Tired, sleepy, depressed, Saabir heaved himself out of the borrowed juted sleeping cot which was supported by four small wooden legs. There was no sheet or covering on it, making it easy to lie on in the hot and humid weather. Saabir rubbed his eyes, yawned a bit, and tried to make sense of his surroundings. Yes, he was in the same small compound that he entered some hours ago, after sunset.
He was exhausted after the long day’s work on the old workbench he had safely hidden in the nearby hut. After giving finishing touches to the design he would cover up everything with rough canvas pieces hoping and praying that no one would dare to steal or destroy or take away.
His food was scarce, one roti with some left over curry, water from the round clay pitcher that lay in the corner of the cordoned compound.
When I finish the design my innovation will be a big surprise for the world and for all in the art and design industry. It will be a sensation, a magnificent change, a new beginning, and, for me, the long awaited breakthrough that I have been working for. My life’s aim, my dream, my hope for my people, my country. Oh my Master, please help and guide me, guide me guide me…
So saying he raised his head and looked up at the night sky, expecting to see some stars, some bright and some not so bright. Oh, but what is this? The sky seemed so different, it was not fully dark nor reflecting any moonlight. No, these were not the nights of the moon, but what was the light visible in the western side? He managed to stand up and look a bit more closely. Soon he saw a dark shape all along the horizon spread out at the base and on the top side, shaped like a vehicle or more like a train, but how could a train be there?
Was he dreaming? No. He was not dreaming. He was now wide awake.
Saabir’s thoughts all crowded his mind. Confused, worried, and scared, he watched for a while until then he recalled a story his friend and coworker told him. His friend, Ahmed, was the only one he trusted in all the neighbors living close by. He shared information about what was happening in their town.
“You know Saabir, things are bad, wood is being taken away by the officials. New rules and regulations are expected to crop up any time, work will be very difficult, but nothing is for sure, but one can never say, as things have not improved over the last three years since the new council has taken oath. In fact things have become tight, you must try to finish whatever you have in mind. It is a lifetime chance for you. I am with you all the way and you can trust me.”
Ahmed continued in a low voice, “I also wanted you to know that people around were overheard saying that the path leading to the lake will be blocked soon and maybe controlled by armed personnel, so movement by citizens will be restricted. The Council is planning something big for this area and the time seems near.”
Ahmed grew pale as he finished. Quite apparently fearful, anxious and exhausted .
Saabir’s thoughts moved around the word “rumors.” I hope they are just rumors. The world is so uncertain these days. Takeovers. Enforcements. Mass shootings. Blatant killings. Suicide bombs. How many can one name? These are happening all around the world , even in educated countries.
Saabir had secretly kept a small transistor radio and would listen to the news and updates of events. Flashes of his own migration would visit him often and tonight he had a premonition. Something strange is going to happen.
The news came on soon. There have been a number of arrests and many armed personnel have been seen entering the city. Clearly, something dangerous is about to take place. Saabir just sat speechless and numb.
He rubbed his skillful hands and looked at them and wondered, Will I be able to complete my work and my innovation, which will make this world a better place, an easier place, a peaceful place? Is time on my side or is it too late?
Oh! Never let go the rope of the Almighty, All Powerful.
My workbench? What about it and what about the creativity lying on top of it?
Great are the joys of creation but greater are the joys of the results, but would these unreasonable circumstances ever allow the new creation to emerge?
Torn between hope and despair, Saabir, sat back on the cot. He felt his heart beat fast and then sink a bit.
What could be done?
Sleep eluded him. He had to work three more days to complete and test the new design. It would be the best ever wood machine invented for making woodwork fine and easy. It would be like the zigzag brick design now accepted by many countries.
The brick kiln industry had manifested the change of production, best suited with environment and with white smoke let out from the kilns, no black pollution of the atmosphere. What a success! And now this mechanism would bring amazing results if , if…
Saabir’s eyes began to close and soon he had fallen in a sleepy stupor. No one knows how long he was in that state, not even Saabir himself.
His family, wife and two kids had long left him and travelled back to their ancestral village more than a hundred miles away. They could not cope with his workbench patterns, his timings, and his odd conversation.
He would say, “great minds have different thoughts and great inventors should never marry. Even great leaders with high aims in life should be away from homes, away from social life, so that they can pursue their noble activity on their precious workbench.”
His wife would quietly cry and feel helpless, though he was not strict with her. He just lacked the time to care. One day she decided to leave and took their children with her.
He saw flashes of his kids faces and their smiles. He missed their warm loving hugs and innocent laughter, giggles and funny antics. But then, as always, his mind shifted back to the great work he wanted to finish. Now he was nearing his great aim. And, by the Grace of the All Powerful, he would finish.
God had been kind to him and he wanted to return something worthwhile to God’s people. He wanted to make his life meaningful and to leave peace behind in his town and city and his native land. He wanted people to have full freedom to work and pray and for that he had sacrificed all he had and all that he held close. He never bothered about his health.
But let me go see if my hut is safe.
Saabir suddenly got up, a new energy entering his frail body. Things were too quiet. He felt for his slippers and finding them slowly made his way in semi-darkness towards the street where he had concealed his hut.
He had hardly gone a few yards when he saw the silhouette of an armed man. This time the figure had the complete dress of an army soldier. The helmet and the bayonet rifle could be seen clearly in the dark. Saabir stopped dead in his footsteps. He back up slowly and crept into the cordoned yard. His mind was tired but still he was thinking fast.
Could it be the enemy? Could it be the force that was being predicted and warned about? Oh dear! My workbench and my invention.
Saabir calm down. Wait. Relax. It might be just another guard. It may be a normal patrolling party.
Saabir tried to console himself, but deep down he knew that secret enemies had grown profoundly in the past months and some were on special duty to observe and keep an eye on him. Saabir had ignored the warnings. He had kept on with his work. He would never get another chance with his precious workbench that he had managed to build and work productively upon.
Oh Lord, give me the chance to finish my purpose for the good of humanity. You know what is in my heart and soul. I believe in you. I trust you.
Saabir lay quiet and soon he felt that dawn had started to break. Would it be the dawn of a lucky day or would it be a disaster? Why are people like him forced into difficult times?
Once he had attended a sermon quite by chance. There he’d heard, “the Lord tests all by giving and sometimes by taking away and those who are patient will be the better ones. The Lord will support them. They will neither be sad nor grieve nor feel depressed.”
Am I among them? Is the test coming on me?
Saabir again lifted himself, softly made his way to the curtained entry, and slowly looked out. Now he saw two armed soldiers right in the street where he had his workbench hut.
Now what? What is happening? What has happened during the night?
He must find out. If he wanted to reach the hut he would have to face the soldiers. There was no other way.
Oh no! An enemy occupation! Oh my workplace. My workbench and what all I had sacrificed to achieve my aim! Is it going to be an exercise in futility? Why people are so cruel? And greedy for land? And for money? And so heartless about human life! And for peace and progress. No one cares for humans or for human blood and then I must be an ignorant fool. Oh, let not these thoughts of desperation disturb and destroy me.
Saabir was still struggling trying to understand the situation when he heard hard footsteps approaching, within seconds the armed men were in front of him.
“It is all over, you have to come with us.”
“But wait! Wait! Where are you taking me? Who are you? Where are you from? How can you just…”
Saabir was pulled and pushed out and forced to walk towards the street.
“We have all the information and proof and we know what ammunition you have. We know what you are making. Just be quiet and keep walking till we tell you to stop.”
Saabir stopped as he heard the word, “HALT!”
And then he heard a loud blast. The street, his hut, his workbench, all exploded before his eyes. He felt the shock and collapsed on the road.
Workbench or life? Tragedies come without warning, and time never waits.
© 2019, Anjum Wasim Dar