The Next Three Days

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There are two types of powers found in the world- one is the power of science, the other is the power of love. The former can be easily explained and identified, but the power of love is something that people have discovered and identified for centuries, but no one can describe how it works. All the miracles we see today are in one way or another connected to love and/or faith in one way or another.

We begin our story at the Aga Khan Hospital, the year was 2004. My 5 year old niece Fatima was visiting the doctor after her finger tips and toes had turned blue in her Montessori. We were assured by relatives that we had nothing to worry about, but my brother was really worried so he and I took Fatima to the hospital. I was pretty sure that we had nothing to worry about. The doctor was a very pleasant person he had white hair with flecks of grey sprinkled all over his head, an army style moustache and rectangle glasses gave the impression of a learned person on the verge of retirement. His eyes were onyx black, and made him look younger than he was. We had brought the Ultra Sound and chest X-rays of Fatima, although we had spent most of today morning examining it but we couldn’t come to any conclusion except that the tests were expensive.

“Aah Mr. Ali, how are you?” The doctor rose up from his chair to greet us.

“I’m Dr. Shah”, he introduced himself, “Please have a seat.”

“Thank you,” my brother said as we both sat down.

“Here are the reports you asked for Dr. Shah,” my brother handed him the large white envelope bearing the AKU logo on it.

“Yes, thank you, and you must be” he addressed my niece who was sitting on my lap, after glancing at the reports, “Fatima, how do you do beta?”

“OK” my niece replied shyly, which was new for me as she was the most talkative child of her Montessori group.

“Good! Can you at least shake my hand?” the doctor asked her smiling. Again the shy smile, I remember thinking we should bring her here anytime we wanted peace and quiet. My niece extended her small hand into Dr. Shah’s hand when the hands parted the little hand was full of sweets and Fatima’s eyes widened in delight and all the shyness went out the window as she resumed being her normal bubbly 5 year old self.

“Thank you, doctor uncle!” She exclaimed and then looked over to my brother for permission to eat them; he was very controlling when it came to sugar and caffeine consumption. A weary nod and a resigned smile was all he could muster, but even then he instructed her to deposit the rest of the sweets with me.

“You are most welcome beta.” Dr Shah replied as he sat down to examine the reports, the pleasant expression was gradually replaced by a more concerned and grim look.  Meanwhile, Fatima had busied herself in rearranging the good doctor’s table which involved basically picking anything up in her reach looking at it for a few seconds and placing it on another corner of the desk. All the while, I had a firm grip on her to prevent her from climbing on the table and causing real havoc. After a couple of minutes my brother finally had had enough and pried the name plate of the doctor bearing the legend ” Dr. S.H. Shah” from Fatima’s hands and glared at me “Asad why don’t you say something to her? Fatima beta, stop this please.” I was a bit disappointed that the entertainment had stopped, so I got up and took her hand and told Ali that we were getting something to drink.

Dr. Shah smiled at her and told us to shut the door on the way out. Something was a little different in those eyes; they were looking dim and sad. When we left the room, Fatima said that she didn’t want to drink anything but another sweet would be great.

“You can explore the hall if you want, but only till that red door ok?”

Fatima nodded her head and skipped all the way to the end of the hall and back. She stopped to look at the plants and examined the leaves. I leaned against the wall of Dr. Shah’s office to eavesdrop on their discussion.

Ali asked Dr. Shah “So doctor how is she?”

The doctor countered with another question “Where is Fatima’s mother?”

“She ummmm….” Ali hesitated “She’s not with us; she passed away two years ago.”

“My condolences,” Dr. Shah sympathized, “There’s no easy way to say this.” He paused

“Fatima has a hole in her heart the size of a thumb pin head, and you told me on the phone that she has shown these symptoms before?”

“Yes, but we never thought that it would be anything serious.”

“Does she sweat very much while eating or otherwise for that matter?”

“Yes, she has done that since she was born.”

“hmmm ok, and does she sometimes experience shortness of breath?”

“Yes, doctor but I think it’s only after she has been running or playing”

“Fatima has a very rare congenital heart defect and the hole in her heart has been expanding rapidly.”

“Isn’t there anything you can do to stop it?”

“I’m afraid it’s too late.” Dr. Shah replied. There was a few moments’ silence, before Ali protested “There must be something you can do, this is Aga Khan can’t you put a laser or ultra something to help her?”

“No, sorry there’s nothing we can do. It’s too late for her” There was another silence which was interrupted by soft sobs and sniffles. I thought it was Ali crying but when I put my hand to my cheek, I found it that it was moist.

“How long does she have? A month?”

“No, at the rate by which her symptoms have worsened I’d say around 3-4 days” Again there was silence broken only by Ali’s sniffles and sighs. I felt something tugging my trousers, I looked down and saw that Fatima was tugging to get my attention, when she saw she had it, she asked innocently” Chachu, why are you crying? Big boys don’t cry” She said using the same expression I had two years ago when her mother had passed away.

I wiped my damp cheeks and said smiling “Big boys can cry when someone eats the last sweet that I was going to eat”

“Oops, I didn’t know you liked orange candy so much.” She giggled, “I’ll keep it in mind the next time I eat orange candy, Baby Chachu!”

I heard conversation starting again inside, so I gave Fatima a fifty rupee note and said” Here get me some orange candy and buy anything you want ok?”

Fatima’s eyes lit up at the fifty rupee note and she skipped away to the canteen.

“Are you a religious man Mr. Ali?” Dr. Shah asked him.

“Not particularly, I mean I try to pray regularly but don’t always succeed in doing so.”

“Will you be willing to try a spiritual solution?”

“At this point I’ll try anything”

“Legend has it that the mazaar of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar has a well on the way. If you make the journey from the well to the mazaar by foot, drinking the well water after making your wish at the mazaar makes it come true. I don’t know the details but I know this person who can guide you.”

“How will I know it has worked?” Ali asked

“After making your wish, put your head to the girl’s chest and listen to her heart. Right now there is an after beat, an echo if you like, we call it the murmur of the heart. When her heart heals, there will be no murmur”

“Ok, I’ll give it a try, what do I have to lose?” Ali said,”Where is this molvi you speak of?”

“He’s not a molvi, he’s a Sufi follower. His name is Ghulam Shahbaz, he lives near the old cinema in Lalukhait near the fan market.”

“Ok, thanks” I heard chairs moving which meant that Ali was getting up to leave. I looked around to find Fatima; she was standing in front of me staring at me with those big black eyes I could never say no to. She was holding a can of mirinda in one hand and a bag of sweets in the other. She asked me slowly”Is it true Chachu?”

“What beta?”

“What the doctor said? That he can’t make me well?” She asked

“Yes- but he is sending us to another doctor who will make you well again.” I explained hoping with all my heart that it would be true. The explanation satisfied her temporarily at least.

“Papa what did the doctor uncle say?” Fatima asked a red eyed Ali. Ali smiled half heartedly and said

“We’re going to a colleague of his and then we’re going on a holiday, how does that sound?”

“Great, but what about school?”

“It’s only a few days, you won’t miss much ok?” Ali said a bit more convincingly.

“OK”

We left the hospital and Ali asked me to drive, he usually never did that, but now every moment was precious. He got in the back seat of his new Suzuki Alto and handed me the keys, Fatima hopped in the back seat with him and asked “Where are we going now Papa?”

“We’re going home first to pack and then we need to make one stop and then road trip!” Ali said smiling

“One condition, I get to pack my own clothes ok?”

“Done, Asad lets go home!”

I nodded my head and we left for Ali’s flat in the posh area of M. Ali society, he had been very thorough in searching for the perfect place to bring up a family. His wife Sara, had assisted him in searching for the perfect neighborhood and although the rent was a bit on the higher side, but it was worth it. I had moved in with Ali around a year before, I was single so I had no problems just picking my stuff up and moving in. Although he did not ask me, but I chipped in with half the rent and also took care of Fatima. As we turned into our apartment complex, the watch man gave us a smile and waved hello, he was greeted by two sober smiles, a nod and one lively smile accompanied by vigorously waving hand.

We took the elevator to the first floor and watched as Fatima skipped ahead of us to open the door. When we entered the flat, Ali told Fatima “Go pack up beta, we’ll leave tomorrow in the morning.”

“How long should I pack for?”

There was an awkward silence as Ali and I glanced at each other, after which he replied slowly “At least four days”

“OK! Are we going any place cold? Do I need any warm clothes? I don’t have any warm clothes; can we go and buy some?”

I was bombarded by these and a million other questions as Ali left the room, presumably to make a phone call as he had his new Nokia 1100 out. Fatima’s demeanor was so much like her mother, even though she had barely turned three before her mother passed away, she was so much like Sara in everything she did. She had that infectious smile, the same frown that Sara had when she was thinking, she even had the same cheerful nature. The likeness was uncanny. Sara was always nice to me, she was like the sister I never had, I missed her so much and I can only imagine that Ali’s grief was ten times worse than mine.

“Are you done?” I asked Fatima wearily

Fatima got on that adorable frown but still had that twinkle in her eye which meant that she was only acting upset. She crossed her arms and her frown deepened and she said “No, you didn’t answer any of my questions.”

“Arrray baba! I am human not a computer and I don’t know anything except that we’re not going any place cold and the road trip will be fun.”

The frown was replaced by that infectious smile at the sound of fun.

“OK, I’ll go and pack for four days.”

She left the room as Ali came back and sat next to me, he looked around to make sure Fatima was out of earshot before telling me the plan. He was remarkably calm for someone who had just been informed the next three days with his daughter could be the last time they spend together.

“I know you heard everything so I’ll just tell you my plan.”

“OK”

“The sufi guy whose number the doctor gave me has called us now to talk. He wants to see Fatima himself so he can tell us what to do. We have to do certain things during the trip which he can only explain in person.”

“So when do we leave?”

“As soon as Fatima’s done packing, I’ll go check on her” Ali got up from the sofa and glanced at the picture of Sara on the side table.

“She looks so much like her doesn’t she?” I asked Ali

He smiled and said” Yes, she does” and left the room.

Ali’s marriage was done in the traditional way, the elders of the house searching for the perfect girl to add to their family. The judges (My mom, Khala and my Phuppo) were undecided with the last two girls- Sara and another doctor girl, Ali had only glanced at Sara’s picture for a micro second and he said” I like her.” So Sara came into the family, she slotted in seamlessly in our family it was only then that I understood what match made in heaven meant. A year later Fatima was born and we were ecstatic, six months later Ali moved in here and all was perfect until one day…

“Chachu!” Fatima startled me,“  Let’s go!”

Ali handed me the keys

“Wow, papa two times in one day. Why are you letting Chachu drive our new car? Aren’t you the one who’s always saying that even I could drive better than him?” Fatima eyed me with a mischievous smile.

“No when did I say that?”

“hmmmm lets see last Tuesday, Wednesday, yesterday…” She began counting on her fingers and started giggling.

“Did you remember to call Mishal to say thank you for the birthday present? No? I guess you only remember important things like cartoon network times or the number for KFC?”

“Papa those are important things, how can I survive without food?”

“OK, OK get in the car.”

The journey to the Sufi guy was pretty uneventful except for the fact that we stopped once to ask directions. When we reached the address, Ali got out and left Fatima and me in the car. I braced myself for a guy in green clothes, with a mass of tangled unwashed hair, a million beads around his neck and five rings on each finger. A middle aged man with graying hair and a short beard opened the door, there was no holiness look about him, and he was dressed in a plain white kurta shalwar. I assumed he was the assistant because he did not in any way look mullah babaish.

“Come inside Asad and don’t forget to lock the car.”

I helped Fatima out and locked the car, checking the locks twice, with Fatima checking the locks again herself, satisfied; she grabbed my hand and led me inside. The house was rather small, pretty much like our flat, but it felt more congested. I felt Fatima grip my hand a little tighter as we made our way through the narrow passage way leading inside the house. It looked like an ordinary enough house. No religious quotations were written anywhere, we took our slippers outside the door step before entering the room, I later found out it was only done because the house was carpeted. We found Ali sitting with the same man who had opened the gate; I looked around expecting the holy man to pop inside anytime soon beads and all. I asked Ali “Is he the- you know?”

“Yes” came the reply from the guy who opened the gate.

“I am Ghulam Shahbaz” he said shaking my hand

“So what are we waiting for uncle?” Fatima asked shyly

“Some magic,” Ghulam said,”Give me your hand”

Fatima tentatively extended her hand, Ghulam placed his hands on hers closed his eyes, and when he removed his hands Fatima’s hands were again full of sweets, oddly enough they looked like the same sweets Dr. Shah had given her earlier in the day. The reaction was also the same, the wide grin and the chirpy ‘thank you’, Ghulam’s face grew serious and he began his explanation. He addressed Fatima first and said “I can make you well again, don’t worry beta, but you will have to do exactly as I say ok?”

Fatima nodded

“You will have to do everything your father and Chachu tell you to do over the next three days ok?”

Again she nodded

“Good” then he turned towards us and said “I’ve found her problem, how long ago did her mother pass away?”

“It was two years this October.” Ali replied

“And have you been working full time since her passing away?”

“After two months yes”

“Ok, Ok.”

He looked at Fatima who was also listening intently, he offered her to go in the other room and play with his daughter. She looked a bit hesitant but I said” Don’t worry jaan, its ok, you can go and play.”

After Fatima left the room Ghulam said “Most children need love from two figures in their life, relation doesn’t matter. The love should be unconditional, when there is a severe lack of love; it hampers the development of a child’s heart a little, or in some cases like Fatima’s the hindrance is severe.”

“Now you spend the day completely with her, let her know you’re there for her. Hug her, kiss her, do anything and everything to show her your affection and after you have spent time which is equivalent to five time Namaz, you take her to the well on the way to Sehwan Sharif, draw the water from it. Stir the water seven times anticlockwise, say Bismillah and share the water with your daughter and who ever accompanies you on your journey and Inshallah, her heart will be whole again.”

Ali and I just nodded; there was nothing else that we could do.

“Is there anything else?” Ali asked

“Keep her close to you at all times, so she feels a presence beside her, this gives a sense of security to the child.”

“Thanks” Ali got up and called Fatima to come out. He fished out his wallet and asked “How much do I owe you?”

Ghulam smiled pleasantly and said “Her smile is payment enough for me.”

We shook hands and then we left. I tossed the keys to Ali; he looked at Fatima and then threw them back to me.

“Really?” I asked a bit shocked

“Yeah, why not?” Ali replied, “I could get used to someone else driving me around.”

“Cool!” Ali had always been a scrooge when it comes to letting others use his things. Today was a first for me.

Fatima and Ali got in the back seat, with Fatima sitting behind me. She reminded me of the fact over and over again by punching and kneeing the back of the seat, now I knew why Ali was letting me drive. Fatima did this to almost anyone who drove when she did not get to sit in the front.

“Next stop KFC!” Fatima shouted

I glanced at Ali in the rearview mirror to get his confirmation, he nodded again and off to KFC we went. We parked in front of the KFC near our apartment, Ali helped Fatima out of the car and told me “Order something, I’ll be right with you guys”

Fatima strode purposefully to the counter and stood on her tiptoes and called out “Uncle, please give the menu card!”

The cashier knew us, so he just played along like always “Madam, do you really need to see the menu card or shall I just order you a chicky meal?”

As always Fatima nodded solemnly and replied” One chicky meal with a 7up and two pieces chicken and a Pepsi for my Chachu and one zinger and 7up for my Baba.” She was so confident for a five year old, another trait she shared with her mother.

“Who’s paying?” The cashier asked

“That would be me,” Ali said as he walked into the restaurant and fished out his credit card.

“Have you ordered for me also?”

“Yes Baba, one zinger and one 7up for you.”

“Good girl” Ali ruffled Fatima’s hair, “Now where do you want to sit?”

“Right here in front of the counter.” She slipped into the booth where we always sat.

Everyone was ecstatic after Fatima was born; Sara named her after her mother as is the tradition in our family. Naming the girl is the responsibility of the mother of the child, but the son’s name is the responsibility of both the parents. So we named our Fatima binte Ali, which was done surprisingly quickly and without any hungama.

Ali and Sara were really happy when Fatima was born and then searched for the perfect place to raise a family, as I mentioned before, they looked for the perfect place for at least a year before moving in. Ali was a partner in an accounting firm; he was relatively well off, on top of that Sara also came from a financially sound back ground, consequently, money was no object.  I was in college when Fatima was born and I used to tag along with Sara when she went apartment hunting Ali only saw four places which we had short listed from around 50 apartments.

Ali could not have been happier, but one day when he came home and found Sara sitting in the drawing room massaging her temples. She complained of a head ache and took a couple of pills and fell asleep never to wake up again. Brain hemorrhage was the cause of death written on her death certificate. Ali was never the same again.

“Asad, your food’s here.” Ali said

“Huh?”

“I said your food’s here”

“Ok, thanks.”

“Fatima, can you get us some ketchup please?”

“Ok Baba!”

She wandered off to the ketchup counter, and Ali said

“We leave tomorrow morning, don’t tell anyone anything, except that we’re going on a road trip to Sehwan Sharif.”

“Ok, have you informed your office?”

“Yeah, I just cleared it up with the senior partner, it’s all set.”

“So what’s the plan? Do we drive or take the bus?”

“I was thinking driving, you know, she’d be more comfortable in something familiar”

“Of course”

Just then Fatima came with our ketchup and slid in beside me. She sipped her drink and then started her meal. On reaching home Fatima sank on the couch and exclaimed “I’m tired!”

Ali crouched down to her level and asked her “How would you like to have a slumber party?”

Fatima’s eyes lit up “Does that mean I can stay up late?”

Ali nodded and Fatima was ecstatic, she went to her room and came back in a little while in her night suit with her blanket and stuffed goat she slept with, she called it Goatay.

Ali and Fatima went to his room, Fatima switched on the TV and Ali went to change his clothes. I sat there on the sofa contemplating whether I should go in there or not. In a little while Fatima came out to call me

“Chachu aren’t you coming?”

“Beta, there won’t be much space on the bed.” I replied not wanting to intrude on Ali’s time alone with Fatima. They rarely got to spend time together. Fatima then said something that is kind of our family motto; she said “There should only be room in the heart, other spaces you can make”

I smiled and told her that I’ll be there in a bit. I went to my room and packed for the trip and then went to shower and change.

When I went to Ali’s room I saw that Fatima was already asleep, I mouthed good night to Ali and then tried to sleep. I couldn’t sleep, there were so many emotions I was experiencing, I was restless, and I was helpless, finally after two hours of tossing and turning  I got up to get something to drink and found Ali sitting on the kitchen table with a glass of water and a water bottle in front of him. The water was untouched.

He looked at me and remarked “Can’t sleep either huh?”

I shook my head.

“Do you want to talk about it” I asked

Ali nodded and he talked. We talked all night, he talked mostly and I listened. The upside of bad events is that it usually brings people closer, for Ali and I it was a first, we never really talked about anything really, but that night was the first time I really felt like we had connected, like we were brothers.

We stopped talking at dawn when we heard the call for prayer or the Azaan, after the Azaan was over, Ali mentioned Fatima the first time in our conversation, a fact that we told each other repeatedly.

“She looks so much like her mother, doesn’t she” he asked

I nodded.

I packed my bag and put everything in the car so we could leave as soon as Fatima finished her breakfast. Fatima came out of the room yelling “Road Trip!”

Ali patted her on the head and said “Not so fast beta, breakfast first, then road trip”

Fatima scowled and then sighed muttering “Fine”

“Go brush your teeth and comb that nest on your head please.”

“Ok baba, I’m just coming in a bit.” She yawned and went out of the kitchen.

After finishing breakfast we went to the parking lot of our apartments and Ali gave me the keys again, Fatima and I stared at him with a bewildered expression on our faces.

Ali just shook his head and said “Get in”

Like last night, Ali got in the backseat with Fatima and commanded “Next stop- supplies! Driver let’s go to Jumbo!”

Playing along I nodded my head and replied “Yes sir!”

We went to Jumbo, which was a super stores and they had a wide range of products from edibles to grocery stuff etc. Controlling Fatima in the store was always a difficult task and that day proved no different, heart condition or no heart condition, that girl was quick. She was literally, a kid in a candy store.

Although she appeared to be serenely wandering the aisles of the store, but five minutes of following her and preventing her from picking everything in sight left me feeling as if I had run a marathon. Finally I managed to convince her to end her shopping spree and as we made our way to the counter Ali was standing there smirking.

He bent down and asked Fatima “Beta, are you sure you’ve got everything you need for the trip?”

“Yes” I interjected

“Asad, please, I’m asking my daughter here. She can answer for herself” Ali said addressing Fatima again, he asked “Well?”

Fatima nodded her head.

Ali paid for the stuff as we made our way back to the car. Fatima skipped to the car but her limbs went stiff and she tripped. Luckily she was near the car so she steadied herself and didn’t fall face first on the asphalt.

“Oops, I tripped” Fatima giggled.

Ali let out a sigh of relief and glanced at me. I knew at that moment we were thinking the same thing- was this because of the expanding hole in her heart?

After setting all the supplies in the passenger seat, Ali sat in the back with Fatima again. Fatima let me know that she was seated comfortably by kicking the back of the driver’s seat.

“Let’s go Chachu!” Fatima exclaimed.

“Yes ma’am” I replied nodding my head solemnly.

We drove in silence the whole way, Fatima was surprisingly quiet. The silence was not awkward, it was oddly comforting. We were alone with our thoughts but together at the same time, I guess at that point in time it was exactly what the doctor ordered. We stopped at a gas station in Hyderabad, to stretch our legs and fuel. Ali held Fatima’s hand all the time she was walking, following Ghulam Shabaz’s advice to the letter. After fifteen minutes we got back on the road, the atmosphere in the car was visibly more cheerful. Fatima was back to her chirpy self, commenting on everything we passed. She fell asleep in the afternoon, around four. We reached the well that Ghulam had mentioned at ten in the night. Surprisingly, the place was packed. Ali was staying in the car as I made my way to the well with a cooler I had brought from home. The well was the old style with a bucket and long rope, the kind we saw in the movies depicting villages and older times. I lowered the bucket as long as the rope would allow and I pulled it back up, but it was empty.

I stood there scratching my head thinking what to do. The guy standing next to me asked “What’s the problem?”

“There’s no water”

The man smiled and said “No problem,” He then turned to the crowd and yelled “Naraa-e- Haaaideriiiii!!!!” Haider was a name by which the Holy Prophet referred to his cousin Ali. The man had yelled out to people to cry out the call of Haider.

The people responded by crying out “Ya Ali!” The crowd responded by crying out ‘O Ali’ which was the real name of the Holy Prophet’s cousin.

The man turned to me and said “Try now!”

I dropped the bucket again and less than halfway, I heard a splash. I drew the bucket up and filled my cooler. I turned to thank the man who had helped me, but he was no longer there.

When I got back to the car, Ali was looking slightly worried; I asked what the problem was.

“Her breathing’s becoming irregular. Hurry up with the water.”

I stirred it seven times anticlockwise, said Bismillah and blew on the water softly. I passed the glass to Ali, who made Fatima sit up to drink it. I switched on the car light to make it easier to drink it. Fatima was looking very pale; she looked very different from the bouncy bubbly girl who was chatting with us in the afternoon.

The water made a difference, some of the colour started to return to her face. She took another sip and remarked “This tastes like the water that grandfather had brought back from Saudi Arabia.” My father had gone on pilgrimage earlier in the year and he had brought back the holy water from Mecca. She handed Ali the glass, who sipped it and passed it to me. I took a sip and both of us nodded in agreement to Fatima.  The holy water reportedly had healing powers, but how did we get it in a well in Pakistan?

“Let’s go to the shrine now.” Ali said

I started the car and drove in silence for the next hour. We arrived at the shrine at midnight, Ali carried Fatima and I had the cooler of well water. We gave her the water again and Ali and I also took a sip of it. After muttering a small prayer, he asked me to check her heart beat. I knelt down and put my ear to her chest. I listened hard for a couple of minutes but fortunately, I did not hear a murmur. I looked at Ali and smiled who was looking quite anxious. On seeing me smiling he looked at me in disbelief and mouthed ‘really’. I nodded and he also confirmed the fact himself. We both started screaming and dancing, Fatima also joined us in our celebration.

We seemed to have kicked started a party because suddenly someone started banging a catchy beat on the dhol, the traditional drum of Pakistan. People started dancing and shouting praise for Lal Shahbaz Qalandar the mystic at whose shrine we had come. Ali said “Come on, let’s go inside and say thanks”

We went inside and said our thanks and offered gratitude prayers in the mosque. We read the inscription on the door of the tomb it read “Hazrat Laal Shahbaz Qalander born Syed Hussain Shah preached tolerance to the Hindus and the Muslims and was often found in the company of his loyal disciple named Ghulam Shahbaz or ‘servant of Shahbaz’ because of his loyalty to Hazrat Qalandar. Legend has it that both of them still assist people in their lives appearing to them as normal people”

Ali and I looked at each other and both of us said the same thing “The doctor”

Fatima looked at us and said “I know we have to thank him”

We left for home and drove nonstop on the way back. We reached back home in the afternoon, we immediately called the Aga Khan Hospital to set up an appointment with Dr. Shah. We were told that no Dr. Shah worked there. We spent the next two months looking for Dr. Shah and Ghulam Shahbaz, but we never found out. Maybe they were really the mystic and his disciple, maybe they were not. I guess we will never know.

We haven’t told anyone about this, but there is no other explanation for it all other than that it was a miracle. Never a day goes by that we aren’t grateful for our blessings. Every day is a gift, I guess that’s why they call it the present.

Explanations of local terms used

This story is inspired by true events, but it is a work of fiction.

Kindergarten- We refer to preschool as Montessori in Pakistan

Doctor uncle-It’s the way we refer to our elders if we have no relation with them. Strangers are referred to as uncle and aunty if we don’t know their name like in this case Fatima refrers to the doctor as ‘doctor uncle’

Beta means ‘child’ in Urdu language

Mazaar means tomb in Urdu

Molvi is the muslim equivalent of a priest it should not be capitalised.

Khala refers to maternal aunt or mother’s sister and Phuppo refers to paternal aunt or father’s sister.

Mulla babaish This refers to appearance mullah baba is slang for molvi, ‘ish’ is added for the same effect that sports writers use ‘-esque’ when describing a play or player or stat for e.g. lionel messi’s style of play is often described as maradona-esque. meaning he plays like maradona.

Namaz- This refers to muslim prayers. offering prayers is called Namaz

Inshallah- Arabic expression meaning God willing

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