Wednesday, October 24, 2007


By Rukhsana Khan

Mr. Kareem is coming today. All the kids are excited, and I can't blame them. He always brings a sadaqa for us. Today we are expecting special treats. Some people say it's because he was once an orphan too, long ago. But I think it's just because he's so kind.

Often he brings his wife. She's the fattest lady I've ever seen--she looks like a walking pillow. Or a cloud. Like she'll float away. But she's so nice. Always smiling. Her eyes shine with gentleness. Too bad she never had children. She'd be a great mother.

"Ahmad!" I sit up. The teacher, Mr. Feroz, is looking at me. "Dreaming again? What did I just say?" There's no clue on the dusty chalkboard. He could have been talking about anything. I shrug.

"Come here." I shuffle up to the front. I know what's coming. I always get it. Grab your ears. I do. "No. No. With your hands through your legs, grab your ears." I'm cramped with my arms wound through my legs, grabbing my ears. "Now stay that way."

Mr. Feroz continues the lesson. Some kids are snickering. I feel like a fool. I should be used to this position, I'm in it enough.

I wonder what Mr. Kareem will bring. I hope it's pakoras, or maybe ludoos or gelabis. Or maybe...My stomach growls so loudly everyone can hear it. Mr. Feroz scowls at me. "Ahmad! No talking."

"It wasn't me," I mumble. "It's my stomach." All the kids burst out laughing. Mr. Feroz is furious. "Get to your seat then and keep quiet."

"Yes. Sir." But I can't help wondering what the treat will be. There's never enough food here in the orphanage. My stomach's still grumbling. I give it a punch to stop. It quiets down a bit. Still an hour till lunch.

When class is finally over, we're let outside to play in the courtyard until lunch is ready. I gallop around the corner and crash right into a po belly. Looking up, I see it's Mr. Kareem. I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. And, just my luck, Mr. Feroz saw the whole thing. He rushes up and grabs me by the shoulder.

"I'm so sorry, Mr. Kareem. This silly Ahmad. He never watches where he's going. Always absent-minded he is. Beg pardon." I'm so embarrassed. My face is hot. Why'd he have to tell Mr. Kareem that? Now he knows about my, and I wish he didn't.

Mr. Kareem laughs. My ears burn at the sound of it. I wish I was anywhere else. "That's all right." He says. "I used to be in a big hurry myself. Now I take my time."

He smiles at me. And it seems like he's not mad or disappointed. Which would be worse. And before I know it, I'm smiling back.

Mr. Feroz is talking. He says, "of course you can take your time now. You're a wealthy businessman. We must teach these children manners, especially Ahmad here. He's slow to learn."

Again my face is hot, and I'm embarrassed. Why does he always have to pick on me? Other kids do bad things too. How come he only sees it when I do bad things? Mr. Kareem is frowning. He must be displeased. Mr. Feroz takes him by the arm, "come sir. The superintendent would love to meet with you."

I'm forgotten. Standing there while all the other children are playing in the yard. Funny, but I don't feel like playing any more.

What if I try harder? What if I were to be good? Would they even believe me? Or would they think I'm playing another trick? If only I wasn't so bad. Then the teacher wouldn't have told Mr. Kareem all those awful things about me.

For lunch we have daal and rice. The daal is thin, the rice is sticky. But it fills me up. A little. And then it's time for Zuhr prayer.

Most of the boys only pretend to make wudu. Usually I'd be one of them, just pretending too. But today is different. I make it properly. And I hope Mr. Feroz sees my doing it. But he doesn't. I even take my time so he will look my way, but he's busy with someone else. Oh well. At least I know I made it properly.

Then we go to pray. Most of the boys are too busy nudging each other and stepping on each other's toes to concentrate on praying. And usually I do that too. I guess I really was bad. I'm starting to see the things I do wrong. But this prayer time, even though the boys beside me keep nudging and shoving, I don't shove back. I pray properly. But no one notices.

I knew it! After lunch Mr. Kareem is standing at the front of the prayer hall with a large sack. Mmm. Samosas. With meat! My favourite. There are big ones and little ones. And I'm at the end of the line. Everyone is grabbing the biggest ones they can find. Pushing and shoving. I would be too, but I'm on my best behaviour. Waiting my turn. By the time I get up there, there's only one small samosa left. Hardly a mouthful. My eyes burn. I want to dry. Being good is so hard! But I take it. I do remember my manners. I do! But before I can say thank you, that same Mr. Feroz reminds me. I want to scream, I'm so mad. But that will just get me in trouble, so I don't. I just say "Thank you Mr. Kareem."

There's a gleam in Mr. Kareem's eyes, and he smiles widely at me. "You're most welcome, Ahmad." He remembers my name! Somehow the anger is gone.

I take a big bite of the samosa and almost lose my tooth. Ow! There's something wrong. Something in my mouth. Not a bone. Metal. I fish it out. It's a gold coin! So expensive. What a grand amount it would fetch in the market place! What should I do? It must have fallen in the mixture by mistake. It must belong to Mr. Kareem. But he's so rich, would he even know it is missing?

I had promised I'd try to be good. But that was before I found this! If only I'd promised after. But I can't keep it. I need to show Mr. Feroz, show myself that I'm a good boy. Not a bad boy as he thinks I am. So I take it back up to Mr. Kareem. Tap on his arm and say he must have lost it.

Mr. Kareem looks funny. Like he wants to cry. He hugs me hard, my ears rub against a button on his vest, but it still feels good. Been so long since anyone hugged me.

He's babbling to the teacher. Saying he will adopt me. I can't believe what's happening. He said that he's been wanting to adopt a child, waiting for one who would return the money he hid in the treats. There was other money?

I can't believe it. Mr. Feroz tried to convince him to take another boy, but Mr. Kareem is firm. He refuses. He wants an honest boy. He wants me.


fathima said...


fathima said...

oh, i remember reading Khan's Dahling If You Luv Me Would You Please Please Smile years ago. twice, i think, i stumbled on it. and loved it both times.

and i just googled her. she's Canadian!

fathima said...

oh and check out her pin in this picture:

MT said...

now i have this sudden urge to go buy samosas. probably not a good idea to read about food just before lunch

shajara said...

Assalamu aleikum,

That was so cute :) Love it

But Asm, I think there are copyright restrictions to republishing an entire story online. Even if it does have typos ;)

Nauman said...

Very nice story... though it sounds familiar as if I've read it somewhere else.

s said...

so i'm not going to lie. i read this, and it made me cry. yes, i know, i am such a loser.

Asmaa said...

That's why I posted it, "S"!

it made me tear up, too. I was reading it to a bunch of kids a few weeks ago, and it was kind of embarrassing because I nearly started crying at the end :P I love the story.