When I was young, and we lived in Pakistan, Mama would have to drive us everywhere because my dad was living here in the US.
Women driving in Pakistan isn’t common, especially not in the villages. Mama would wrap her head and bury her face beneath a scarf whenever she drove to our village. People would stare and question, but it never bothered her or me or any of my siblings. I always felt a sense of pride, knowing that out of all the women in our village, Mama was the only woman who knew how to drive. Many others learned after her.
She was scared at first, and things haven’t always gone the way we wanted them to. There was a lot of crying. A lot of confusion. A lot of breaking down. But things always worked out at the end because we made them work out.
One of the worst incidents we faced was when we had a flat tire. It was Friday and like every other weekend, we were going to our village. While driving on the eroded road with potholes, Mama lost balance, and the car swirled to the side almost hitting a tree, but she managed to press the brakes on time. Everything was okay, but we had a flat tire. Mama parked the car on the side of the road, and we waited for my dad’s cousin to come get us.
We sat inside the car with the AC on full blast. The sun was at its zenith, and the temperature was scorching to a hundred degrees. It was like an oven out there. The whole time we waited I cursed out everyone I could. Blaming God, Mama, Dad, everyone I could for every unfortunate event that was happening around us. Why did things have to happen the way they did? Did God not like me? Was I that unimportant for Him?
My dad’s cousin showed up an hour later and took us to a garage, which was nothing more than a shed with a few car parts scattered around.
One of the mechanics made us come out of the car. We had to sit on plastic chairs that were broken. The dust from the oncoming cars was flaring up my nostrils, and I hated the fumes coming out of the cars. The sun above our heads was striking us with its intense heat. My clothes were soaked in sweat. I felt the drops form in my scalp and slowly slither down my cheeks onto my clothes. Every inch of me was sticky like I had bathed in honey mixed with salt water.
We had been through much worse, but in that instance, every other memory seemed like a blessing.
Dad’s cousin bought us juice to drink, maybe he didn’t want us to pass out. Mama felt uncomfortable knowing that she’d have to drive the car, and she hated driving when people were watching. Especially men.
While I sat in the plastic chair with a broken arm, wondering why things just couldn’t work out, I saw a little kid, who was probably ten or eleven rush forward with a smile as bright as the sun on his face. He walked to the car with a metal toolbox clenched in his hand. Kneeling next to the tire, he started unscrewing it. The other mechanic slowly lifted the car with a floor jack. Within minutes the kid pulled the tire and replaced it with a new one.
For a moment his eyes met mine, and I saw a different kind of innocence that was filled with happiness. We were both the same age, yet everything about us was different. His shalwar kameez was greasy and it had different colored patches covering the holes in all the odd places. His hair was filled with oil, and I could smell the fumes five feet away. His face was layered in mud, but the smile tugging at his lips was beyond my understanding. His life was much worse than mine, yet he was happy. There was no greed in him. No envy. No hatred. Just simplicity.
Why was it that even with nothing in his hands, beside the smell of grease, he was satisfied with everything? Did he not know how miserable his life was, or was I the one who saw it that way? Maybe in order for me to understand his happiness, I needed his heart. The heat, the sun, the smell, the grease, nothing seemed to bother him. There was a glint in his eyes. It was the same one I lost years ago.
But that day I learned something. I learned that you won’t stop suffering just because you’ve suffered. Life won’t all of a sudden be grateful to you because it put you through trials. I never got to know that kids name, or his story, but every time life gets me down I think of him and his smile, and I don’t know why but relief floods my entire body.
Everything happens for a reason, and I guess the puncturing of the tire, us going to the worn-out-garage, was so I could understand that life isn’t fair to everyone. We just have to make the best out of the worst. We can’t dodge the bricks life throws at us, but we can use them to create a shield. Maybe build a castle.
That kid is probably in his twenties now. Maybe things got better for him, or maybe they got worse. I don’t know, and I guess I won’t ever find out. But he sketched his mark on me, in the form of a five-second smile that I won’t ever forget.
Image from Pixel