Heart of Margalla

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chapter 2 : The boy 2

When Afiq was fourteen and half years old, he took part in a quiz competition. His winning depended on a tiebreaker question that was “how many planets does solar system have?” He answered “eight”. Judges said the answer was wrong and question was passed on to his competitor who answered “nine” which was voted as correct. Afiq claimed his answer was right and that he could prove them wrong. Now that was pretty big allegation on the jury that consisted of his professors obviously. They got offended and threatened to suspend him for insulting them in front of entire school if proven otherwise. Afiq asked them to give him twenty minutes which they gave him and he took off.

After fifteen minutes, he appeared with a paper in hand. It was a printed paper from national geographic journal dated august 24, 2006 which was two days ago that day with a headline:

“Whoa! Pluto’s dead,” said astronomer Mike Brown, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, as he watched a Webcast of the vote. “There are finally, officially, eight planets in the solar system.”

Since it was official, who could prove him wrong? He took his trophy for first prize but more than that he experienced adrenaline rush like he had never felt before. From that day forward, he never backed out of a challenge. So why would he now?

It’s not like he had anything better to do and it was clearly some type of scavenger hunt so he decided to act upon his rush. He searched those coordinates on Google maps. They pointed to a place in Islamabad, the city he was currently living in. Well, that was convenient. Now all he had to do was find a red cap even though he was confused if the clue literally meant red cap. He had to try. He called an uber. On the way he stopped at a local market, bought a cap that matched the description and headed to the targeted destination.

Uber stopped across the road of a big eighteen storey building. That was definitely an odd place to have a scavenger hunt. But since the coordinates pointed here, it could mean anything. Afiq was feeling very uncomfortable entering an unknown building which seemed like a workplace. He thought since he was here, he could give it a try. He analyzed his surroundings. Roads were empty since not many people were out those days because of lockdown. It was cold and foggy. Trees were showing more of golden color than green. There was not a single ray of sunshine to bless the air with its warmth. The place was noiseless and peaceful with only two people in sight, a security guard in his cabin in front of the building and a homeless beggar sitting on the pavement few steps away from the building in front of a mosque, trembling with cold wearing a single sweater over his clothes and flip flops. His toes were flexed and purple trying to fight the severity of weather. It was not an unusual sight to see a beggar on front of a mosque in Pakistan since people tend to give more before or after offering their prayers. It seemed like the security guard, who was constantly staring at him, might have some answers.

He crossed the road. Guard was still staring at him like he was trying to identify him. He moved left instead of right where the guard was sitting. He approached the beggar and gave him his own jacket. Then he took off his shoes and socks. He gave him the socks and put the shoes back on and then gave him two thousand rupee note. Then he walked towards the guard’s cabin and when he got there, guard opened the door of his cabin, came out and asked him, “Why would you give him so much money? You don’t even know if he is legit.”

“A human in his right mind would never sit with his exposed feet in this cold just for some hundreds unless his preference is to feed his stomach. Those two thousand rupees merely mean a onetime meal for me but for him this might mean food for a week and some clothes to cover his skin. So you tell me, who will be happier to have them?” Afiq answered with a gentle smile that might have been concealed under his dark beard and moustache but was exposed by the wrinkles around his golden brown eyes.

“Very well sir. You certainly seem to be a kind man. Now if you are wearing a red cap for the reason I am thinking, this belongs to you”. Guard said with an envelope in his hand.

“I …most certainly …am” Afiq said with a curious look on his face.

Afiq turned the envelope. There was a golden wax seal adhering two ends of the envelope with an “S” impression in bookman old style font. This just got more interesting for him. He felt like he was on an actual treasure hunt. For once in a very long time, he was actually having fun.

He opened the seal and found a card inside which said,

“You have made an effort of coming here which means you are serious about this. You are a curious soul. Let’s see if you can go an extra mile for your next challenge.”

He turned the card to look for his clue. He was bummed. There was nothing on it. He rushed to the guard’s cabin and asked if he was given anything else. Guard told him that this was it. Afiq stood there, confused, looking around and observing everything. He walked around boundaries of the building focusing on every inch of its wall and looking for any sign on bill boards, banners, doors and everything in sight. He even tried to enter the building but it was locked. He searched for something atypical for almost an hour but found nothing. It was getting dark and he knew that it was no use looking for his answers at night so decided to head back home and come back again the next day.

……………………..

Afiq was lying in his bed, thinking of current day’s events. There were so many questions in his mind,

“What was the clue?”

“Why was the treasure hunt there in first place?”

“Where would it lead?”

And most important of all,

“Who created it in the first place?”

One thing for sure, whoever created it was venturous, perky and audacious. He was already impressed by this person. All these thoughts were roaming around his mind when someone knocked at the door of his room. He got up, opened the door and found his aunt standing there holding cordless landline phone in her hand.

“It’s your father. He wants to talk to you”. She gave him the phone and walked away.

Afiq took the phone and closed the door.

Hello papa. How are you?”

“How do you think I am? My wife is not with me anymore and my only son is stuck in another country. I know we have our differences, son. But I miss you.” Asim said with a ball of unspoken pain in his throat.

“I miss you too, dad. But nothing is in our control right now. I know situation is very uncertain but it will pass. At least you have uncle Qadir with you so you are not alone. Just have faith and pray for everyone.” Afiq said in a kind voice sensing his struggle.

“Amen. Now that’s enough about me. How is everything with you?” Asim inquired.

“My health is fine, dad. But I received a call today from my office informing me that my services are no longer needed to them. I can’t believe them. I gave that company my blood and sweat. I’ve been loyal to them for 6 years and they didn’t even have courtesy to give me a heads up about the situation, let alone chose me over those good for nothing newbie employees just because I am an expat” Afiq tried to sum up his frustration .

“Oh don’t you complain to me now. I offered you a good job at my company from day one but you rejected it just because of ego of doing your own thing. Who even you want to prove yourself to? I worked my whole life to be in this position I am right now just so that one day my son could benefit from it one day. But your stubbornness has always been bigger than everything for you” .Asim said in a furious tone.

“You know what, dad. This is exactly the reason we were never close. You never even tried to understand me. Here I am trying to tell you how hurt I am and instead of comforting me, you are yelling at me. I never wanted any favor from you or your company because I needed to do something for myself without taking any shortcut. I wanted a job where I could grow out of my position and not stay stuck with one 9 to 5 office my whole life.” Afiq said with a disappointment in his voice.

“Well now you are not even in that position . You never listen to me and then suffer the consequences. First you let that sweet girl go and embarrassed me in front of everyone I know just because you couldn’t apologize to her” .Asim scrapped some old wounds.

“Good bye, dad.” Afiq uttered and aborted the call.

He held his head in both of his hands and sat staring down. Few minutes later, he lied down on his bed facing the side table with that envelope sitting on it. He reached his hand towards that envelope and picked it up. He took out the card and started staring at it.

“You are the only thing keeping my mind off this train wreck.” he mumbled.

He thought off every second he spent after taking that off route. Just in that moment, he knew the answer to the most wanted answer of his day.

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