Winner of RPGC #30: Celestial Lights
Faariq wiped the sweat from his brow and waited. He watched patiently, moving slowly as one of his friends, Jaamil, managed to break away from an opposing player. Jaamil skillfully handled the ball, and pressed forward. After so many nights like this one, Faariq and Jaamil had come to know what the other was thinking before they acted.
The kid who was supposed to be watching Faariq had a mental lapse. It was a brief thing, where Faariq noted the boy's feet were misplaced, and the distance between himself and Faariq was too far. Faariq pounced upon the moment, and surged forward as fast as he could. He kicked up dust from the dirt beneath his feet, breathing heavily. He could hear the opposing team declare their desperate warnings.
But, it was too late. Jaamil knew what to do, and sent his pass away right where it needed to be.
Faariq received the pass, and watched the goalie. It was one on one, but Faariq had all the momentum. The ball screamed off of Faariq's kick, and it whizzed between two rusted trash cans. Game over. Goal.
Faariq and Jaamil met up together, catching their breath, but smiling. The rest of their friends joined in, slapping fives and laughing. All the boys wanted to play one more game, but their fathers who provided light in the night with their cars would not allow it. There was school tomorrow, after all. The boys did not disobey their fathers, as was God's will.
One by one, the boys went to their respective cars and left. Faariq said goodbye to Jaamil, and when he was the last boy on the dirt field he went over to the silhouette of his father lit up by the truck. Except, when he got closer, Faariq knew this man was not his father. It was his uncle.
"Uncle Kaabir?" Faariq said, feeling uncertain as he always did around his Uncle. Kaabir was a stern and quiet man, devoted to Allah in a manner that shrouded him in a cloak of intensity.
Kaabir blew out a stream of smoke, tossed his cigarette to the ground, and put it out.
When Kaabir said nothing at all, Faariq spoke once more. "Where is my dad?"
"Come." Kaabir said.
Faariq obeyed. He moved with the intention of going to the front seat of his uncle's pickup truck but Kaabir denied him this. There was another man in the front seat, a man that Faariq did not know well but had seen with Kaabir and his father in the past. His uncle pointed to the truck's bed. Faariq climbed up, full of questions that received no answers. Faariq wanted to say more, to ask more, but his father had instilled in him a strict obedience to elders, especially to him, and also to men like Kaabir.
The drive went longer than usual. Getting home was usually a journey of no longer than fifteen minutes, but an hour had passed. Faariq had no choice but to look up at the clear sky, listening to the truck's engine, and contemplating every star in the dark night above.
Where was his father? Why had his uncle not answered? Where were they going?
The silence invaded his thoughts, and turned his stomach over the hot coals of nervousness. Before Faariq could truly be overwhelmed by his fears, the truck stopped and his uncle got out. Kaabir told the other man to stay.
"Come." Kaabir said to Faariq for the second time that evening.
Faariq followed. His uncle had taken him past the edge of what Faariq knew as home. Here was pitch darkness, lit only by the truck's lights and the heavens. He continued behind his uncle's trail until Kaabir stopped well beyond their road. It was just Faariq, his uncle, and the desert wilderness around them. The vast scenery and darkness made Faariq feel alone, and his fear swelled once more before being quelled by the strength of Kaabir's voice.
"Do you know why I am here?"
Faariq wondered to himself. What did his uncle expect him to say? "No," he spoke hesitantly. Then, thinking of his father again, he tried to ask about him, but his question was cut off by the raising of Kaabir's hand.
"Do not lie to me, Faariq. You do know why I am here."
"I did not-"
"Silence, boy." Kaabir did not shout, but he spoke so firmly that Faariq dared not raise his voice again.
His uncle turned to face him, meeting his eyes. In that gaze was a power so solemn and grave that Faariq felt no choice other than to relent, making himself stare at his own feet.
"No." Kaabir said. "Look me in my eyes like a man."
Faariq continued to look at his feet, but then did as he was told.
"Good." Kaabir said after a moment of staring. "It is good for you to look a man in his eyes, nephew. Do not let me, or anyone else break your will, no matter how volatile a situation can get. You may be a boy now, but you will soon be a man." He paused. "Now, I know you lied to me. You know why you are here, because you felt it in your stomach for as long as we drove here. Am I correct?"
Faariq, unsure, but feeling as if he understood, nodded.
"Yes, but you do not yet know how to voice what you feel. This is the boy's way, but it is not good enough for the man's way. You felt fear, Faariq. Do you disagree?"
Faariq shook his head.
Kaabir nodded. "It was death, nephew. You felt the fear of death. It twisted your belly into knots. It put the entirety of the world in your chest. It made your heart beat heavily, and clogged your throat to the point you felt the need to scream out for release."
Faariq began to feel that same fear again. Death, cold to the touch and devoid of understanding. Death simply was, and there was no arguing with its hand. He thought of his questions. Of his father. He wanted to look away from his uncle's intense gaze, but he forced himself through his discomfort. His cheeks were hot, his heart was weighted, and his eyes felt the still unrevealed prospect of sorrow.
"Yes." Kaabir said.
It was an answer. Faariq knew what that answer was. A confirmation to his worst fear, and the realization tore away at his presentation of calm. He tried to fight against the tide of sadness, but he failed to prevent the tears from falling. Faariq attempted to choke down a sob. He failed.
Faariq expected Kaabir to remain as he always thought of him. Aloof. Distant. But, his uncle opened his arms.
"Come." Kaabir said for the third time that night, but this time he lead his nephew to his arms.
His uncle hugged him. Faariq sobbed into his uncle's chest, letting his sorrow run freely, and hotly down his cheeks. The pair stayed that way for a while. Kaabir said nothing except for the comfort and solace of a familial embrace.
When Faariq could shed no more tears, his uncle released him. Kaabir rested his hands on his nephew's shoulders. "Is it out of you?"
Faariq weakly nodded.
"I am sorry to bring you this news. But it is good you feel this way about your father. He is my brother, and I feel the same. I already miss him. It is like a hole in your heart, yes? A hole in your life?"
"Yes." Faariq said as his uncle wiped away one of his tears.
Kaabir looked away from Faariq's eyes, and aimed his sight to the skies. Faariq did the same. The world above them was alight with wonder and starlight. It was hard for Faariq to admire its beauty, and dream upon its visions like he would with his friends late into the night during the months where school was no longer in session. His pain was too fresh, and dreams felt more distant than ever.
"How," Faariq began, conjuring the strength to speak, "how did he die?"
"He died like a warrior." Kaabir said with little doubt. "He died like a man. A good man. Never let anyone else tell you otherwise. Tomorrow, tonight, it is of no matter. You may hear the papers, or the heads on the televisions speak of tragedy. They will speak of violence and terrorism. Know this, Faariq. They lie. Of our home, everyone respected your father. You have seen it for yourself, yes?"
Faariq knew this to be true. People were deferent to his father. They always spoke to him with absolute respect and admiration.
"It is the mark of a man with honor. A man of God. For only a man of God can navigate this strange world, with all its chaos, and all its cruelties. To be a man is to dedicate yourself to something beyond yourself, and your father was such a man. I want you to know that there will be many who will tear down your father's name, but they will only do so because it is the 'safe' thing to do. They do not want to create unsteady waters. They fear the waves of conflict, even when conflict is necessary."
His uncle's words gave Faariq comfort. He took solace in those words, that his father was brave, that his father was hero. A hero! He was the son of a hero! Is that not what boys dreamed of?
Kaabir pulled Faariq close, arm around his nephew, hand on his shoulder. "Look." He pointed. "Look at those stars above us. Look at that vast sky! The heavens shine! Do they not? God is good. God is great! Praise Allah, the Lord of all lords! Even now your father looks upon us. He is one of those shining stars now, a guiding light for you, for me, for all of our people, the people who choose to truly follow the path of Allah."
The passions of his uncle stirred Faariq's soul. He could see now, even on a night as dark as this that the light of the heavens were luminous. No matter how dark the shroud of this world could become, the essence of the divine still shines. His father was there, in that vast chasm of the divine unknown, where man could not tread until he stepped beyond the bounds of life. His father was there, shining, watching, a beacon for God's glory.
"God is great." Kaabir said.
Faariq wiped away the last of his tears. "God is great."