Rafiq was waiting for at the lobby.
Good afternoon madam” He greeted as soon as he saw me coming out of the lift.
“Good afternoon Rafiq” I replied.
“Your father has asked me to take you to mall”
We walked towards the car and Rafiq opened the door me. Inside the car felt like a hot oven.
“It is so hot. How do you live here” I asked Rafiq.
“June to September are the hottest period here madam. That is why even our schools close during that time”
“How long have you been working here Rafiq?”
“Almost 15 years madam”
“Do you like it here?”
“I have a big family to support madam”
“How often do you go back Rafiq?”
“I was supposed to go back 5 months ago, but it didn’t happen”
“It is all Allah’s wish, Madam”
“What happened Rafiq?”
“It is a very funny story madam” Rafiq started to laugh
“Tell me what happened”
“5 months ago, I was working as a driver for a construction company that was building a road. All the employees had to stay in a caravan at the site. One day my boss wanted to go to the airport. After dropping my boss, I drove back to the site. There was hardly any vehicles on the road and suddenly I saw a fire engine coming behind my car and I gave way. Because there was no other car on the road, I was actually following the fire engine. It was fun madam. the lights flashing from the fire engine and the ngee ngoo ngee ngoo sound from the horn. I have never travelled behind a fire engine before madam.
Soon I felt sad because the junction that I had to take left turn to reach the site was only few hundred meters away. Then you know what happened?” Rafiq was looking at me
“No, tell me”
“When the fire engine reached the junction, it took a left turn!!!”.
“Arey Wah this is my lucky day” I told myself, so happily I followed the fire engine.”
Then the fire engine took a right turn” Rafiq turned to look at me.
“What? Tell me”
” That road only goes to my campsite. That is where all the caravans are”
“Then what happened?”
“There was a fire that evening, three caravans got burned down. Mine was the third one. I was staying with my friend. My boss asked my friend to get all the stuff out before the fire reached our caravan.”
“And?” I asked Rafiq
” He did” Rafiq nodded his head sadly
“he did get all the stuff out. But only his stuff madam” I could feel his voice quivering.
“I was supposed to go back and visit my family end of that month. My niece was getting married, so I brought all the wedding clothes, gifts for her grooms family, a VCR for my parents, chocolates, everything gone madam. Everything.”
“Gosh! Why Rafiq? why did your friend do that to you ?”
“Don’t know madam. There was enough time to remove all the stuff before the fire reached my caravan, I would never know why he didn’t help me madam. All that was left were the clothes I wore that day and my car”
“I couldn’t go home empty handed Madam. I didn’t have the heart to see the disappointed faces of my family members Madam”
“hmm.I know what you mean Rafiq” I replied
“I didn’t want to work there anymore madam. 2 days after I left, my friend told me your father was looking for a driver and I applied. Your father is a very nice man Madam”
“I know” I smiled
My father was a good man. Good to everyone except his own family.
“Your father is very proud of you Madam. he always talks about you”
“Really? What does he say?”
“That you read a lot, very intelligent, and going to be a very famous doctor”
“Rafiq,It is true that I read a lot, but I am not as intelligent as my sisters or my father.”
“hmm” It was Rafiq’s turn to mumble.
I noticed an open truck carrying people at the back travelling on the right lane.
“Who are those people? Why are they travelling in the truck like that at this time of the day?” I asked Rafiq.
Rafiq looked outside and shook his head sadly
” All those people are being transported to the jail madam, they were caught for not having a proper visa and are arrested by the immigration department”
I looked at them. They all looked tired and shocked and I knew the sun shining ever so brightly wasn’t showing any mercy to them either. Why can’t a governtment show a little bit of mercy on people? Legal or illegal, they are still humans. They don’t have to be carried in a truck like that.
They didn’t look like Indians. They all had sharp features and deep set eyes.
“Where are those people from?”
“They are Pathans like me madam”
“Pathan? You are a Pathan?”
“What do you mean”
“I am a Rohilla madam”
“Yes Madam. I am a Rohilla. My great great grandfather fought against the British and we lost the war. British started to kill our people and my great great grand father fearing for the safety of his family moved to Bombay”
“What war was that?” I asked Rafiq
“Don’t know Madam. My grand father told me that they(British) plundered the Treasury of our king and after that killed a lot of our people for no reason.”
I hadn’t a clue what Rafiq was talking about. I knew about Pathans from Afghanistan, who were mostly cavaliers and traders. I made a mental note to ask Appa about it.
Rafiq took me to the malls and I looked around. I bought few dresses for my sisters and it was already time to pick Appa from his work. As we were leaving the mall, I noticed a small shop by the side of the mall. A lot of people were crowding around the shop and most of them were eating something that looked like a roll
“What are they eating?”
“That is Falafel madam”
“Falafel? What is that?”
“You wait here Madam” Rafiq kept all the shopping bags in the ca and walked towards the shop. A little while later he came back with a roll that was wrapped in white transparent paper.
“Try this madam” He passed the roll to me
“How much was it?”
“Nothing much madam”
“I won’t eat it until you tell me how much it costs”
“Don’t worry about the money Madam Pathans don’t take money from family madam”
I couldn’t argue with someone who considered me as part of his family. I took the falafel roll from him and removed the paper wrapping and started to eat.
The roll was stuffed with grated carrots, lettuce and something that looked like crumbled parippuvada.
“Oh this is so yummy, Thank you so much Rafiq” I spoke
“You are welcome madam. Do you like to eat Fish madam?”
“Yes of course”
“There is a Pathan restaurant here, they make excellent fried Fish. I sometimes take your father there.You only have to pay for the fish. Khubbus is free”
“It is something like Naan madam”
“oh, May be we will go there today” I replied