It was ten years ago when Deoli used to be a small town. On a cold winter day I came to know about my impotency and when I told this to my family which was preparing for my marriage, they got devastated. I started living alone on the other side of the town and started a small restaurant. My family never refused me. But it was me who didn’t want to be with them, well I’ll tell you the reason some other day.
Two years ago, again the winter was as cold as it was the night I left my home. While I was sitting and smoking outside my restaurant with my legs on the table. A boy came, who was almost half naked, a small boy, merely six years old, wearing a waist and shorts and in his feet were a pair of hand stitched slippers, said in a shivering voice,
“Kya aapne mere Jabbar Khaalu ko dekha hai?” [Have you seen my Jabbar Khaalu?]
“No”. I replied and looked down at myself and then I looked back at him. I was wearing all that could keep me warm. But he had fire in his eyes that kept him warm and gave him vision to search his quest.
Putting my still burning cigarette in the ashtray and taking off my legs from the table, I asked him to come inside my restaurant, at first, he looked into my eyes and then he reluctantly came inside.
He settled down on a chair with his hands in between his thighs because of cold. I asked him if he would like to eat something.
“Roti”. [Nan] he replied pointing at the tandoor.
I asked Rahil, the boy who worked as a waiter, to bring a plate of Nihari and two nans for him and a cup of tea for me.
While Rahil was preparing the food I asked the boy his name,
“Mera naam Naushad”. [My name is Naushad] he replied.
While he was eating his food I saw the real hunger. The hunger that I never felt, the hunger that I never even saw before. And soon it started raining. I asked Rahil to bring his jumper for Naushad. Rahil’s jumper though covered the whole of Naushad still it suited him more. While after drinking a cup of tea Naushad was now continuously looking at the tapping raindrops on the window. I thought he was waiting for the rain to stop so he can move out in search of his Jabbar Khaalu. When I enquired him of the same reason he replied with a confident yes.
“In the night?” I asked him back.
“Yes it’s very important”. He replied.
“Since when are you searching him?” I asked him.
“Since morning”. He replied with a worried expression and while still looking at the window where there was no tapping of the rain now. He stood up, looked at me. He rubbed his hands on the jumper instead of washing and walked out, in search of his quest.
After closing the restaurant I climbed up on the first floor through a narrow staircase ending directly at the door of my small room. Small yet suitable for me. With a bed and a standing charpoy (cot with four legs) and a study table with two chairs. After changing my clothes and while lying on my bed, ready to retire for the night. I heard the sound of the rain, usually this sound induced me to sleep but soon it grew louder and heavier the rain came down. The first thought that crossed my mind was of Naushad, the rain was heavy and it was cold outside. And at once I stood up from my bed and pulled over my leather jacket and took my umbrella and a torch. And dismounted the stairs, to the road, in the heavy rain.
The water that was gushing down the road was of ankle length. I walked towards the bazaar throwing the beam of the torch here and there looking for the child. The streets of bazaar were pitch dark.
And fortunately on the footsteps of Salman Salon was lying Naushad, his oversized red jumper drenched in cold water. He was shivering as I observed reaching near to him. The moment he saw me he stood up at once and started running! Maybe he mistook me of some kidnapper of sort.
I ran before him. He entered the muddy Niraala Park and slipping he fell down in the mud. I reached to him, helped him to stand and while holding his elbows tightly I looked in his eyes. In the eyes that were crying. By this time the rain started slowing down. He looked back at my face in reassurance. Still there were tears in his eyes. At this sight, I softened my hold on his elbows and hugged him. Hugged him tight, hugged someone as delicate as him for the first time. His heart was beating fast. I felt his fingers on my back, he was assured of his safety. His heartbeat started slowing down and then it subsided to normal and so subsided mine and we simultaneously released each other.
While in the light rain we were walking back to my room and little Naushad was holding my hand, he looked up at me and asked, “where is your umbrella and torch. It’s raining and it’s dark”. Only then I remembered about my missing belongings.
“They must have fallen somewhere while I was running behind you”. I told him with a smile.
“Are you scared of darkness?” I asked him. And it was only when we crossed Salman Saloon that he asked me,
“Where are you taking me to?”
“At my room. Don’t worry dear, you need to change and have a sound sleep”.
He looked at me and I smiled at him, and told him not to worry.
We reached the room. It was dark in there because of the power cut. After lighting the lantern I gave him one of my old kurta knowing that little Naushad would not need a pyjama. He changed his clothes and I told him to sleep on the cot beside my bed.
He was facing me and I was looking at his closed eyes. His sleeping yet restless eyes. I never liked children much but looking at him made me realize that how blessed are those who are parents.
It was late and it was raining in the morning I woke up in front of Naushad’s cot. He wasn’t there. I got up and found him standing at the window. I reached to him and kept my hand on his head. His hair was rough. Probably faded black into light brown colour.
“What are you looking at?” I asked him. He said nothing. I dragged a chair and sat down to look at his face to find tears on his cheeks.
“What happened Naushad?” I asked him.
“I am missing Khaalu”. He replied.
I looked out of the window. Children were playing in the rain water filled road with paperboats. I took out a sheet of paper from the drawer of the study table on which the bills of my restaurant were kept. And started folding and tearing it into a paperboat.
While doing so I asked him about Jabbar Khaalu. And he told me in his innocent voice, “We used to live under the bridge of Pipalnagar road. Khaalu was a rickshaw puller. He used to drink Kuttu (a country alcohol) but he never mistreated me. He loved me a lot and always bought chocolates and toys for me. One night his friend, Altaf Uncle came to me and said that Khaalu have started living in City Hospital and took me there. There Khaalu always wore blue clothes. And used to lay down on the bed only. We lived there for three days and then one morning when I woke up Jabbar Khaalu was nowhere”.
“Did you asked anyone there?” I asked him.
“Yes I asked a woman who was wearing slightly darker blue Sari”
“And what she said?”
“He is no more here, and you also get out from here”. He said this in a childishly innocent voice yet I had the idea of rudeness behind this sentence.
By that time I completed making the paperboat and gave him that and told him to go and play outside with other children. He looked at me. And I promised him that I will search for his Jabbar Khaalu myself. And he went out to play.
The day passed by and came the night. When I came back to my room Naushad in the same kurta was on the cot but he wasn’t sleeping.
“Have you found my Jabbar Khaalu?” He asked me.
“No not yet. And you should sleep now it’s late”. I knew the truth. Though my voice couldn’t support me with the kindness I had in my heart while saying this.
Although Naushad closed his eyes. But it was hard to convince myself to confess in front of him the truth. I lay on the bed but sleep or comfort was nowhere to find. Today even Naushad was facing the wall and not me.
I woke up and saw that Naushad was not there in the room. The chair was in front of the door and the door was half open. I stood up at once and started searching for Naushad. I looked everywhere each and every single street of Deoli. I found him nowhere.
I still look for him. Sometimes I feel him as if he is standing beside me when I stand at the window. He comes in the room with the wind. He comes to me with the raindrops. And I see him most clearly in my teardrops. Maybe Altaf took him with him. But no I would have found him by now. Maybe he went out to play. But no he would have returned back. Maybe he would have found his Jabbar Khaalu or maybe Jabbar Khaalu would have found him…
About the contributor: Ali Akbar Abedi is an aspiring writer from India. He is a student of English Literature at Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. His first book, My Confined Thoughts got released in 2017. Apart from writing and reading he loves motorcycling. Feel free to mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org