"Life can be so unpredictable," Hassan sighed. Walking barefoot on the Karachi beach, he now glanced over the crashing waves that hit the sand in undulating fashion. He wondered whether life too keeps probing one like this until there is no will left to live it. All the worries of the past few days suddenly bore down on him and he felt his shoulders slumped in a resigned posture. He ended up kneeling on the ground. From a distance, one might have looked at him and assumed that someone so overpowered by the beauty of the wave-like motion of the water was kneeling in a leisurely pose. But little did anyone know what was exactly playing in his head. The man had just been told that his body was gripped by a terrible ailment and that he might not make it till the coming fall if this condition and his apparent lack of consciousness about his health prevailed. The news itself hadn't dreaded him as much as the resentment of him toward his self did.
He began reminiscing the 30 long years of his life and suddenly felt utterly disgusted for he could not pinpoint a single moment when he had felt contented with himself, when he had felt the worth of his being. All the times he had sat sans any company, barricaded behind a book or some other excuse of a habit, he had felt his self-resentment building. He had lived a mechanical life all along in which there was only the hectic routines of the profession but no one to share his thoughts with. After his marriage that lasted for only a year, Hassan had pledged to never again tie the knot with anyone for he blamed only himself for all the unfortunate happenings of his life. His resentment was so heightened that he was almost at peace with the notion of his life coming to an end. He believed that it might be at last what he deserved. Death, he thought, is what a loser like me deserves.
The soft wind ruffled his hair and thrusting his hand in the sand, he felt the wet grains tickling his palm. In his reverie, he almost missed the silent presence of the man beside him. He looked to be about sixty years old and had a long grayish beard that blew softly with the breeze. He was wearing a long black robe and several chains of thick beads clung to his neck and his fingers too were covered with many rings of different hues. From his attire, he looked like a malang. He now looked at Hassan and the smile on his thin lips deepened. 'You look tired, child. What's bothering you?' He said. Not used to disclosing his miseries, Hassan kept silent. The old man, still smiling, turned to the sea. 'That's okay. If you don't want to share with me, so be it. But I have to tell you, an old man like me has added not years to his life but wisdom. I have seen more days than you and, hence, have been in more circumstances than you.' With this, the two men locked eyes and a deep trust was kindled in Hassan's heart the origins for which were unknown to him. He felt tears prickling the back of his eyes and he looked away. 'I am not a good person,' Hassan murmured, 'Bad enough for Allah to punish me.' With this, the tears found their release, leaving stains on his shirt. The old man put his wrinkled hand on Hassan's and squeezed it. 'Now, child, we are all miserable beings. In so many ways. You and me, all of us.' Hassan kept staring impassively across the water. The old man, after fishing in his side pocket for a while, found what he was looking for and handed it over to him. 'Here,' he said, 'Have this.' Hassan looked down at the small mirror that reflected the sun beams across his face. He had to squint for a while and then turning to the old man, he frowned. Comprehending the quizzical look in his eyes, the old man explained his intentions behind giving the mirror to him. 'Next time you do good to other people, just take out this mirror and perceive yourself through the lens of the person you did good to. It can be anything, the smile you give to others or the hand you lend to them. Anything, regardless of how trivial that may be,' he continued, 'And ask yourself a question, "can I really hate this man?" '. The old man shifted slightly, 'Now, child, come back to me after you have found the answer.' And with this, he patted Hassan on the back and stood up. Hassan found himself staring at his receding figure and a few moments later, pocketing the mirror, he too stood up.
Days passed, weather changed. Finally it was spring. The flowers were blooming in the gardens. Hassan, having practically forgotten about the mirror, was still nursing the deep self-loathing. He knew his disease was worsening and he was getting closer to death with each passing day but still, he didn't consider the prospect of getting a treatment much to his mother's misery and helplessness over her child's condition.
One day, with the start of May, Hassan was strolling in the garden. His deteriorating condition prohibited him from working in the office all day long and so, he had to cut back on some hours. While he plucked a flower from one of the plants, a woman passed by the outer wall to the garden. She carried a bundle of wood pieces on her graying head that was half revealed through her dopatta. Hassan watched her old figure limping by. Suddenly, her foot tripped on some rock and her body lost its balance. Hassan, by now standing only a few yards away, rushed to help her and in doing so, a wood piece scraped the lower side of his left cheek. He could feel the blood pouring out of the wound.
The old lady, seeing that, started getting frantic and began murmuring apologies. Hassan, however, shooed away the apologies, declaring the wound as nothing more than a scratch. He then gathered the pieces and re-piled them. He asked the old lady to sit under a tree and wait for a while. He rushed inside and fetched a cool glass of water for her. She was overwhelmed with gratitude and started uttering words of prayer for him. 'Son, you are so kind. I am certain that My Allah will bless a man like you with a long life. Ameen.' She said and took her leave. The irony of those words clung to Hassan's mind long after she was gone.
Once inside his bedroom, Hassan decided to apply some ointment on the wound. He rummaged through his side drawer and suddenly his hand closed around the tiny mirror the old man had given to him. He took it out and, gripped by some inner curiosity, held it up to his face. The moment he saw his reflection in the mirror, words blurted out of his mouth. 'Can I hate you?'. As if on cue, the words of the old lady started echoing in his mind. 'You are so kind' was what she had said. The crusted wound on his cheek was a testimony to that fact. Remembering them now, Hassan almost believed the words. Suddenly, he was overwhelmed with emotions. He put the mirror back in the drawer and rushed out of his room.
He drove straight to the beach. He found the old man perched on the sand, his long black robe spread across his lap. He was gazing over the waves with deep fascination. Hassan approached him and quietly took a seat beside him. 'I knew you would come', said the old man, without glancing his way. 'So, you got the answer, eh?', he asked. 'I did,' said Hassan, 'I suppose I have learned it the hard way and probably after it's too late.' The old man now turned toward him and said, 'No time is too late, child, if it leads to the realization of something good. By Allah's will, all humans are created with both goods and faults, except of course His Prophets and Dear ones. We all get our fair share of negatives,' he went on, 'but not everyone has the guts to embrace them. But, unfortunately, some people embrace them in an exaggerated way, which is equally bad, mind you, for there is always a room for good, a crack in a wall. Sometimes, it takes a mirror to show us what we really are,' With his emerald eyes glinting in the evening sun, the old man continued with a smile, 'it is that crack, my child, which you have to see the light from.'
Hassan felt his eyes brimming with repressed tears. 'But I am dying,' he said, on the verge of letting loose the pool of his tears, 'I have no hope of imagining my future, let alone living it.' The old man sighed deeply and said, 'The hope comes from trust and that trust comes from within. Trust in the God Who made you trust yourself. When you connect your trust with the Divine then you realize that He is there with us. All the time. And even if you die, it should be with hope of achieving even a bigger life for yourself, a meet-up with the Divine,' he put his hand on Hassan's, 'After all, you are a good person, eh.'
Hassan kept staring at his slightly sagging features and, after what seemed like eternity, nodded his head. The old man clapped his hands as a show of excitement, 'That's the spirit, young man' he exclaimed, 'May Allah be with you always. We shall meet some other time. The world is small, you know. You keep bumping into old fellows every now and then.' And with a wink, the old man gathered his robe and stood up. The beads dangling from his neck jingled softly. He touched his hand to his heart and turned to leave.
Hassan kept sitting there, wondering why it had taken him this long to really see his soul. His good soul. Right at that moment, he felt a lightness within him, such that he had never felt before. It was as if a great burden was lifted off of him. And suddenly the words of the old lady 'I am certain that my Allah will bless a man like you with a long life' seemed to hold a deep promise. He too was certain now. He knew that even if he died this very moment, his Allah will protect him, will grant him rewards for the many times he had done good to others even when he was totally ignorant about their significance. He was experiencing a fresh wave of hope swelling inside of him. Till that moment, Hassan had always desired for himself to be accepted by others and his failed marriage had triggered in him a sense of unworthiness. But, sitting on the sand now, a realization was dawned on him that acceptance by one's own self was far more important than acceptance by others. He had finally learned to accept his self. With this, he stood up and with new found determination in his heart, headed toward the car. He was planning to call his physician as soon as he reached his home, for the treatment he had offered. After all, Allah too helps those who fight. The only difference was, this fight was not particularly about winning. This was about putting one's faith in the Divine and trusting in His plans and hoping for an appropriate outcome.