The gathering was singing “Ya Nabi Salaam Alaika” in a large chorus. Together, like one person with a large voice.
When the prayers finished people wrapped their arms around friends, relatives, people they knew. No one said anything to the stranger, the alien, the faraway wayfarer. He waited for someone to hug him too. But no one came and he went away.
No one hugs a stranger even on Eid.
He got his shoes polished. And walked away.
“I’ve decided. You and I are going to this coffee shop before we go for dinner.” the youthful voice of his colleague was telling the stranger. Usually he is an annoying brat, but today he was uncharacteristically friendly.
“Uhm. Are you sure?”
The brat was a young person, with no care in the world. The stranger had known him from work and kept his distance initially. He had had a string of phone calls, but no one had actually called him. The stranger was a gust of wind, with no origin.
He looked at his shoes. They were still neatly polished.
The coffee shop the brat had chosen was a long distant away. The stranger tried to keep up with the brat’s antics. He realised as a traveller he had to play along. The Cheshire Cat’s wisdom played along too. “If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which path you take”.
He followed the brat to the coffee house. By the time they reached, it was late evening. The wind was cool and murky with the city’s pollution. A few dusty plants in over sized pots waited for them at the side of the road. People were going up and down the pavement. A merry looking group was celebrating inside the glass walls of the coffee shop. A demure maiden was nodding to her lover on another table. A man with pointy eye-brows was talking on the phone. A few waiters were shuffling on their toes.
They ordered coffee. The brat asked the stranger where he came from? What did he do? How did they celebrate Eid in his place?
The stranger smiled. He told of his home, his friends, his food.
An hour passed.
When they left, the stranger paid the bill. The money felt light, useless and abundant.
He looked at his shoes. A layer of dust had covered his neatly polished shoes.
The dinner place was a famous restaurant. The brat was a vegetarian. The stranger felt sorry for him.
“Shouldn’t you order something mutton, not chicken? Feels more like Eid, I suppose.” the brat suggested.
“What will you have?” the stranger wanted to know. Alien in the city, he didn’t know that vegetarians avoid places with a common kitchen for veg and non-veg.
“I’ll see. You go first.”
The stranger ordered. The meal was good. It felt like Eid. A strange, lonely Eid. An Eid held together by long distant phone calls and wistful greetings.
The young brat had an ice cream. The only thing he decided he could have.
The stranger hadn’t had anyone to accompany him for dinner in months. He realised he hadn’t had dinner in months.
It felt like Eid.
He looked down at his shoes. They had gathered dust.