Slow, measured steps, hunched posture, a wrinkled faced beneath the halo of
a gray scarf, a long black jilbab and white canvas sports shoes trudging through the vast expanse of the
sandy land – she cut an arresting figure.
Every single day, as I groggily stood by the kitchen window toasting bread for
my mid morning breakfast, I watched her stooped form exit her building and embark on her long journey on
foot. My eyes would follow her as far as the periphery of my ground floor apartment window would allow – over half a kilometer. She would then elude the scope of my vision and I would resume eating my breakfast. By noon, I would see her return in the same manner, except she would look more flustered and exhausted – as anyone would if they had to walk long distances under the blazing summer sun.
I felt sorry for her. Sorry to see a woman my grandmother’s age enduring such
obvious difficulty. I also felt
curious about her. What would compel this elderly lady, afflicted with the
limitations of old age, to leave the rest
and comforts of her home and put up with such a challenge? My mind conjured
up countless, far-fetching
stories to satiate my interest. I knew her building only housed one bedroom
apartments so I decided that she
must be living with her son and daughter-in-law in the cramped space. They were probably mean to her and
forced her to work outside in order to contribute to the family income. Or,
maybe money was tight and being the
self-reliant person that she must be, she decided to step outside and pull her own
What kind of work was she doing? What job was appropriate for a frail woman
over sixty? Surely her mind must
be too hazy to carry out intellectual office work, I surmised. There was a very
affluent housing block in the
direction she headed towards. So, I figured that the poor woman must be going
to one of those huge homes to
do some kind of menial domestic work. Her complete routine was so vividly
painted in my mind that I accepted it
as her reality. To me there simply could not be any other reason for her to
endure such discomfort. Just the
thought of stepping outside and walking the distance in that heat gave me a
headache. No one, I concluded,
would put up with such a rigorous routine unless forced by very dire
circumstances. I felt genuine sympathy for
her and would often pray that Allah (SWT) would alleviate her difficulties.
One morning I had to go out for some work and, as my car left the parking lot, I
saw her familiar form walking her
well-trodden path. I immediately asked my companion to drive towards her and offer
her a lift. He agreed. In the
next few seconds I filled him in on all that I had surmised about her background.
She graciously accepted our
offer and pointed in the direction she wanted to go.
We did not speak each other’s language but through her broken vocabulary she
managed to tear all my
assumptions to shreds and become a different person – from weak to one with amazing strength, from meek to
a possessor of remarkable grit and from mentally hazy to one with an
astounding sharpness of mind. And
suddenly, I too changed, for I was inundated by the shocking rush of emotions
that coloured me red – from
shame and embarrassment at the pettiness of my thinking; to awe and
admiration for the stranger in my car.
She said, ‘JazakAllahukhairun’ to us as she got out of the car and headed
towards the masjid for her daily
Qur’an memorisation class.