.

Sue- Thanks, Sue. What you said is so true. With so little effort by the West could change a lot. Hmmm...I bet your story didn't have a pleasant ending if it was for something run by Lily Child.

Steve- Thanks, I really appreciate that, Steve.

Deanna- Thanks. I was lucky enough to have travelled in some parts of the world before they went to Heck.

Harry said...

Great story Alan, I'm glad something finally wore the traveler down. I've traveled in some poor areas in Mexico and you will go broke very quickly trying to extend alms to all the out-stretched hands. But sometimes it's just too desperate a face not to give something. Great title too!

Icy Sedgwick said...

Fantastic descriptive work here - particularly "his cheeks and forehead had deep wrinkles that reminded me of folding, geologic strata." Even if you hadn't posted the photo, I'd have been able to picture him perfectly.

AidanF said...

You capture the place well and create a captivating image of the setting. I enjoyed reading the description of the man with the picture beside the text. It created a different experience.

Nice haunting ending line.

Rachel Blackbirdsong said...

Your descriptions are amazing Alan. Though I've never been there, you made me feel as if I was. I love the description of the man's wrinkles. I've seen old people like that and will always remember that description now. They really are one with the earth. Beautiful.

Entre Nous said...

A beatifully put reminder of the small things that make the most difference.

Happy Holidays Alan :}

Eric J. Krause said...

Good story! The excellent descriptions of setting really brought this one to life.

J. M. Strother said...

Such vivid imagery. You did an amazing job here, really. I suspect the roots of this story are firmly planted in real soil. It rings very true.
~jon

G.P. Ching said...

The voice of this one reminds me of that book "Three cups of tea" or maybe a male version of "Eat, Pray, Love". I think this one has wings if you were to expand it into a longer work. Yes, I like the descriptions but I think where the story is,(and what is most interesting) is the change that is occurring within the main character as he experiences life in a new way. Excellent work!

Alan W. Davidson said...

Harry- That's a true fact about travelling in some countries. Giving to one is often a prelude to an onslaught of little hands extended.

Icy- Thanks a lot. It's nice to know that the descriptions are hitting home.

Aidan- Thanks for the kind observations.

Rachel- That's a really nice thought, Rachel about the elders 'being one with the earth'.

Joni- Thanks very much. And a Merry Christmas to you and your family as well. Hope the snow on the eastern seaboard doesn't have you too socked in!

Eric- THanks for that, Eric!

Jon- Thank you, sir. And you are correct...the story is more true than not...

GP- Wow, those are really nice things to say. I'm glad that he changed. No plans to expand he and his travels. Yet.

David Barber said...

Alan - I can't add anything more than what has already been said above. Great story with some fantastic, vivid imagery. Well done.

(My dad has made a fantastic recovery and is being allowed home. His physio and speech therapy will continue at home but otherwise the consultants are over the moon with his whole recovery. My Christmas has come early. Thanks for your well wishes, my friend.)

Salvatore Buttaci said...

A great piece of writing! I enjoyed it immensely.

Merry Christmas to you!

Sal Buttaci

Alan W. Davidson said...

David- Thanks very much. Glad to hear that your dad is on the mend! Hope you and your wife have a tremendous Christmas with your girls.

Sal- Thank you kindly. And a Merry Christmas to you as well, sir!