Chained to iron shackles, poor Sara keeled over in gut-wrenching pain, trying to fight the urge to cry out loud as tears dripped down her cheeks, draining all the hope she had left in her heart. The red-hot iron under the scorching heat of the sun, burned her wrists, paralyzing every move she made, while the men guarding her, sat under the canopy of trees, comfortable in their chairs.
Hours passed by, with every minute, intensifying her pain to numbness. In a state of unconsciousness, she saw a young girl with hair as black as coal, a few feet from her, serving food to the guards, at the sight of which she closed her eyes, as her stomach ached with hunger, and her throat begged for water. When she opened them again, nothing could be seen, except that she was surrounded with walls and a ceiling low enough, that let her breath only.
As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she contemplated the room with questioning eyes, and found herself lying in a cozy bed, with a small sofa fitted in the remaining space beside it. A room as little as this, gave her heavenly comfort at that moment, but it slightly disturbed her to think of who brought her here.
Her thoughts were intervened, when a girl with jet black hair entered the room with a glass of milk and some food. Sara’s stomach had felt like a bottomless pit and so, without question, she gulped down the glass quickly and thanked her wholeheartedly. When she asked the girl about her identity and expressed the desire of getting back home as soon as possible, she replied with a smile, “Remember Mashal in your prayers. Have some food, and I’ll drop you home. No need to worry, you’re safe now. They have been arrested for their crimes.”
On her way back to Sara’s house, amidst a very busy street, Mashal suddenly told the taxi driver to stop. She went running down the street to an old man, seemingly blind, and held his hand to guide him through the road. Dropping him safely to the other side, she came back, with a satisfied look on her face. A few minutes later, the two girls had to bid each other a goodbye and get back to normalcy. But this was what normal meant to Mashal.
Coming back home, she found her parents sitting in the living room. Before she could enter, she heard their tense voices and stopped midway. Unwillingly, she eavesdropped on their conversation because she wanted to figure out the cause of their distress. “I don’t have much time, honey. I’m already worn out with fatigue and this cancer is squeezing whatever is left inside. I wish to live, for you and Mashal.”, her father exclaimed with a painful voice.
She heard her mother console her partner, trying to stay strong, but even from behind the door, Mashal could see tears twinkle in her eyes, while she herself started chewing her lower lip and her eyes welled up with tears. Gripping tight on the door knob, she tried to remain silent, and repress her emotions. She turned around, taking heavy steps towards her room and fell onto her bed. Her entire night went staring at the ceiling, and she only got to know that the sun had already come up when her alarm bell broke the chain of her jumbled thoughts.
Like every other morning, she cooked food and made it into as many packets as were possible, went out to a nearby scattered settlement and distributed those among the needy. The gratitude and contentment in their eyes, refreshed her and never let her feel fed-up of the same routine that she followed every day. She even forgot the restlessness of the night, for a moment.
It was not long before Mashal was at her college. Previously, she had been doing a part-time job in the evening while the mornings were dedicated to college, but she had decided this through the night that the only way she could help bear the expenses of her father’s treatment, was dropping her studies for the time being, and spending all the time on the job. She met the chancellor, and confided in him, all the circumstances and made sure that her parents didn’t get to know of her whereabouts.
Working tirelessly all day, while planning all night was what she did to save her father. Sneaked into his cupboard to figure out all the details and complexities of the disease, met his doctors to line things up, with her parents oblivious of her undying efforts for their prosperity.
Months passed with low hopes and a lot of work. The stronger she tried to become, the weaker she grew day by day. Her father’s health was getting worse and she still had not gathered enough money to have started the treatment, but verily, there is relief after pain, and it was time that she got relief from all her hardships. She received huge bonuses and a promotion for the devotion she had shown in her job, and the firm she worked in, offered her easy loans, as her self-esteem won’t allow her accepting straightaway grants.
Things got smoother now, and the moment her hopeless parents got to know of her struggle, the pieces of their shattered world, seemed to get back into place. They could not believe what Mashal told them, taken over by exuberance, they felt as if their daughter had removed a mountain from their shoulders, and in their dark world, brought a ray of hope.
God opened ways for them, one after another, and the treatment went on, with her father showing signs of recovery with each passing day. The day he returned home after having the treatment completed, his daughter sat beside him, with her head resting on the back of her chair and her eyes closed with satisfaction. “Mashal?”, he said, “I owe you my life, and I don’t know how would I repay,”, before she could utter a single word against this, he continued with a smile that set everything straight, “You’ve proved that you are the ‘Mashal’ of our lives, you are the light!”. Her lips curved into a smile and she hugged her father tight, who meant the world to her.
Next morning, she woke up to a cacophony, finding a group of birds near the windowsill, leaning over their fellow, who lay unconscious over the ground. The keen girl hurried towards it and picked it up in a fine piece of cloth, scrutinizing it to find out a wound at its back. Crestfallen to see the condition of the forlorn bird, she decided to keep it with herself for the next few days and treated the wound with so much care that it healed just within two days.
Mashal stood at the window, with the little bird clinging to her finger, and let it go with a heavy heart. She stood there, watching it disappear into the glorious sky, while nobody knows how many people said prayers for her well-being. Not having much, while giving it all was what she taught them.