“Hello, Bhai (Brother in Urdu), I need 1 kg tomatoes, ½ kg carrots, 2kg potatoes, 2 dozen oranges, 1kg onions and don’t forget to send coriander and chilies”, my mother said, almost hanging up.
Here in Pakistan, we get coriander and chilies free with every kg of vegetable we buy. It was just a usual day, the vegetable shop across the park in front of my house delivered vegetables for free. Uncle Hafiz (owner of the shop) had recruited young lads of 15 or 16 maybe to deliver vegetables around the block.
It was a cold December morning. It was freezing cold outside. The temperature was far below what I can endure. I wore 4 layers of sweaters, double leggings, a cap, socks and whatever I found in my cupboard to keep myself warm. I had no desire of getting out of bed. But my brother forced me to bake a cake.
“I’ll never forgive you for this,” I said while getting out of bed. He passed an evil smirk and then returned to bed. I was standing in the kitchen when the doorbell rang. Rushing towards the intercom I asked who it was. I could see a tiny head on the screen.
“Baji main, sabzi wala”. (Sister it’s me, the vegetable delivery boy)
Hurriedly I pushed the button. He came in. He was a small timid boy around 8 years old I had never seen him before. Maybe he was a freshly hired.
“Isn’t he too young to work?” I asked myself.
The vegetable bags were too heavy for him to carry alone yet he had carried them single-handedly. He carried the bags in such a manner that only his tiny head was visible. I felt bad for the poor little soul. I promptly took the bags from him. I was horrified by what I saw underneath. It was chilly outside and he stood there in just a half sleeve T-shirt, a torn trouser, and broken sandals. I felt pathetic. My mother scolded him for not wearing proper clothes. He listened to everything without uttering a word. My mother instantly went to bring some of my brother’s clothes for him. Meanwhile, I asked him from where he was and why was he not wearing appropriate clothes.
He said he came from a village near Bahawalnagar. His father had left his mother and remarried. He had a mother and a sister to look after. I could see tears in his eyes, yet he showed immense control and did not let a single tear fall off his eye. For the first time in my entire life, I learned to swallow tears from a boy who was half my age. He had immense self-control; unfortunately, I wasn’t one who knew to take hold of my emotions. I felt a tear fall from my eye and I wept. I wept like never before. I felt his pain. He said he works so that his mother and sister wouldn’t have to. He was a strong man. I consider him a man. He stood for his family but there was no one to stand for him. He lived with his paternal uncle in Lahore. He said he works for 8 hours a day and gets paid Rs 3000 every month. I asked him how many times a month he visits his mother.
“Baji jab tankhwa milti tab Ammi ko milnay jata hun. Jis din ghar paisay le k jata hun uss din hum teeno gosht khatay hain. Warna roz Ammi aur meri behen daal roti khatay hain” (Sister, I visit home the day I get paid. The day I go home, all three of us eat meat, else my mother and sister eat lentil with bread every day)
I asked him about his father. He replied he had never heard of him since he remarried. He had abandoned him, his mother and sister. Now they lived on their own. He said he did not need him in their lives anymore. He was sufficient for his family. He could provide them with all their basic needs. He said that his self- respect disallowed him to take anything from his father. He did not exist for them anymore.
While I was talking to him, my mother brought the clothes and instantly made him change as it was very cold outside. His tiny eyes sparkled as soon as he saw the new clothes. He looked very happy. My mother had brought a spare set of trousers and sweaters for him. She put them in a separate shopping bag and handed him a note of Rs 100 besides the money for the vegetables and he left.
He left but had inspired me. We all are nourished people, aren’t we? Yet we fail to meet the expectations of our loved ones. He who belonged to an unprivileged household was striving hard to meet the expectations of his family. He was the only breadwinner of his family. He worked hard to earn so that his family would have food to eat. He was definitely in pain yet he was smiling. He was hopeful that he’ll change the conditions of his family. I learned from him. I learned that one should never let hope die in any case, I learned to hide a tear that was on the verge of falling, I learned self- control, I learned the importance of self-respect. And most importantly, I learned to be happy with small achievements, the tiny stuff. Like how his eyes sparkled when seeing the clothes. It’s actually strange how someone inspires you within a second. You can learn anything from anyone at any time. An encounter of hardly 15 minutes taught me a lesson of a lifetime. Whenever I feel distressed about the condition of my life, the smiling face of that boy appears in front of my eyes. He was miserable yet he had the brightest smile. Now I truly believe the fact that “Not all Heroes wear capes”. He still delivers vegetables to our house and my mother donates seasonal clothes to him. He happily accepts them and says: “Thank you”.
written by: Laiba Amer