Series 8: The Green Thumb Part 3 ‘He did have a green thumb after all’
With her maturity and his graceful age, they made a handsome couple. Faizan smiled at his dumbfounded six children.
“Ali!” Zareen nearly screamed in exasperation. “How could you even think about saying all those things to Faizan sahib? Do you realise you are taking advantage of someone’s kindness?”
She was extremely vexed.
“Isn’t it enough that you are going there for free and that he is tutoring your brother at such low a price? Now you want to take your sister too?”
Ali stood there meekly with his head down. All the children were quiet now, frightened by their mother’s anger.
“But Mama, he said…” Fahad tried to intervene.
“I’m not talking to you, Fahad,” Zareen quieted him immediately.
“From tomorrow onwards, no one is going to Faizan sahib. Only Fahad will go and only until it is necessary.”
Ali did not have the courage to talk to his mother right then.
The next day, only Fahad went to the large, red-bricked house. Faizan was considerate when he heard why Zareen had stopped the other two kids from coming. That night he called her after Fahad had left.
“Mrs Azam, your children do not bother me at all,” he told her. “Please don’t ask them to stop coming here. There is a thing called mentoring in this world. If I can be a good influence on them, then I will try to be that. Nobody should take money for doing that and it is not anyone’s favour upon anyone but an act of benevolence that everyone should be performing in the community.”
“But Faizan sahib, I don’t want my children to grow up on charity,” Zareen had a hard time saying the word but she said it.
“Kindness and mentorship are not charity,” Faizan told her in a firm voice. “Your children have a lot of pride in them. They can easily distinguish between friendship and charity, and trust me, they are strong enough to refuse the latter if they are ever offered it.”
Zareen knew he was right.
“And do send Aiza too,” he said. “Your children do me a favour by bringing smiles and laughter in my empty house.”
Zareen sighed. Faizan sahib was a highly respected man in the area, a retired colonel. If he were offering to mentor her two growing boys, it would be a great help to her.
“Uncle, may I go and see what fruit trees you have? Aiza asked Faizan the next day when she went with her brothers.
She was elated to be there. The house was so beautiful and had such lovely trees.
“Of course, my dear,” Faizan replied.
He liked that she had asked permission instead of just running out.
The bell rang just then. A moment later, his younger son Sadiq walked in. Faizan was very pleased to see him. He couldn’t remember how many months it had been since his last visit. He left the two boys in the living room and took Sadiq to the family room.
“So, what’s the reason for the sudden visit?” Faizan asked, even though he had an inkling.
“Oh, nothing much,” Sadiq wanted to talk to his father with Nihal, who was supposed to arrive any moment.
“Who are the two boys?” Sadiq changed the subject, waving towards the living room.
“They’re a friend’s sons,” Faizan replied. “They come for a little help with their math and homework.”
“What? You’ve started giving tuition to the neighbourhood kids now?” A disdainful expression passed over Sadiq’s face. “Can’t you find something more suited to your taste, Daddy?”
This irritated Faizan.
“What I do with my time is not your business, Sadiq,” he told him in a disapproving tone.
Barely 10 minutes later, Nihal also arrived. By the look the two brothers exchanged upon his arrival, it was obvious that the meeting was planned.
“Uncle, look…” Aiza walked into the room just then, excitedly holding an almost ripe guava in her hand. “I found this under the tree. Is it good to eat?”
Nihal and Sadiq stared at her. It seemed like children were popping up from all corners of the house. Aiza remembered her manners and said salam to them.
“No, my dear,” Faizan told her kindly.
She was a lovely little girl.
“See, it has been eaten by the birds on this side,” he showed her carefully. “You better leave it under the tree for the birds. There’ll be plenty more to pick right off the tree in a few months.”
Aiza nodded happily and ran out again.
“Daddy, are you collecting the entire neighbourhood in the house now, to run amok as they please?” Nihal asked disapprovingly.
The three kids had just taken their leave.
“Who I allow in my house is my business, not yours,” Faizan smiled and said firmly to his two sons.
They just looked at each other blankly.
The news that their ‘daddy had gone senile’ was now circulating between the six siblings. Everyone was calling either Apa or Bhaijan to get the updates.
“You need to talk to him, Bhaijan,” Nihal was getting at least one call every two days from one or the other of his siblings.
“Doesn’t he know how people make fools of older people living alone and confiscate their properties illegally?” Nihal would be told.
“Daddy is not well, Apa,” Amina was getting similar calls.
“I feel sorry for him. We should move him into the apartment and then sell the house. He cannot take care of it any longer.”
Amina agreed with everything she heard.
“Bhaijan, you need to be more forceful than this,” a brother or sister would coax Nihal. “You are now responsible for making all the decisions because Daddy really isn’t mentally capable anymore.”
In similar words, the six siblings tried to convince themselves and each other that their father had surely lost his mind. They told themselves that he had opened his door to whoever wanted to enter the house, and if they didn’t take any immediate steps to curtail this nuisance, the entire property would soon be plundered, looted and transferred in the name of God knows who.
Periodically, they all tried to convince Faizan over the phone too. They gave him every reason under the sun, with emphasis on the house being too big for him to manage, his loneliness and his lack of safety from robbers and bullies.
But Faizan refused to relent. It was his house and he loved it. He couldn’t understand what his own grown up children had against a few young kids who filled his home with cheer and delight. After all, they had deserted him to spend a stagnant, solitary life.
The fruit trees in the backyard were now filling up with ripe fruit. After Faizan had given assignments to the two boys to complete, he often spent time in the garden with Aiza, telling her about all the trees and flowers that his wife had tended to so lovingly in her lifetime. Aiza was an avid listener and exuberant learner, and the large, colourful garden thrilled her. The two boys would join them sometimes too. Faizan noticed how much Fahad had blossomed in just a few months. He took part in conversations, smiled more often and his grades were improving too.
When Aiza went home, she shared a lot of newly gleaned information with the twins. The big house was like a fairytale to them and they hungrily awaited Aiza’s accounts of her time spent in the lovely home and garden. The older brothers didn’t have so much time for the youngest siblings, but Aiza was very patient with them. Of all the fruit trees, they were most excited for the guavas to ripen.
“Mama, I’ve never seen fruit growing on a tree,” Sara often pondered aloud to Zareen and Aiza.
Saad was quiet by nature and mostly content to be in the light of his boisterous twin.
“I wonder what they look like on trees,” Sara wondered aloud.
“They look exactly like you’ve seen in pictures, silly,” Ali would quip. “Why else do you think there are pictures? So that people like us can look at them and know what things look like.”
But that angered Sara.
“If that’s why, then why does Aiza get to go there and see them in real and I can only see pictures?” Sara would demand.
“So that I could come back and tell you all about it,” Aiza would tell her.
But Sara would just stare at her. That made no sense.
“I want to go and see the fruit actually growing on fruit trees too,” she finally declared to Aiza one day.
“Well, it’s not ripe yet so don’t worry about it,” Aiza hurriedly soothed her down.
She didn’t want Sara to create any fuss and upset Zareen.
“Until then, I’ll keep telling you all about it,” Aiza assured Sara.
She was able to distract Sara at that moment but Sara was not one to forget. And whatever she wanted to do or wherever she wanted to go, she always made sure Saad also went with her.
It wasn’t long before her badgering reached a level that was too much for Aiza to deter alone. She didn’t want Zareen to hear about it because she knew her mother would stop her going too. She took her problem to Ali. He always had good advice. Ali was thoughtful for a long moment.
“I’ll think about it and let you know,” he told his sister.
He would have to consult someone else.
“Uncle,” he told Faizan that day. “I have a problem that I need to discuss with you..”
The six siblings had decided that they would all go to Karachi together and get the matter resolved finally.
“I thought you weren’t coming this year,” Faizan said when he got a call from Amina saying that she was arriving in 10 days.
“It has been so long since I met you Daddy,” she replied. “So, I decided to take some time out.”
Faizan was not a fool and he knew the real reason behind her visit.
“How many of your other siblings are coming with you?” Faizan asked dryly.
He was amused at how stupid his kids thought he was. He still played golf three times a week and was an active member of the sports club. Living alone in a big house didn’t make one senile, unless the children wanted to sell the house and divide the money.
“All of them are,” Amina hesitated for a moment before replying.
It would be better for daddy to be mentally prepared. They wouldn’t have to waste too much of their time then. She talked for a few more minutes before hanging up. What she hadn’t told him was that they were all arriving on the very same day too. They were following the rule of united we stand.
Faizan was very troubled by Amina’s phone call. On one hand, he was infuriated that his children were dictating to him about his own property on grounds that he was infirm and feeble. On the other hand, he didn’t want to pick fights with them or distance them from himself forever. He considered moving into the apartment and giving up the house. Then he looked around the lovely spacious rooms, tiled floors, paintings, and furniture that his wife had handpicked. He gazed at the huge lawn with the lovely plants and trees that her green thumb had tended. How could they be so heartless as to ask him to give it all up? He just couldn’t think of a way out. He decided to consult a friend.
“Ali,” Faizan asked him that day, “I have a problem. I was wondering if you have a solution…”
He explained his dilemma to the solemnly listening, wise and street-smart 13-year-old. And of course, Ali had a solution. They both realised that it was actually a solution to Ali’s problem too.
They all arrived at the airport together. Faizan had sent the car and driver for them. He suspected Amina was not going to be alone and he was right. Despite the circumstances, it was a pleasure to see all six of them together after a very long time.
They had barely entered the family room when sounds of young children giggling and laughing floated in from the open French windows.
“Is anyone here, Daddy?” Amina asked in surprise as she walked to the windows.
The others followed her. What they saw left them agape. There were two little kids, aged seven or eight perhaps, sitting in the guava tree trying to pick the ripe fruit. The little boy was laughing uncontrollably as the girl tried to grab fruit from above her. Another older girl was standing under the tree with her hands in a catch position, giving directions to those in the tree.
In the wide lawn on the right side of the trees, four boys were practicing their cricket. And by the looks of it, they were having a very jolly time.
“What is going on here, Daddy?” Maryam turned to her father in utter amazement.
“Is the entire neighbourhood here, Daddy?” Sadiq demanded. “Do you know how dangerous this is? Opening the doors wide open to unknown people?”
The others stood in silence, waiting for their ‘senile’ father to respond. Faizan just looked at the merry scene, a delighted expression on his face, as if he was having as good a time as the young kids were.
“They’re not unknown people,” he turned to his children. “The three in the guava tree are siblings and two of the cricketers are their older brothers. The other two kids are their new friends from the neighbourhood.”
“What is the reason for all this, Daddy?” Nihal demanded.
He was least interested in who the kids were. He could care less.
“The reason is that you all kept telling me that the house was too empty and too large and that it was of no use to me anymore,” Faizan told them. “So, I filled it up and put everything to good use. Wouldn’t you agree, that this is the best use I could put it too? Isn’t the sound of cheery children just delightful?” He was looking out again.
The six just stared at each other. Their father had definitely lost his mind.
“But Daddy, these are strangers,” Zainab said sympathetically, speaking as though to an ailing old man who could neither listen nor understand human conversation.
“Oh no, my dears,” Faizan told them. “They’re not strangers. Five of them are mine.”
“Yours?” Nihal spluttered.
His eyes nearly popped out his head. The other five stared disbelievingly at their father, speechless.
“Daddy, are you crazy? Do you know what you’re saying?” his voice had risen.
“Yes, I know what I’m saying,” Faizan was calm. “The house is no longer empty nor is it too big. I’m no longer living alone, and there are people to take care of me now. I have resolved all of your problems. There is no longer any need to sell the house.”
Just then, a graceful, tall lady walked into the room. She was wearing a simple but elegant dark brown lace dress. Her hair was swept back in a simple chignon. She had a gold chain around her neck and matching studs in her ears. Lines of black eyeliner complimented her large brown eyes and there was a light shade of brown on her lips. She was no doubt very attractive. She smiled and nodded to all of them as she walked in and stood by Faizan. With her maturity and his graceful age, they made a handsome couple. Faizan put his arm around her shoulder.
“Meet the mother of the children you see outside…” Faizan smiled at his dumbfounded six children, “…and my wife, Zareen. It’s funny but your mother always told me I had a green thumb for kids…”
The six stared at the couple in front of them in utter dismay.