Sharing a Meal

12:53 am

Evening fell slowly around the Masjid. A group of ladies sat outside the main entrance. Their faces, the only exposed parts of their bodies, wore an expression of the subtlest anxieties; as though they were waiting for something to happen. Faizal stood next to this group; concentrating hard on cutting a pineapple into what he thought were perfect octagons. Next to him was a haphazard pile of samosas. His wife, Shabnam, had woken up at five that morning to fry them in large quantities of oil and the effects of this generosity were still visible from the opaque stains on the newspaper that they were wrapped in. Faizal noticed the stains and moved the package closer to the edge of the cart, away from his octagon pineapple pieces. Then he looked at his watch and called out to a small boy a few yards away. The boy heard him and came running towards the cart.

‘As-salamu alayka, Bhai’, said the boy.

‘Wa alayka salamu, Aslam. Here, cut these melons’. Faizal said, handing Aslam a knife from his pocket.

‘Sure, Bhai’, Aslam replied.

Both of them stood silent for a moment, secure without any communication, happy to cut their respective fruits and place the pieces of their work in neat shapes on the cart. To an onlooker, they might have seemed like two peaceful artists at work, colouring the space around them bit by bit, their faces radiant in their serenity.

A withered and quivering hand touched Faizal on the shoulder. He stopped cutting to find an old lady standing beside him, gesturing towards the fruit. He knew the lady; she visited his cart occasionally. He had tried to ask her questions about herself but she hadn't even told him her name. Ishan, the owner of a small electric shop nearby, had told him that she was a Hindu widow and that he knew this because he had seen her visiting the temple on the next street. She was senile and didn’t remember anything about herself, including her name. She lived alone, outside a small hut near the temple and it was best not to say anything to her because clear speech seemed to make her angry and melodramatic.

Normally Faizal would give the lady some fruit pieces without question but today he shook his head and looked at Aslam, pointing subtly in the direction of the space below the cart. Aslam seemed to understand this look. He bent down and extracted a small bag from the cart’s varied contents. He took out two crisp, twenty-rupee notes from the bag and handed them to the lady.

The lady gave a surprised look to Faizal and pointed her hands once again towards the fruits. Faizal shook his head, this time more firmly, and watched as the lady hobbled away slowly, muttering in disgust. After a few moments, he took the money from Aslam and ran behind her, placing the notes in her hand, forcing her fist close on them. He pointed to a fruit cart down the road.

She merely looked at him. He looked at his watch again and repeated his plea with more urgency. This time, the lady took the money and walked away in the direction of other fruit cart.

Faizal stood for a few moments staring behind her, wondering if he should call her back and attempt a more detailed explanation. Even in her unaware, detatched, slightly insane state, the lady had seemed offended that he had given her money. But just then he found Aslam tugging at his shirt, pointing towards a large group of men as they made their way towards the mosque. Faizal looked at the neon lit board inside the mosque that stated the time with what he deemed to be more authority than his old watch. In half an hour, everyone would be out, bustling about near his cart in their eagerness to break their fast.

He noticed that the old lady had now reached the other cart and seemed to be in conversation with the fruit seller there. As the evening prayer resonated through the air in loud and almost mournful sounds, Faizal decided that it didn’t really matter whether the old lady understood or not – either way, she had something to eat that evening and so did he.

He nodded at Aslam, and they walked back towards the cart in rushed steps, ready to resume their roles once again.

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