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Stories

Hakeem's Garden

Hakeem was a quiet man. He didn’t talk much. He would always greet you with a salam, a big smile and a firm handshake. Even after living in our neighbourhood for over 50 years, no one could really say they knew him very well.

Before he became quite old, he took the bus to work each morning. The lone sight of him walking down the street often worried us. He had a slight limp, and had some health problems. Watching him, we worried that although he had remained ok in our neighbourhood so far; he may not make it through our changing uptown neighbourhood with its ever-increasing random violence, gangs, and drug activity.

When he saw the flyer at our local Mosque asking for volunteers for caring for the gardens behind the mosque, he responded in his characteristically unassuming manner. Without fanfare, he just signed up. He was well into his 87th year when the very thing we had always feared finally happened.

He was just finishing his watering for the day when three gang members approached him. Ignoring their attempt to intimidate him, he simply asked, “Would you like a drink from the hose?”

The tallest and toughest-looking of the three said, “Yeah, sure”, with a malevolent little smile. As Hakeem offered the hose to him, the other two grabbed Hakeem’s arm, throwing him down. As the hose snaked crazily over the ground, dousing everything in its way, Hakeem’s assailants stole his retirement watch and his wallet, and then fled. Hakeem tried to get himself up, but he had been thrown down on his bad leg.

He lay there trying to gather himself as the Imam came running to help him. Although the Imam had witnessed the attack from his window, he couldn’t get there fast enough to stop it. “Hakeem, are you okay? Are you hurt?” the Imam kept asking as he helped Hakeem to his feet. Hakeem just passed a hand over his brow and sighed, shaking his head.

“Just some ignorant kids. I hope they’ll wise-up someday.” His wet clothes clung to his slight frame as he bent to pick up the hose. He adjusted the nozzle again and started to water.

Confused and a little concerned, the Imam asked, “Hakeem, what are you doing?”

“I’ve got to finish my watering. It’s been very dry lately”, came the calm reply. Satisfying himself that Hakeem really was all right, the Imam could only marvel. Hakeem was a man from a different time and place.

A few weeks later the three returned. Just as before their threat was unchallenged. Hakeem again offered them a drink form his hose. This time they didn’t rob him. They wrenched the hose from his hand and drenched him head to foot in the icy water.

When they had finished their humiliation of him, they sauntered off down the street, throwing catcalls and curses, falling over one another laughing at the hilarity of what they had just done. Hakeem just watched them. Then he turned toward the warmth giving sun, picked up his hose, and went on with his watering.

The summer was quickly fading into fall. Hakeem was doing some tilling when he was startled by the sudden approach of someone behind him. He stumbled and fell into some evergreen branches. As he struggled to regain his footing, he turned to see the tall leader of his summer tormenters reaching down for him. He braced himself for the expected attack. “Don’t worry old man, I’m not gonna hurt you this time.” The young man spoke softly, still offering the rough and scarred hand to Hakeem.

As he helped Hakeem get up, the man pulled a crumpled bag from his pocket and handed it to Hakeem. “What’s this?” Hakeem asked.

“It’s your stuff,” the man explained. “It’s your stuff back. Even the money in your wallet.”

“I don’t understand,” Hakeem said. “Why would you help me now?”

The man shifted his feet, seeming embarrassed and ill at ease. “I learned some thing from you”, he said. “I ran with that gang and hurt people like you. We picked you because you were old and we knew we could do it. But every time we came and did something to you, instead of yelling and fighting back, you tried to give us a drink. You didn’t hate us for hating you. You kept showing love and kindness against our hate.”

He stopped for a moment. “I couldn’t sleep after we stole your stuff, so here it is back.” He paused for another awkward moment, not knowing what more there was to say. “That bag’s my way of saying thanks for straightening me out, I guess.” And with that, he walked off down the street.

Hakeem looked down at the sack in his hands and gingerly opened it. He took out his retirement watch and put it back on his wrist. Opening his wallet, he checked for his wedding photo. He gazed for a moment at the young bride that still smiled back at him from all those years ago.

He died one cold day after Eid that winter. Many people attended his Janazah (funeral) in spite of the weather. In particular the Imam noticed a tall young man that he didn’t know sitting quietly in a distant corner of the mosque. The Imam spoke of Hakeem’s garden as a lesson in life. In a voice made thick with unshed tears, he said, “Do your best and make your garden as beautiful as you can. We will never forget Hakeem and his garden.”

The following spring another flyer went up. It read: “Person needed to care for Hakeem’s garden.” The flyer went unnoticed by the busy people until one day when a knock was heard at the Imam’s office door. Opening the door, the Imam saw a pair of scarred and rough hands holding the flyer. “I believe this is my job, if you’ll have me,” the young man said.

The Imam recognized him as the same young man who had returned the stolen watch and wallet to Hakeem. He knew that Hakeem’s kindness had turned this man’s life around. As the Imam handed him the keys to the garden shed, he said, “Yes, go take care of Hakeem’s garden and honor him.”

The man went to work and, over the next several years, he tended the flowers and vegetables just as CHakeem had done. In that time, he went to college, got married and became a prominent member of the community. But he never forgot his promise to Hakeem’s memory and kept the garden as beautiful as he thought Hakeem would have kept it.

One day he approached the new Imam and told him that he couldn’t care for the garden any longer. He explained with a shy and happy smile, “My wife just had a baby boy last night, and she’s bringing him home on Saturday.”

“Well, congratulations!” said the minister, as he was handed the garden shed keys. “That’s wonderful! What’s the baby’s name?”

“Hakeem”, he responded.

Courtesy of www.qisas.com.

 

 

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