DAPHNE (Let Her Be A Mystery)


(Let her be a mystery)

A biographical love novel

BY EMMENAY (Muhammad Naveed Ahmed).



I don't know where to start...start writing about Daphne. A friend told me to write about her so that the world may know what a pearl she was...that's how my friend defined her....a pearl… after seeing her black and white photograph. I kept thinking about it for seven months...and after all these days here I am, trying to give it a go...tell the world about "a gem of purest ray serene" which the dark, unfathomed caves of this world kept hidden, a "flower that was born to blush unseen" and fill the desert air with its sweetness.

It hurts...talking about the past and writing about it hurts even more. And sometimes I feel that writing about Daphne may kill me. Memories are best if they are kept warm and cosy and not remembered more than often. And Daphne is more than just a memory. She is to me what Catherine was to Heathcliff in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights

 "Hi!" It was the third day of the first week at school after the 1970 summer vacations. She smiled and greeted me as her elder brother Joshua introduced us during the lunch-break hour. She had joined Grade 5. Josh and I were in Grade 7. We were not just classmates. We were friends.

"Hi!" I returned the greeting.

She kept smiling for a little while more. I also smiled. Then we all sat down in the shade of the huge oak tree and shared our home-cooked meals. We also talked about many things till the bell rang and we returned to our classes. Now my eyes fill up with tears as I flashback on that grand August afternoon, resplendent with pure innocence.

Daphne was Joshua John's sister. She was still going on her ninth year when she joined Grade-5. She looked somewhat compellingly pretty, not only on the outside but, as I felt almost in a matter of minutes, inwardly too. Dressed up in her white shirt and long, green skirt school uniform, she looked very smart, prim and immaculate. The most striking features on her face were her hazel eyes. They gleamed with sparkle and intelligence.  To me she appeared to be as a budding example of a person at whom one looks at once and is irresistibly drawn to look again…and again…and she was one of them -- because, even though she was still a child, she radiated a magnetizing ethereal charm…

Joshua and I were schoolmates, classmates and friends, from Grade 2 onwards. He and I became very good friends right from the moment we shook hands. It was a genuine liking for one another. He looked somewhat big for his age, being taller and better built than the rest of the boys in the class. He was as good in studies as he was in sports. The competition in both was between me, him and Max, another smart fellow. The first three positions in class tests, exams and general knowledge were shared by us…even though Joshua fared better in cricket and squash.

Daphne was always first in her class whether it was studies, extra-curricular school activities or sports. There was nobody among the girls and boys who could get past her even in the annual exams and so exceptional were her distinctions throughout the year that the school's teachers and principal decided to honour her with a double promotion and advanced her to the fifth class instead of the fourth. And by joining the Fifth Grade she became the classmate and also the best friend of my younger sister, named Naureen.

The days passed...

We shared good times at school and at each other's homes whenever we used to go, for studying or playing cricket and table tennis or carom board, Monopoly and Chinese checkers. It was sheer, unblemished, childhood fun. Time held no meaning even though we had to be punctual in returning to our homes. Sometimes we would play "Hide and Seek".

Quite often, we would just sit and watch …watch the birds flying high in the sky, the butterflies, the drones and the dragonflies trying to avoid crossing each other's flights, watch the squirrels darting here and there or rushing up the tree in the courtyard, the ants winding their way in search of food, a bee busily moving in the wind from flower to flower….and the minutes and hours would just melt away…into eternity.

Homework mattered. Our class teachers were strict so far as discipline, punctuality and homework were concerned. There was no compromise. Yet, none of us – Daphne, Josh and I – ever suffered the teachers' wrath.  After Josh and I finished our tasks he would help her with mathematics. And when he himself remained stuck and after seeing that I had completed my assignments, would tell his sister to seek my assistance if needed. Daphne was extremely good in every subject and the help she needed in mathematics usually centred on ratio and proportion problems.

Once taught the formula, she would not need any help from anybody, ever again. At times her mental astuteness baffled us…not just me but even my sister, Joshua, our parents and even her tutors…and more than once, Mrs. Winfred, the teacher, described her brilliant pupil as above average and distinguished. Mrs. Winfred even wrote this in her progress report after the first quarterly exam, making her mother and father feel proud of her from that time onwards.

Daphne also possessed a rare, inborn and instinctive sense of right and wrong, good and bad along with a heart of gold. She took care to be kind and considerate with one and all. She did not believe in hurting anybody no matter how bad that person appeared to be.

Once, I remember, Josh got into a brawl with Moorer, a bully famous in the school for being so. Almost all the students feared him and those who did not avoided him because of his nasty behaviour. The teachers punished him the most but the chap did not mend his ways.

Moorer was not physically strong or better built than Josh. In fact Josh was taller and muscular.

So, when they fought that day in the mild winter afternoon of 1971, I saw Josh give the bully boy a beating he had never got before. With me backing him, Josh drew blood and had Moorer sprawled with his face down in the rain-soaked mud, gasping for breath…and all this happened within no time…hardly three minutes…as the bell clanged right then signaling the end of the school's short break; and the fight.

Josh had vanquished the bully and the entire school echoed with his resounding victory. All of us were pleased and wished Josh had mauled Moorer even more…the way we kept on talking about it during lunch-hour…harping on Josh's achievements during those three minutes…and praising him in crescendo…when Daphne stepped in and asked us …all the boys to stop it.

"Please!" She ventured forth…assuming a marked authority in her voice…"Please, for God's sake come out of it. Okay, my brother has beaten the bully and taught him a lesson of not meddling with him again…but it doesn't mean that you start making an event out of it. It is not an event… the other fellow was beaten badly and was bleeding too. If you ask me, it is all something unpleasant, that happened and that is it. Can't you stop talking about it now?"

 Then she looked at everybody surrounding Josh. Some voices tried to resist. But before they could gain in number or momentum she looked at me and waved her hand exclaiming: "Naveed, can't you put an end to this nonsense? Please…"

I got up after nudging Josh. Josh also got up and said, "Enough friends. Let us get on with lunch now. I am so hungry now…Come on Naveed, Daphne…guys come on, let's eat."

That ended the matter then and there. Nobody dared defy Josh from that moment onwards. Even Moorer and his buddies took care of avoiding us -- Josh and me.

Everybody knew that we were the best of friends and would do anything for each other.

So, even though the school's brashest bully was given a drubbing by her brother, Daphne did not like anybody suffering in any way, even if it was Moorer. She hated the bully with her heart, mind and soul but hated brawls and bloodshed more. And nobody could debate with her. She was always convincing in her views and arguments.

Once, Josh killed a bird, with his air rifle. Daphne was shocked and grieved beyond words.  A sparrow had perched itself on apapaya tree and was shaking itself dry when Josh's well-aimed pellet hit it right on the head and it dropped down, bleeding, dead. When Daphne came to know about it she stopped talking to her brother for a week. He tried to convince her that he was merely testing his aim and did not mean to kill the bird but it was of no use. She said there was no logic in his arguments.

"How can the poor bird live if you aim at its head and succeed in hitting it? No Josh, you cannot absolve yourself from killing an innocent creature of God. You just cannot. Am I wrong, Naveed?"

I had to agree. She was right. Josh did not like it at that time but he appreciated it later on because in that way I managed to convince Daphne to forgive him and talk to him. I told her that he was her brother and brothers and sisters should not be on non-talking terms for more than three days. I managed to instill some of my initial code of conduct as passed on through my mother's Islamic teachings, into her mind and it helped a lot; because soon afterwards, she started talking to him. It made all of us very happy in a matter of hours, especially the two of them and there was no doubt about it.




Lights flash, memories stir and a golden time is replayed again, as cinematographically vivid in the imagination, as it happened…not so long ago.

It was raining that day and I felt like staying home…sending a leave application to the class teacher via my sister Naureen.  We were having breakfast when the door was knocked.

"Who's that?" Our father asked.

"Uncle, it's us, Josh and Daphne."

"Come on in, why are you standing outside?"

They came in and seeing us having breakfast exclaimed: "Oh, we are so sorry, we did not mean to intrude…"

"Stop being sorry," father said, "You could not have waited outside for your friends?"

 They smiled and said, "Well, yes uncle…"

"We got an extra umbrella in case Naveed, Saeed and Naureen needed the same. You know uncle, it's raining cats and dogs today, I wonder if it had ever rained so heavily in this city in the past."

This was Daphne. She and Josh were almost dry -- as they were wearing rain-coats. Only their shoes were wet with rainwater – and despite coming in their father's car, she was describing the shower as unprecedented.

Puppa, as I and my siblings called my father, looked at them and after placing two egg-cheese sandwiches, with some tomato ketchup and strawberry jam in two plates, he motioned Josh to come and take them.

"But uncle, we are already full…" Josh replied.

"It doesn't matter. An extra sandwich is not too much. Come on, take it."


Josh complied, thanking father.

She said, "Thanks uncle. I like an extra sandwich on a rainy day. Can I have some hot chocolate to go along with it?"

"Sure, here Naureen, give her a cup of Horlicks", mother told my sister, looking at Daphne with a beaming smile. It seemed mother liked the girl's obvious frankness.

I was watching all this with some quiet curiosity. All of us had shook hands with my schoolmates when they entered the room. Now I was watching Naureen get up with the cup of Horlicks and after slowly taking her own breakfast plate, seat herself next to Daphne.

She handed her the hot chocolate saying, "I hope we aren't late Daphne…I hate being scolded unnecessarily.'

Daphne looked at the wall clock in the room. It was 20 minutes past nine and the school started at 10 a.m.

"No, we aren't …We shall be there in no time. We have the car as daddy is holidaying today."

"Oh, okay." My sister appeared relieved.

Josh got up from his seat and looked at me. He was shy but I knew what he wanted. I nodded my head at him motioning him to come near while I poured out another cup of Horlicks, for him.

He came without a hush and pulling a chair sat next to me and father. Taking the hot cup he ventured a smiling "thanks" and sat.

"Well children," mother addressed us all: "Time to leave…come on, I don't want you to be late even on such days…come on, pack your bags…Saeed, Naureen…and…" -- She looked at me somewhat fazed.

"Why? You aren't even ready?" What's the matter son?"

"Hmm, I am not feeling well mummy," I replied.

It was Puppa's turn now, to look at me, keep the newspaper and look at me again.

"What's wrong? Didn't you sleep well?"

"I did, but I have a headache…I am also feeling feverish Puppa," I responded.

He placed his palm on my forehead for a while and looking at mummy said:

"No temperature. But if he's not feeling well, let him stay home."

Mom nodded her head disapprovingly. "If there's no temperature he can take an aspirin tablet for the headache and go. Why should he miss school?"

Father looked at her. He knew mother did not like any of her children skipping classes without just reason. He looked at me again and asked: "Well son, can you manage?"

"Let him take rest aunty…" Daphne's voice intervened before mother could say anything more.  Then, pausing for an instance or two, thinking that she had interfered, she added, "But only if you and uncle deem it proper, even though Naveed does look somewhat ill. Doesn't he Josh?"

"He sure looks somewhat pale and weak to me," Josh remarked.

"Well okay, but take care son, you won't be successful if you keep missing school like this," mother said.

"Just this once mummy," I said, "You know that I don't absent myself if I am well."


"But where's your leave application?" Father asked. "Aren't you going to send an application?"

"Well, it is with Naureen," I replied.

"Okay. Good," Puppa smiled at me.

Naureen took out the application from her school diary and gave it to father. He read it and after placing in a comma or so…where it should be, he handed it back to Naureen. She gave it to Daphne. Josh took it from her saying, "He is in my class so I think his application should be with me so that I can give it to our class teacher."

"Oh, Okay, No fuss dear brother," she smilingly said while handing him the application.

Then she looked at me again…and nodded. "You get well soon because Josh will have to be extra attentive today."

I looked back trying to figure out what exactly she meant by that.  Why would Josh have to be extra attentive…I wondered.

They all got up, shook hands again, said goodbye to Puppa, mummy and me and left.

A whip-like lightning flash rent the dark rain clouds outside the window followed by a thunderous roar moments later. I got up and tried to go outside, into the veranda, to watch them get into the car and leave.

Daphne was the last to get into the car. Josh was in the front seat next to the driver while Saeed and Naureen were already in the rear seat and Naureen was helping her friend get inside by extending her hand. After getting inside the car started and moved. I saw Daphne turn her head back, look at me and wave goodbye.

I waved back in response, happy that she cared, to look back and 'say' a silent goodbye.

The sky was lit up with chain lightning once more…and before it could follow it up with another growl I saw the car become a speck…on the road ahead. The thunder roared and I wished I had not felt unwell and stayed back…because it all looked so breathtakingly wonderful outside…the dark clouds, the cool April breeze, the lightning creating bizarre patterns high up there and all around every now and then and the exhilarating feeling that sparked deep inside the heart…I nodded my head in self-disapproval and walked inside…for I knew that I was indeed going to miss a lot that day.

Father came out and smiled at me. Then both of us went inside into the hall resounding with Nancy Sinatra-Lee Hazelwood's "Summer Wine" and Doris Day’s “My Buddy” followed by Gogi Grant's "The Wayward Wind" from the Philips radio set on the wall-shelf…I was inspired to start singing along for a while. Then, I walked to the window again, looked at the weather and wondered what had got into me for not feeling well on such a pleasantly boisterous day.

Then, I paused, knew what was done was done and it was no use thinking about it now…how I would be missing a lovely time at school with Josh and other classmates and how there would be only Naureen today to share lunch with Daphne while Josh would be with Jeff, Peter and Michael. Saeed had his own bunch of buddies and ate with them. Then I shrugged myself resignedly, took a collection of William Blake's poetry from the bookshelf and slumped into a sofa chair, trying to find the page of "Echoing Green."




Daphne knew how much we loved our homeland and its founding fathers. During the political unrest before the war, I used to listen to my father reading out loud from the newspaper what all the country was going through.  Reading aloud was done so that we all keep ourselves informed of the current affairs in and outside Pakistan as well as in and outside Swansea.

"Naveed?" Josh asked me, as we were going home after school time on a fine April afternoon, "Will you be going to Pakistan this year?"

"I don't know Josh. It depends on our father. If he decides to go then we will, God willing go. If he decides to stay here then we will have to stay here. It is as plain and simple my dear friend."

"Hmm. So, it all depends on uncle. I see..." Josh appeared talking more to himself than to me, or that's how it seemed.

Daphne and Naureen were marching ahead of us. They stopped and waited for Josh, Saeed and me, to join them. The reason they stopped was the ice-cream man. Even though it was cool and windy, Saeed and the girls could never resist strawberry ice cream cones on any day.

"Here everybody," Josh and I bought the ice cream cones and after paying the vendor started resuming our walk home.

"But, why aren't you two having any?" Daphne queried.

I looked at Josh and he looked at me. We shrugged together, then shook our heads and laughed...

"How can we have any when you three don't ask before the vendor cycles away?" I asked, winking at Josh.

"Oh yeah," he nodded his head. "Who cares for poor old brothers?"

"That's just not right," Daphne shot back. "Here, you two can share with the three of us."

"Oho," Josh laughed even more while remarking: "We are not so greedy? Right pal" he nodded for an affirmative response from me.

"Of course, "I replied, "But you three, why didn't you bother to ask before the vendor went away?"

"No, no, Naveed Bhayya," Saeed and Naureen joined in now. "We are ready to share even now."

"Yes, we sure are," Daphne stressed, with marked emphasis on every word. "We too are not greedy as you two would like to suggest."

Josh and I saw that the cones were half finished and the ice cream had started melting during our conversation. We both started shaking our heads one more time and somewhat chivalrously said: "No, thanks, I was just teasing you. Never mind."

"It's okay you three," I quipped. "Please finish eating your ice cream cones before they melt away completely."

As if to change the topic Daphne asked: "Will you all go to Pakistan during summer holidays?"

"It depends," Josh told her. "Uncle has to take the decision Daph'. You know, uncle is the boss …"

"Boss?" She looked puzzled and surprised.

"He means that father decides on everything important." I replied.

"Ahaan? Alright. So, if he decides to go you all will go. If he doesn't then you will stay here?"

"Exactly," I emphasised.

"Well, if you stay we won't be bored. In fact we will all have a jolly time all along. Won't we Josh?" She smiled and asked her brother.

"Don't be so selfish sis…" He snapped back somewhat sharply.

"No Josh, it is perfectly alright," Naureen defended her friend. "Daphne is just thinking aloud. And she is right. We will surely have a wonderful time together, in case we don't go to Pakistan."

"Yeah," Saeed too offered his opinion adding, "And it will be fun all the way."

Somehow I started thinking. It would be really good if Puppa decided to stay here this year…the situation back home was really perturbing for my parents…strikes, mayhem and violence on the roads and streets, political turmoil in full swing, chaos and consternation in all the provinces…no peace anywhere.

How could we go at such a time? Holidays, as I believed, were meant for resting, relaxing and enjoying time as much as one possibly could…not meant to spend all the time worrying about safety and security.

"I wish Puppa decides not to go," I said.

They all looked at me. While Saeed and Naureen preferred to remain quiet, Daphne and Josh appeared curious even more.

"Why?" They both demanded an explanation.

I did not say anything.,, just kept on walking, lost in my thoughts. Before Josh could repeat his question, Daphne tugged at his shirt-sleeve as if preventing him from doing so. She knew I had just spoken out my mind. Why? She knew that I would explain afterwards, sooner or later.

I marched ahead of all of them. Josh wanted to keep pace but Daphne stopped him. Josh looked at her and then Saeed and Naureen. They nodded their heads as if approving of Daphne's action. I did want to be alone at that time…and so I was, all to myself, till we reached their home and said good bye.

Daphne smiled at me as if she was intuitively aware about why I wanted to be alone and undisturbed….Josh shook hands and he too smiled, but Daphne's smile was an assurance of perfect  understanding while Josh's was casual…friend to friend…just casual, nothing more, nothing less…both were from the depth of their hearts but were vastly incongruent  though tangible.

Now when I think of it, I marvel at Daphne's instinctive maturity of thought, understanding and action, not only on that afternoon but at other times as well.

For instance, two days after that, on April 25, her birthday, she demonstrated this trait again. The evening had gone fine with most of her classmates and friends having a merry time with her. She looked very extraordinary in the sky-blue shalwar-qameez suit topped up by the muslin dupatta, made exclusively for her by the most skilled Pakistani ladies’ tailor in the city of Karachi, Pakistan; and shipped well in time to Swansea, by my maternal aunty, whom we addressed as Aunt Shakeela.

Daphne wanted a shalwar-qameez suit for herself on that birthday. Her childish insistence worked compelling her mother to visit us and discuss the topic with my mom, 15 days before the birthday; with the request stressed politely yet convincingly. My mom, knowing full well how important Daphne was to her parents, agreed and went full ahead in making sure that nothing but the best cloth and tailor should be hired to prepare the dress which was to be presented to the “sweet girl” – as my mom usually liked to call her -- as the best birthday dress of pure Pakistani origin. 

Mrs. Evelyn John, as Daphne's mother was known and called, also took my mom to several shopping malls and fancy stores in Swansea, which was followed by an extra trip to London, for the rest of Daphne’s birthday outfit which included shoes, ribbons, decoration items, a specially ordered chocolate cake, assorted cookies as well as all the other trifles and trivia… the matters that ladies are in the habit of excelling, while shopping.

So, the efforts of my mother were quite evident as Daphne was indeed looking disintinctively different from the rest of the girls who had gathered to wish her "Happy Birthday" that evening.

Even Naureen was stunned as she uncontrollably exclaimed == as she saw Daphne in the Pakistani apparel:

"Wow Daphne! You look like Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) herself. Gorgeous you are my dearest friend! You look so cute and adorable and so beautiful! Touch wood…" 

And then, they embraced each other, pleased and happy.

After giving herself a shooting glance Daphne grinned at my sister for a moment and asked:

"Am I really looking very beautiful Naureen? Thanks to aunty, your mom, who took so much care to make sure I looked my very best today. Everybody says I look smarter in this dress, but you are the first one who has said that I look gorgeous and beautiful.  So. I must thank you again …You know what Naureen? I believe that  you are. truly, my best friend. God surely knows how to bring souls scattered here and there together…and join them in bonds of friendship…

Don't you think so? Hey Josh! Naveed! Saeed! "

She was stunning no doubt so we said:

"Of course! You look absolutely enchanting!

Our reply made her sure about her looking gorgeous and beautiful in her birthday dress. Naureen smiled with unbounded joy at such a reaction from a pure-bred English girl. She added:

 "Sure God knows Daphne, let me add my dearest friend that even otherwise you are very pretty and charming, gracious and precious to us all...I am not flattering you but you are a a darling even to our mom and dad; no doubt about that Daph...Believe me."

That made them hug each other again and we all marched on toward the spacious hall…Daphne never came out to greet any of her classmates or neighbourhood friends like that…my sister was special to her so she accorded her special treatment.  And her parents also liked us…the Ahmeds' children being friends with the Johns'…it was unimaginable in Welsh society at that time yet that was how it was.

I went into the hall with Josh and Saeed and greeted her.  She winked at Josh and asked with a certain amount of mock gravity in her voice: 

 "What? Just a greeting? No present?"

 "Why no present? Didn't Naureen give you the gift?" I parried.

"Oh, that was Naureen's gift…what about you and Saeed?"

Saeed lifted up his hands and pointed at me as if defending himself before more came.

"Well," I grinned, looked her in the eyes and asked, "What gift would you like to have? Tell me quickly so that I can get it for you before you cut the cake….come on, shoot…"

"O man," Josh intervened before she could say more. "She's just joking…you know, girls…they can never be anything but girls even if the whole world is given to them…Come on,  I want to show you my new archery set."

"Okay…I will let you go this time Naveed…but remember…and do not forget that a day will come when you will have to give me a gift…just remember it …always."

I looked at her again. She was glowing with mischievous childish charm and enacting everything perfectly…the expressions, the mannerism, the sentences…I wanted to enjoy the repartee but had to go with Josh…into his room…as the guests kept arriving.

And after the party, when most of the people had left, we friends gathered in the lawn and started playing table tennis. It was a mild and pleasant evening, dusky and tranquil but laden with an air of joy and happiness.

She was impressive throughout all this. As I have said before she had an instinctive wisdom mechanism that gave her the knack and ability to handle everything in the smoothest manner.  Her table tennis game was against Sheila, another classmate of hers and an Indian by origin. She outplayed her from start to finish even though she was wearing the shalwar-qameez suit instead of her T-shirt dungaree.

We all liked beating Sheila because defeat showed the Indian girl that she was not superior in any way to any one of us…no matter how much she bragged about how great India and the Indians were…

After the games we went inside for some more soft drinks and snacks. Grabbing a coke and a packet of chips I came out with Josh and sat on a chair in the lawn. The sky was a cluster of stars as the moonrise was late in the night. I looked at the constellation named Orion hovering almost overhead and marveled at its supine, silent majesty. After pondering for a while, I asked Josh if he could bring out his telescope for me; and he agreed. After fixing it properly on the tripod stand, I adjusted the angle and the sighting lens and saw Orion again…It was a large, magnified world or many clusters of matter joined together…with the dark, Horsehead Nebula posing defiantly. along with its flames shooting in space…

"My God! What a sight! "I exclaimed. "Hey Josh…come here…take a look…"

He looked and then looked at me and smiled saying: "This one hobby is not for me dear friend…although it looks splendorous but only sometimes..."

I grinned at him. If there was something different between me and him it was astronomy. I loved it while Josh had no inclination at all for any of the space stuff.

Just then Daphne came outside with Naureen. Josh went for a  table tennis game with Saeed and I was back at the telescope once more.

She came and asked: "What are you watching? "

"Orion," I replied while observing that Naureen was no longer with her.

"Can I see?"

"Sure, here, come and see."

She kept her eye glued to the lens for quite some time. Then she turned the telescope and seemed to look at Sirius. Then she shifted the angle back to the Horsehead Nebula and with a wonderstruck smile lighting her countenance exclaimed: "Wow…what a sight…it is so fascinating! Orion is known as the Hunter in Greek mythology…right?" She asked me.

"Yes…Orion was a hunter in days gone by but the Greeks honoured his name and memory by naming an entire constellation after him…you know …in the same way that famous personalities of our times are honoured with roads, streets, parks, auditoriums and even towns and cities named after them…but the Greeks were undoubtedly more imaginative…" I explained.

She looked impressed. "Wow Naveed, you know so much about all these matters. Could you tell me why Sirius is more famous than the other stars?"

"Because it is the brightest in the sky at all times," I told her.

"Wow…how grand!"  She clapped her hands…as if enjoying the night sky, her eyes marvelling at the Little Dog constellation and Orion's Belt.

"Who is controlling all this Naveed?" She asked.

 "Who else but God?"  I replied.

 "God…that is Jesus…right?"

 "No, Jesus is not God," I said.

 "Jesus is not God? Then who is God?"

"God is God Daphne," I said, "God Almighty is the Oringator, Creator and Sustainer of everything in this universe. Jesus Christ was a man and a blessed prophet and messenger of God Almighty. He is the Lord of all worlds. He created Christ just like He created Adam by the power of His will and His command. As I have learned, Christ (PBUH) was miraculously born as God Almighty said "Be" and He was. I have learned that God Almighty is all knowing and all powerful and is able to do all things He wants to do or choses to do.

 "Hmm...Do you mean to say that Jesus was like us…a man?"

 "Yes, he was a human being, like us but he was special as he was one of God's mightiest messengers and prophets," I added.

 "And the Virgin Mary? Isn't she divine and special?"

"The Virgin Mary was the mother of Jesus and a pious and holy woman, nothing more."

"Is it so…so Jesus is not God and the Virgin Mary is not divine…I mean she is not the mother of God?"

"Not at all…no way."

She smiled at me. Then noticing that Josh was involved in the game and not paying any attention to what we were talking about, she felt more poised and relieved and asked more questions:

"You mean to say that God is God and nobody can compare with Him?"

 "Of course," I stressed.

She smiled a full-teethed smile now as if being inwardly happy, as if she was hearing from me what all she wanted to hear. Then, gazing up at the heavens she looked exhilirated and enchanted. Then, as her gaze returned to me, she exclaimed:

"You know Naveed, your replies are something new to what I have been taught to believe in. But I would surely like to know the source of your argument according to which Jesus and Mary are not divine and only God is so. Have you got any proof?"

Now I smiled at her.

"Surely, I will give you my English version of The Qur'an, the Muslim holy book and you can read about everything for yourself."

 "You would give it to me tomorrow, won't you?"

 "Tomorrow…it is Saturday and a holiday. Anyway I will, God willing, give it to you in the evening. "

"O, thanks Naveed! I would love to read the Koran…"

 "Wait", It is pronounced as Qur’an…it is not K but Q…ok?"

 "Hmm, okay…Qur'an…right?"

 "Yes, correct."

 "So you folks do not believe in Jesus?" Her new question came.

"We do not believe that Jesus or anybody or anything is God. For us God is God…we have been told in the Holy Qur'an that God Almighty is the Perfect Light of the Heavens and the Earth…He cannot be seen by human eyes. Jesus, as we believe was God's messenger, the Messiah and the son of Mary. He was not God or the son of God and most surely, he is not God Almighty."

"The Perfect Light of the Heavens and the Earth…hmm…sounds so interesting and thought provoking too. Please Naveed! Don't forget to give me the Holy Qur'an translation tomorrow? Okay?"

"Alright," I convinced her, somewhat perplexed at the way she mentioned "the Holy Qur'an". There was so much reverence in her voice and tone.

"And Naveed, will you tell me more about things and matters which I am not able to grasp in the Holy Qur'an?"

 "Sure, why not? Definitely"

Just then Josh and Saeed bounced back at us…arguing over a point. We patched up their differences and Josh felt elated at having won all the matches that evening.

"Hey children…come inside…it's time for 'Dennis the Menace' on TV", Daphne's mother called us inside. Mom's voice followed as if boosting the first call.



That night, I wondered if I had been too much of a dogmatic person, while talking about God Almighty, with Daphne. The conversation about God and Jesus had triggered me a bit and I had become somewhat emotional while explaining.

Yet, she appeared to have taken it all quite coolly and gracefully. In fact she gave the look of a person who was happy at something being argued about and explained by another person. I tossed the episode again and again in my mind and did not know when I dozed off.

So, the next day, I took M.M. Pickthall's English version of the Holy Qur'an and reached Daphne's home on my Raleigh bike at around 5.30 p.m.

She and Josh were in the portico playing table tennis. They looked like two child pros. The way they were playing, killing the ping pong ball with alacrity and expertise, moving fast and dexterously to the point of sheer amazement.

I entered the gate and after parking my bike waved a hello to both. They waved back without the game being obstructed. I went near their game and finding myself comfortable at a safe distance, watched them play. It was something to see brother and sister battling it out, point for point… till Josh stopped, grabbed the ball in his left palm and smiled at her.

"Let's call it a draw sis."

 She appeared unsure for a second but after deftly glancing at me agreed:

"Okay brother, we will continue sometime afterwards."

"Righto." Josh affirmed and splashed himself with water from the pipe kept aside near the flowering plants. He enjoyed the cool freshness and exclaimed: "Ah, this is heavenly!"

Daphne smiled and went inside telling us that she would be back in five minutes.


"So buddy, what goes?" Josh came towards me with a towel around his neck.


"Nothing much, came here to give this to Daphne." I showed him Pickthall's translation.

He took it, turned it front and back, weighed it for a while, then read the title and returned it back with a curious grin.

"She wants to read this, the Koran, your holy book?"

I nodded my head in agreement and quickly added: "Yes my friend but it is known as the Qur'an...you pronounce it with Q and not K as in queen, quick and quill. That it is how it is pronounced in the Arabic language. And dear Josh, please, for my sake and your sister's too, please do not divulge this to anybody. Please. Promise me now that you will keep the secret."

Seeing that I was honestly emphatic he vowed solemnly that he would not tell anybody anything about it. Then he clapped and patted me after which he stretched out his right hand and shook mine, as if to reassure me that he would keep his word. Then, placing both his palms on my shoulder, he told me:

"Well Naveed, I think she is very much keen and interested as well as always attempting to seek a truthful answer to her doubts. She is never tired of satisfying her inquisitiveness. She is always questioning mom and dad and even the Father at the church about some things, which she says, she finds difficult to understand and believe like we do."

"Like what?" I demanded.

"Hmm, like she wants to know how God can have a mother, a father and a son, how he can die on the cross and quite a few other confusing questions, questions that are always on her mind. I cannot answer her and sometimes she gets on my nerves pal…I tell you, my sister can be a real pest at times…she keeps on asking for an explanation and there comes a time when one feels like shouting at her to stop or silence her stupid questions with a slap…she…"

"Wait Josh," I interfered. "Just because she wants to know a few things and just because so far she has not got any convincing answer to her questions does not mean that she is a pest. Come on pal…you are her elder brother and she looks towards you for support and encouragement. "

Before Josh could say more, Daphne returned to where we were, near the fountain and the conversation got cut off at that point. Josh hinted with his eyes that we should not open up the topic in front of her and I nodded my okay.

But she was observing us. She looked at me, then him and then me, like she was trying to figure out what had been going on during her absence.

Before she got more detective-like I stretched out Pickthall's translation towards her saying:

"Here, this is for you, as promised."

"O thanks!" She glanced at the book, "Thanks so much Naveed, thanks a lot…I was waiting for it all this time since last night."

"You 're welcome," I replied after giving her the book.

She clutched at it, after a brief examination, close to her heart. It was as if she had got what she had been anxiously seeking for a long, long time.

"Well sis?" Josh darted in. "Now I wish with all my heart that you will stop questioning me so often. I also hope you get all the answers you want in the book you have with you now. Please don't bother me from now on."

"O sir!" She mocked him mischievously and went on: "I promise that if this book convinces me, I will never bother any of you ever again."

Then she looked at me again and smiled, with another thanks mentioned with total, unblemished thankfulness.

I could not help smiling back, at her and then at Josh. It all happened so quietly and so naturally. When I came, I was afraid that somebody would object my giving Pickthall's translation to her. Josh, especially, was on my mind. I did not want to hurt anybody's feelings and sentiments and I most certainly did not want to hurt Josh…and I thanked God inwardly for being so gracious as to keep everything going smoothly.

Then I got into the mood to box and asked Josh if he would like to spar with me. I have not mentioned before that both of us boys liked boxing a lot, especially after watching the 1960-67 bouts of Muhammad Ali (He had reverted/converted to Islam from Christianity and changed his name from Cassius Marcellus Clay to Muhammad Ali) on the sports shows shown on TV.

I for one was fascinated by Ali. Everything about the boxer was preciously dear to me and even to this day he inspires me, just like millions of others, around the world. He had class and a personality which no other prize fighter had, before or after him. I liked his flair and inimitable daring and his unpredictable mannerisms inside and outside the ring, I even admired his off and on poetry and his wisdom, his ability to predict the rounds in which he would knock out or stop his opponents, his dazzling speed of fist and feet, his uncanny reflexes, his flashy style, his impressive character and most of all I liked his belief and faith in Allah and Allah alone.  I also liked him because he was undefeated at that time.

Moreover, after listening to and reading about historical heroes like Rustam and Suhrab of Persia, Gama the world champion grappler/wrestler of India-Pakistan; Hercules, Samson, and even wondering about the fictional King of the African jungle, the hero, raised by an ape and known asTarzan; I found the, bold, brash, defiant, strong, young and handsome Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) irresistible and made him my real life hero. It was like the boxer was the embodiment of what all I wanted – at that time -- a real life he- man!

Joshua too believed in most of this. So we shared a passionate admiration of one of the greatest sportsmen ever born and one of the most impressive personalities ever on the global stage of big men, big women and big happenings.

My friend agreed to spar. So, we both wore the gloves and headgear and started the sparring session in the spacious lawn. I was shorter than him but I was fast and nimble. And with Ali on my mind I started shuffling, circling and jabbing him whenever I saw an opening.

He also tried to dance but being a bit heavier could not keep it up. However he also traded in some fine punches specially haymakers after cornering me whenever he could and most of which, luckily, I blocked. 

This went on for the next couple of minutes. I was circling, shuffling, jabbing, doing what all I could do to be Ali, while he would also move, cut my dancing land a left hook, followed by a right cross whenever he got the opportunity.

Then we stopped. We thought it was three minutes, so the round was mutually accepted as over.

Before we could start the second round Daphne came over to where we are and stepped in with the full intention of stopping us.

"Hey you two", she addressed us. "Why can't you play something in which I too can take part?"

Josh shot back: "O Daph! Can't you do something on your own even for 10 minutes? Can't you read the book you just got or go and watch TV?"

"I would like to and I do it whenever I can Josh. You know it. Don't I read a book or a comic, spend time with my goldfish, and then watch the birds and the flowers and then see "Robin Hood" and "William Tell", "Swallows & Amazons" and "The Famous Five" and all the quiz shows on television? Now, I have been given a serious book and it will require more concentration on my part, so I have decided to read it before going to bed instead of those bedtime stories by Grimm and Enid Blyton. But right now, my dear brother, right now, I feel like playing table tennis with you and Naveed. Please, will you not listen to your sister now?"

He wanted to say no but did not say it. Instead, he shrugged his shoulders with "Oh, well, okay…what do you say Naveed?"

 "Okay, fine. " I replied. "Let's see if you can beat her in the game which you called a draw as I came along, huh?"

"Why not…why not…sure…" Daphne echoed.

"Sure, I am ready." Josh rejoined.

I was to be the referee as they both said.

The game started and kept changing fortunes till I found Josh gain three consecutive points. He fastened the pace and appeared to be gaining more speed and cohesiveness in his shots. She was panting a bit even though competing defiantly and gracefully. Beads of sweat were flying from both their faces and after a minute or two I thought I saw a trace of impatience get hold of Josh as he tried to capitalize on his advantage of the three-point gain.

She was refusing to give in and even he sensed it so he looked sort of exasperated. Yet it was only for a few seconds. He slowly got back into his usual self and after a while appeared to be slowing down the momentum of the game a bit.

She was slicing and spinning the ball neatly and not allowing him to play more shots even though she was also breathing hard.

The score reached 16-19. Josh was still leading. She was doing her best to gain a point. At this stage, I felt like halting the game and giving them some rest.

But I did not. They wouldn't have liked it as their enthusiasm showed.

Then I saw Josh deliberately losing two points in a matter of seconds. She looked happy. He lost a point again and she was beaming with unmistakable joy.

Josh looked at me with the hint of a smile. I knew he wanted his sister to win. He knew that she was losing stamina so he was being chivalrous. My God, I thought. Here's a lucky sister!

In the next five minutes I saw Daphne jumping with joy. She sliced, spun and smashed the ball repeatedly and clinched the game 19-21. Panting, she looked at Josh and then me.

 Josh behaved smartly. He smiled back and congratulated her.

She thanked him graciously. Then she looked at me again. I grinned and congratulated her on her thumping and astounding victory.

Josh winked and then smiled at me and kept on smiling…as we all went inside for some well-deserved Cokes and orange juice topped with their mother's well-made sumptuous sandwiches.

Mrs. John had just got up from her afternoon nap which she always took at around 4 to 4.30 p.m. She would always tell us, just like my mom and pa, that an afternoon nap does wonders to one's health and well-being.

I wished her good afternoon and she returned the greeting with a blessing. Then she looked at her children.

"Both of you are drenched in sweat. Come on, change into dry clothes and join me and your friend in the TV lounge. You wouldn't like to miss the repeat telecast of "The Fugitive". Would you?"

They both nodded in agreement and went to their rooms.

"Naveed, I hope everything's fine at home?" Mrs. John asked with a smile.

"Yes, thanks to God, everything is fine aunty. Mom sends you her greetings and regards."

"Thanks. Reciprocate the same on my behalf."

Then she glanced in the direction of the kitchen and after pausing for a second or two went there.

I went into the TV lounge and picked up a Spiderman comic. After a while, they all came and joined me after 10 minutes. We saw "The Fugitive" along with soft drinks and snacks.

All of us liked "The Fugitive"; the story of Dr. Richard Kimble striving hard to prove his innocence while hunting for the one-armed man who murdered his wife. We all hated Lieutenant Gerald. The programme was interjected with comments from all of us…thus the time passed by swiftly and when it was 7.30 p.m. I got up and begged my leave.

“Take care dear. Go carefully. Avoid straying away your bike in between cars, cabs and buses and stay safe. Say hello to your mom and give my love to Saeed and Naureen. Request your mother to visit me whenever she has free time. Good-bye child…Take care…"

 "Okay aunty. Bye-bye."

 Daphne and Josh got up and accompanied me to the door.

"Thanks for coming over Naveed. And thank you again, for the book. I am going to start reading it tonight itself. Bye-bye…" she said, while I felt like there were stars, twinkling in her lovely eyes. I was glad as I smiled and said:

"O, don't keep on thanking me Daphne.  What are friends for? I hope you like what you read. Bye-bye…see you on Monday."

Josh smiled at us. Then he shook hands and topping it all with a flash of genuine warmth in his eyes said:

"Goodbye Naveed. All the best. Take care pal."

"Naveed, many thanks again, for the book." Daphne's voice joined his, as I got on my bike and started peddling slowly, at a snail's pace. Then I slowly increased my speed.

While gaining velocity, I heard her yelling: "Hey! Say hi to aunty, uncle, Naureen and Saeed…don't forget…See you Nav'…"

I glanced back instinctively, with a feeling that they were still there, at the gate.

They were there, standing and watching, as I was about to take a turn to the right….I applied the brakes and slowed down for I could not help waving my day's last farewell in their direction before swerving my well-trusted Raleigh on the adjoining road.

I started singing as I cycled back home at a controlled speed…"We have joy, we have fun, we have seasons in the sun", my own version of Terry Jacks' famous song "Seasons In The Sun" was on my lips for another 10 minutes till I reached the main gate of my residence.

That evening I felt happier than usual and after dinner went up to the terrace with my telescope and astronomy guide book along with the usual book on Greek mythology about the sky and its inhabitants. It was well near midnight that I came back to my room and after prayers, closed my eyes to the world and the matters of the day...or did I? Now, I confess that for some time, thoughts about Daphne kept me a little more awake than my usual drifting off into sleep and dreamland...



The past is a combination of a stab and a sooth. It is the 29th of April 29, 2008 as I am writing – about what happened 37 years ago. Daphne is the healing balm that covers many of time's stabs now. So much has happened between then and now and chronicling most of it rends the heart beyond description. I often stand under a shadowy tree and hum Chris De Burgh's soul-stirring song: Old Fashioned People, especially the lyrics and his heart-felt rendition and I would also croon "Carry me back again", or feel like weeping, uncontrollably -- a long-lost child abandoned, like Prophet Joseph (PBUH), left alone, in a barren well in the middle of a desert, desperately praying to Allah and waiting to be 'rescued' from the misery afflicting me.

At other times, especially when watching TV or a movie, reading a book or an article, or listening to a song on the radio/record player, I get a deja-vu sensation – as if I am reliving a past life and paying for some sin committed in a past life.  It's all like a dark hovering cloud waiting to trap me in a storm.

Yet, I cannot bear to forget anything because Daphne is there, with all the ethereal beauty of her spiritual 'appearance'. I often marvel in stupefied amazment as to what my life would have been if she had not come along or if we had not known each other at all. The comforting part of such episodes is that I end up feeling relieved for some days. Once, during the passage of years, I wrote a poem on her. It was based on a wonderful memory of a God-blessed, rainy morning. Each and every line, written sometime in the 1980s, tugs at my soul's chords even today:

She was standing in the doorway, smiling,

With raindrops on the windowpane singing,

The season's first rainfall brings with it memories,

Of that long-gone, fresh, beautiful morning.


What if the past is just a shadow?

Every moment is treasured in the mind's eye,

Where everything is as it was, there I see her,

As I flash back on that fresh, beautiful morning.


With the rain clouds vying to kiss her,

She was the embodiment of beauty,

Whenever I am sad she comes back,

And we relive that fresh, beautiful morning.


I have no similitude to compare her,

But her smile, her grace and her magic,

Shall always come and steal me from my self,

Every time I recall that beautiful morning.

Daphne, Joshua and I, all of us shared a great degree of passion for music. And all of us liked to practice singing also. In those days "The Osmonds" and "The Carpenters" were more popular than others of their genre. We used to listen to their songs and sometimes, with Josh being the drummer and Daphne strumming her guitar and their mother at the piano; we would try to croon like the lead singers of that time.

What memorable songs we sung those days! Frank Sinatra’s “As Time Goes By”; “The Two Lonely People”; “Moonlight Serenade” and “Pretty Colours”, Pat Boone’s and Cliff Richard’s smash top of the chart hits and Nancy Sinatra's "Bang-Bang"; “California Dreaming”; “Time”; “Let It Be Me” and “The Shadow of Your Smile”; Carpenters' "Yesterday once more"; "There's a kind of hush", Mary Hopkins "Those were the days" and the Osmonds' "Long-haired Lover from Liverpool" and Elvis Presley's "I Just Can't Help Believing"; Terry Jacks and Frainkie Laine who were masters with an inimitable style and others who were also good; were recorded as well.

All the more, when we felt somewhat down, we would sing some sad numbers like "Time O good, good time", "Feelings"; "River of No Return" and "If you Go Away." We did not think or reflect on what the songs meant. We liked the way each one of them was sung and tried to emulate the original versions when we sang.

And we all loved watching good movies like "The Sound of Music"; "My Fair Lady"; "Born Free"; "Mary Poppins" and "Gunfight At The OK Corral"; "To Kill A Mocking Bird"; "Shane"; "Guns of Navarone"; "Rebecca"; "Samson And Delilah" and all the classics of Hollywood's golden era. All these films were good and we liked them even more because they all had good musical scores, did not have any vulgar scenes and were thoroughly enjoyable.

My father had arranged for "Dress Circle" seats of "The Sound of Music" during the summer vacations of 1972. It was a special screening at the "Drive-Inn" and the print was new. We had missed the movie when it was first released in 1965 so I had been after it right from the time I saw the trailer when we were seeing "The Long Duel". So, Puppa talked it over with Mr. John Trevor Smith – Josh and Daphne's father – and it was decided that both the families would watch the special matinee show on Saturday.

What an evening it was! Seldom have I found myself relishing each and every moment of entertainment. The songs "You are 16, going on 17", "Do-Re-Me" and "So long, farewell" and "These are a few of my favourite things" were on our lips…mine, my siblings' and Josh and Daphne's…throughout, till we returned home and collapsed on our beds due to sheer exhaustion, a tiredness that comes after a wonderful time spent with friends.

One Saturday afternoon, the Johns visited us…it was a surprise visit, as Mrs. John laughed and remarked after observing the amazed expression in my mother's eyes. Very soon we came to know that she and her husband were leaving for Wrexham on an urgent visit and the children could not be left alone in their posh and spacious bungalow. So she requested mother to let her children be at our house for 24 hours.

Mother talked it over with father and it was agreed that Josh and Daphne may stay at our place till their parents returned from Wrexham. Then I saw that the two had brought along their comics, their badminton rackets and their schoolbags along with them. It showed that they came to our house expecting a positive response from my parents.

Daphne had even brought her goldfish bowl, which she took carefully and kept inside Naureen's room. Josh had brought along the boxing gear too seeing which I and Saeed felt thrilled. We knew that it would be one grand time we all would be having till their parents came back.

After sharing cokes, pop corn and chips during the usual chit-chat they got up to embark on their trip. At first Daphne looked a little sad. She ran and hung on to her father till the time he got into the car. Her mother had told Josh to take care of her and she was repeating the instructions to him. He kept nodding his head while the list of dos and don'ts was being spelled out by her. The admonition on observing bedtime was stressed emphatically and Josh too nodded with an extra "yes" coming out from his lips.


Then, after wishing goodbye, they left. Daphne kept watching the car till it disappeared. Then she came back inside the house. I was watching all this from my favourite observing position near the window. It looked sad to see all that took place. Yet then there was the consolation that it was only for 24 hours. And the consoling thought changed into a delightful one as I reflected how each and every moment would be…lived to the full.

While Naureen took Daphne to her room, Saeed and I started talking to Josh about how the time should be spent. Ideas came from each one of us with the rapidity of pistol shots fired by cowboys during a gunfight. First of all we decided on going out to the Officers Club swimming pool and cooling off. It was summer so it was meant to be real fun. Then we would come back home and play badminton. After that homework would be tackled and completed as soon as possible. Then we would play checkers, monopoly and Battlefield till dinner.

When we boys got the permission from mummy and puppa to go and swim, the girls got a little depressed. They wanted to come along but we were in no mood for that. So they walked back to the room with pulled down faces complaining that we were being selfish. However, we did not get affected and remained firm on going on our own. Finally, we grabbed our swimming gear and dumping them on the bikes left for the club. We knew that our sisters would get over their gloom and manage to enjoy themselves during our absence.

Josh said, "They will be busy with their chatter about the goldfish and many other things besides."

"Yeah", Saeed added. "After all how can we allow them to be with us at the pool? All the other boys would be there and it won't look nice for them to be there."

"Well, it's okay. We can take some snacks for them when we return." I remarked.

We returned half an hour after sunset. The swimming had been refreshing and invigorating but it also relaxed us to an extent. We felt a little slowed down. So, after purchasing a fruit cake, chips, biscuits, pop-corn, grape juice and Cokes from the neighbourhood store, we came home.

We saw all of them in the living room playing checkers. Daphne was on mummy's side while Naureen was on puppa's. Josh and I went to my room while Saeed went to his own.

We came into the living room and sat quietly on the sofa, watching them play. mom and Daphne were winning and puppa was trying to cheer up Naureen that their luck would improve and they would win. Soon, we three joined them on the carpet and started commenting on the game….

We were all engrossed when all of a sudden, Tiger, my pet Alsatian dog, came running from the compound. He was chasing a cat and had followed it into the house and into the living room. I got up instantly and commanded the animal to stop the chase. He stopped and looked up at me with an appeal in his eyes, as if imploring me to let him catch the frightened cat, hiding under the big sofa.

I looked at him with a stern 'no' in my gaze. He whined, wagged his tale and sat down on the floor, away from the carpet. Then I told Naureen to get up, take the cat and free it, outside. She obeyed. At the same time I asked Tiger to follow me to the kennel where he was chained and given some extra dog food as a reward for his obedience. Still the dog kept watching here and there as if the cat was still there.

"Stop it, will you?" I ordered my pet. "It doesn't look nice. You are acting like those street curs. Stop it right now. Otherwise you will be kept chained for the rest of the night. Understood?"

Tiger looked at me and obeyed. There was absolute compliance in his eyes now.

"Good. That's a good dog" I patted him on the head.

When I turned around to go back into the house I saw Daphne standing in the veranda. She was smiling.

"He is so obedient", she remarked.

"Yes, he has to be", I replied.

"Can I pat him on the head?"

"Sure, come on."

She came and after some hesitant moments gathered her courage and patted him. Tiger wagged his tail and I told her he was happy.

"He is so smart and yet so loyal and obeys you so much", she laughed and said.

I nodded my head. It was nice. She and Tiger were friends now. I liked it.

"But why have you left the game?" I asked her.

"Oh no", she replied, "Uncle wanted Saeed to get up and help you but I offered to come as I wanted to be friends with Tiger."

"Alright," I laughed, "So, now, are you happy?"

"Sure, he's such a nice dog", she beamed back, clasping her hands with an obvious feeling of joy. "Now I can tell Josh that I became friends first. But, where was Tiger all these days?"

"He was with an animal trainer", I explained, adding, "Puppa wanted him to be groomed and trained properly."

"That's nice. Uncle really cares so much about everybody. Such a big dog surely needed training."

I laughed again. "Well, let us go back inside. Shall we?"

 She also laughed and looked more confident and reassured now while patting a farewell to the pet.

We went and after a quick glance puppa smiled at her and motioned her to play her turn at the briefly halted game.

Josh watched us both and grinned. I also grinned and sat next to him on the carpet.

Time, as always passed by with great speed, as the clock chimes announced that it was 9 p.m. and dinner time.



Josh had promised his mother about observing bed time and he kept his word. After dinner everybody took a short 10-minute walk and then we children wished goodnight to mummy and puppa and trotted off to our rooms. Naureen's room came first in the corridor so we boys wished the girls goodnight and after being wished by them in return went into my room.

Josh decided to sleep in my room as it was a little more spacious than Saeed's. I was feeling very sleepy probably because of the swimming session at the Officers' Club. So giving the cot to Josh I pulled out the extra mattress and dropped on it like a log. Josh felt uneasy to see me sleeping on the floor. He too looked sleepy but not as much as me.

"Naveed, you sleep on the bed. I will sleep on the mattress."

"No Josh, it is not possible." I replied adding, "You are the guest and guests have more rights than the hosts. So please don't feel a thing and relax. Good night friend."

 "Are you sure?"

 "Yes, I am."

"Okay then, goodnight buddy."

I don't know why but I woke up with a start. There was somebody knocking on the room door.

 I sat up and asked: "Who's that?"

 There was no reply.

 Then they both threw open the door and rushed in…Naureen and Daphne.

 Surprised, I asked them: "Hey, what's wrong?"

"Naveed bhayya, there's somebody on the terrace", Naureen said.

"On the terrace?"

"Yes, we heard footsteps of somebody running up there", Daphne quipped.

I saw that Josh too had got up and was listening.

"Who can be on the terrace? Tiger is on the loose…he must have been chasing that darned cat again." I tried to explain.

"But it sounded like human footsteps", Naureen remarked.

Josh started laughing. I could not help smiling.

"Ahaan?" I asked.

"Yes, why else would we come and knock at your door?"

"Because you cannot knock on any other door as neither mummy nor puppa nor Saeed would bother to get up and listen to your nonsense so patiently", Josh joined in laughing more. He looked at Daphne and added:

"You my sis, you always said nothing could frighten you. How come you are now?"

"I am not frightened", she retorted adding "neither is Naureen. We just wanted to make sure everything's alright."

Now I started laughing at which Josh increased his crescendo and volume.

"Well, nobody is running now", I said, controlling myself after noting that the girls did not give any impression of approving the way we were reacting.

 But Josh did not stop. In between his bursts, he said, "Maybe whoever it is inside the house now."

"Stop it Josh", Daphne shot back. "It does not look proper. We say there IS somebody up there. "

"How can anybody dare to?" I argued. "With Tiger on the prowl who will risk having himself hunted? Do you really think it is possible?"

Now they were quiet as if realizing the folly of their logic. I on my part was absolutely certain that with Tiger unleashed nobody could be on the terrace unless somebody wanted to feel the Alsatian's ferocity in the dead of the night.

To assure the frightened girls further I got up, took my torch and said I was going out to check if there was anything really amiss. Seeing this Josh also sprang from the bed and grabbing my hockey stick volunteered to accompany me.

"But why the hockey stick?" I asked.

"Just in case we need it", he replied.

I looked at him failing to understand why we would need the bat. Then I looked at my sister and then Daphne. They looked at Josh and smiled.

"Well, he is out to catch and bash whoever it is. Aren't you Josh?" Daphne remarked with a mischievous glint in her gaze.

He shook his head and said: "Whatever. Will you two please sit and not upset us more?"

They did not say anything while sitting on the two chairs in the room. Then I asked Josh to come along and headed towards the main door.

While going there I stopped for some moments outside Saeed's room, opened the door and peeped inside. He was fast asleep.

Then we walked to my parents' room and stood there for some time trying to assess if they had awakened or not by the so-called human footsteps on the terrace. Everything was silent. They were also fast asleep.

"Good", I said.

 "Good? What?" Josh queried.

"They are asleep. Now we will go to the main door and outside. Let us see where Tiger is."

Then I heard some running overhead. Josh also heard. It was undoubtedly Tiger chasing some cat.

"Listen…it is Tiger", I told Josh and added: "How the girls could imagine these as human footsteps, I cannot say."

"So, is it necessary to step outside now?" Josh asked.

"Hmm, I don't think so Josh", I replied. "But let us sit in the living room for 10 minutes or so and see everything is okay as it looks."

Josh scratched his head and agreed as we entered the living room. We sat in the sofa seats without switching on the lights and waited, in the dark. Nothing happened.

Nothing was heard to rouse fear or concern in us. Of course Tiger was running here and there but then he had every right to do so as he was watching out and needed some entertainment to save himself from getting bored – and chasing a cat or a rabbit was justified enough.

After 10 minutes I saw Josh get up and go.

"Where are you going?" I asked.

"Come along and you will see", he replied.

I did not say anything while accompanying him to Naureen's room. He got in and pulled the white bed sheet off the bed and wrapped it around himself. Then he removed the white pillow cover and gave it to me saying:

"Put this over your head and see if I am still visible to you", he said.

"But why are you doing all this?"

"The girls disturbed our peaceful sleep unnecessarily. So I and you are going to enjoy playing ghosts", he explained with a smile.

"But that will frighten them more. They may start yelling."


"Well, let them taste a real scare."


"And if they make a noise?"

"The others will also wake up. So what? We were awakened so it doesn't matter that much. And if you manage to hide the way I will do then we won't get caught either."

I did not say anything.  I just put the pillow cover over my head and after straining managed to see through the fabric. Josh was clearly visible.

I told him I could see everything clearly he smiled and said: "Now, come, let us go as silently as we can. Ghosts do not make even the slightest noise while moving."

We tiptoed to my room and crouched to see through the keyhole as to what Daphne and Naureen were doing.

Finding them in a state of bewildered suspense Josh and I looked at one another and then with grasping my hand he stepped aside and whispered in my ear:

"Shall we launch the attack?"

"Won't they start yelling?" I questioned him.

"Who cares?"

"What if puppa and mummy come out?"

"We will hide by the time they come?"

"Oh, okay. But Josh, do you really think we should frighten them more?"

"Aw, come on, they disturbed us, didn't they?"

"But they really thought they were hearing some prowler running on the terrace. They did not make it up."

"Okay, if you want to join me, do so. Otherwise, step aside. But do not tell anybody it was me. Okay?"


I did not feel like abandoning him. So after a pause I agreed to be with him all the way.

We threw open the door and rushed forward with a big "Whooosh" coming out from our throats and lips.

Seeing two figures with no heads but white hoods, our sisters jumped on the bed and started shouting for help:

"Mummy, help, help…Puppa…help, help!" Nishat screamed.

"Hellllpppp!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.Josh, Helllpppp…..Naveed, Uncle….Aunty….Saeed….Please helpppp…..ooohhhhhhhhh…hellllppppppppppp!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Daphne joined her.

Then they tried to run out of the room. But Josh jumped forward and closed it. I kept on with the whooshing.

Before we could keep up with this I saw Saeed entering the door and he had Tiger with him.

The Alsatian jumped on Josh and brought him to down to the floor. But he did not growl nor did he attempt to bite.

But his jump was enough. Josh pulled off the sheet and that was it. Daphne and Naureen saw him and could not believe their eyes.

"It was you…How could you do it?"

Seeing that the game was up I too pulled off the pillow cover and stared at the girls for a second or two. Then seeing how Tiger had cornered Josh I commanded him to get up.

As Josh got up from the floor I saw Saeed going out and coming back with Puppa. My brother was smiling as if he had prevented a big dramatic scenario from a bigger climax.

Puppa gave one cursory glance and asked curtly:

"What do you all think you are doing? What's going on?"

"Nothing Uncle", Daphne answered before anyone of us could. "We were just trying to figure out who was running on the terrace. Naureen and I, we heard some footsteps and came here, asking our brothers to find out who it might be. Then, before Josh and Naveed returned we got more scared and started screaming for help. Nothing else, I am sorry you have been disturbed."

I could not believe what I was hearing. Daphne was trying to protect all of us especially me and Joshua from my father's wrath, which was sure to descend on us judging from the way the night's incidents were unfolding. And I could not help admiring her courage and quickness of thought and speech. She was defending us even though she was fully aware that we meant to scare her and her friend out of their wits.

I shot a quick glance at her. She was standing there with a smile on her face, looking at my father, hoping he would believe in her statement. She looked so poised and cool, confident and collected, her arms folded and nothing but innocence radiating from her gaze.

Puppa gave all of us his probing glance asking me, Saeed and Josh to take Tiger back, outside, lock the door and go back to bed.  Then, looking at Daphne he said:

"So, you were frightened. Now, just relax. Have a glass or two of water and go back to sleep. There is nothing wrong here or on the terrace. If there had really been somebody, your aunty and I would have been the first to wake up and find out who it was…alright?

Now, both of you go back to your room, pray to God and sleep…we have to get up early tomorrow. Good night."

He made sure that the girls returned to their room and closed the door from inside. Then he told Saeed to go to his room. He also left.

Now father looked at me and said: "I know that Daphne has saved you and your friend from spending the night outside. Saeed told me what all was going on before I came here. So now, you better thank God and go to bed without saying a word in front of me. Am I understood?"

"Yes Sir, you are!" I replied like an obedient son.

"Yes Sir!" Josh also said with the utmost respect in his voice.

Father did not say anything more and closing our room door walked back to the hall. I knew he had gone for a glass of cold water so that he may not remain awake with a disturbed thought on his mind.

As everything went quiet again I whispered to Josh: "See, I told you to be careful, but you did not listen. Thank God and thank Daphne that we were not taken to task. You may have escaped but I wouldn't have been spared from a scolding."


He did not say a word. I understood he did not want to speak.

After a while I found him fast asleep. I was still restless because I was still upset with all that had happened. Then finding all somewhat eerie and depressing I got up and switching on the table lamp took out the "Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes" and started reading "The Adventure of the Crooked Man".

After some 40 minutes or so, I finished the short story and reflecting on Holmes peculiar and uncanny powers of solving a crime, I once again thought of how Daphne had ventured forth to save me and Josh from a scolding. I felt elated that along with brains and girlish charm, Josh's sister also had the ability to help those who needed help. I kept thinking about it till I fell asleep.



The next morning, at 8 a.m. sharp we kids were ready for the day. We had all got up at 6.30 and after finishing with our bathroom tasks, changed into casual clothes and came into the dining room and seated ourselves at the table waiting for breakfast to arrive.

Just then, the phone bell rang. Saeed got up and answered. It was Mrs. John. She it seemed wanted to talk to her children and my mother. Josh got up and informed her that everything was fine with him and his sister and that there was nothing to worry about. Daphne too had got up and standing by his side appeared to be waiting impatiently for her turn. Josh sensing the same handed her the receiver and went into the kitchen to call mummy.

"Oh yes mama, we are fine. You need not worry about us. When are you coming back? Where is daddy? I want to talk to him. What? He has left for the office meeting? Oh, okay. I will talk to him when he comes back…So when are you returning. Okay…here, talk to aunty." There was exuberance beaming on her features. Josh smiled and while taking the receiver from her mummy also smiled and patted her affectionately.

Mother also, as the conversation showed, was assuring Mrs. John that everything was okay and that the children did not cause any problem. Then after the goodbyes she hung up and came to the dining table.


She was smiling at Daphne and Josh. They reciprocated. Then going to Daphne's side she asked:

"Did you sleep well last night?"

"Oh yes aunty. I slept well and woke up refreshed. Thanks a lot."

"Don't mention it dear", mom said, "You and Josh are just like Naveed, Saeed and Naureen. Don't forget that."

"Yes aunty, we know that you and uncle love us both just like you love your children", Josh took over the lead now. It meant his sister should be quiet now.

"Well", have your breakfast and then do what you like. Uncle has not yet returned from his morning walk and I will have to wait for him. Okay?"

"Yes aunty, we understand" Josh told her.

"But aunty", Daphne quipped, "Aren't you feeling hungry? Have something with us. Then you can have more with uncle when he returns. Why stay hungry?"

 Mom smiled and said: “No dear I can wait. I am not that hungry.”

Daphne also smiled back but said nothing. Josh interfered:

“It’s not polite dear sis. You should not compel anybody to do anything especially elders.”

She looked at him with a perplexed expression and replied:

“I did not mean to be impolite Josh. I was really concerned.”

“And why should you be concerned?”

“Well, we all are having breakfast and it doesn’t look nice for aunty to be left out. So I asked.”

Josh just shook his head and added:

“Well, now you finish your breakfast first. Aunty told you that she will wait for uncle. So come on, don’t linger here.”


“Well dear brother. Stop being so elderly-like, please.”

Naureen, who was watching all this with interest told Josh:

“Oh Josh, let her be. Will you?”

 My friend shrugged his shoulders, looked at her and started concentrating on his own plate after that. I did not say anything to anybody.

After breakfast we went out in the lawn and saw Tiger enjoying the early morning sun. As soon as he saw me the pet rushed forward wagging his tail.

Daphne looked happy. She told Josh:

“You know something Josh. I am already friends with Tiger.”

“Oh, so, big deal, huh?” he remarked.

She cackled with laughter and exclaimed exuberantly: “You always boast of doing everything first. I have overtaken you for once!“

He did not say anything. He just looked at me and my siblings. Then going forward to Tiger he stroked the animal on the head. Then he turned once more to his sister and said:

“Well, he is friends with me too. See, how nicely he is wagging his tail. And last night he did not growl at me nor did he bite me. So that shows the animal and I are friends and were friends before too. Right Naveed?”

“Oh Josh, come out of it”, I remarked. “Why do you have to prolong the argument?”

Daphne cackled again. “See Naveed, he has to act big…it’s important for him to act thus. Do you too behave like this with Naureen and Saeed?”

I laughed. I didn’t want to take sides as that wouldn’t have been proper. I did not want to cause even the slightest of bitterness between her and Josh. And after what had happened the previous night I did not , in the least way , feel like making matters worse.

So, without saying anything to anybody, I grabbed the sack I used for playing “Bull, hit me” with Tiger and waving it challenged the dog to snatch it away from me.

Tiger rushed snarling and jumped high in the air as I lifted the sack above my shoulders. The pet could not succeed in his attempt.

As Tiger galloped to the other end for another try, I shot a glance at all of them. While Saeed and Naureen knew what I was doing, Josh and Daphne looked amused.

Tiger rushed forward and I let him clutch the sack between his teeth. Having done that, he started to snarl and growl, trying to snatch it away from my hands. I laughed and refused to let go. He shook his head left and right quite vigorously in his effort to break it free from my grasp. I kept on laughing and then I lifted the animal off his feet and circled him twice around me and made him more determined in his ferocity.

Josh jumped in and appeared eager to be waiting for a chance to play the same game with Tiger.

I commanded my pet to let go of the sack. He obeyed and started whining wondering what had gone wrong.

“Here Josh, come on, let’s see if you can win against him.” I told my friend while handing over the sack to him.

He looked delighted. “Oh you just see, you just see”, was all that Josh could say as he motioned Tiger to play with him.

Daphne was smiling at her brother. She knew that it was important for him to win against Tiger after seeing that I had won. She knew as well as I did that Josh always wanted to prove that he was second to none in anything he did. Then her gaze turned to me. The smile widened as she saw Tiger racing towards her brother.

Yet, everybody saw that Tiger managed to snatch the sack away from Josh in just one attempt. His snarling and growling along with the fierce expression on his face apparently worked their impression on my friend and getting alarmed that the Alsatian would probably bite him if he didn’t let go, he eased his grip on the cloth and Tiger flew away with it in no time. He vanished inside his kennel and came out after a while without the sack. I started laughing uncontrollably. Then, I saw that Daphne was also laughing after noticing the bewildered look on Josh’s face.

“Oh Josh” she remarked. “How could you let him win? It’s just not like you…how could you?”

Josh did not reply. Instead, he also started laughing exclaiming:

“Of course it’s not like me Daph’. I wanted him to win so I let him snatch the sack away from my grip. Could he have won otherwise? Tell me?” He kept on laughing.

Saeed stepped in now. He patted Josh on the back saying: “You surely know how to manage things…I like your style Josh.”

Josh returned the pat and said: “Thanks Saeed. You are great. I too like your style.”

Just then I saw puppa open the gate and come in. He came to where we all were and after the usual good morning exchange asked Josh:

“So? Did you sleep well? No more disturbances I hope?”

“Oh no uncle”, he replied. “We slept peacefully and woke up refreshed.”

“Good. Did you have your breakfast? All of you?”

“Yes”, we all echoed our response in one voice.

“Good”, puppa said as he started walking towards the entrance door. “A friend of mine happened to meet me during the walk so I got late, talking to him, you know how it is.”

I wondered who he was talking to. Puppa had the habit of thinking aloud but he rarely displayed talking aloud except when something extraordinary was on his mind.

As he stepped inside I and Josh returned to the lawn and started planning the day’s activities. Saeed and our sisters also joined in. Tiger got busy playing with the torn football that had come, flying from our neighbour’s house. It was already tattered so I let him play.



That day will always be ingrained in my mind. So many things happened, laying the foundation for so much more to happen, in the span of time that lay ahead. I came to know why father was talking to himself when he returned. One of our closest family friends, Mr. G.M. Badshah, had died of a heart attack the previous night. The friend whom father met during his morning walk had told him that he got a phone call from Karachi, Pakistan, at about 1 a.m. from one of his friends in the Pakistani government ministry informing him about Mr. Badshah’s unexpected demise.

He was a retired Commissioner of Karachi and his kindheartedness and generosity with the poor and the downtrodden people of the city had made him a highly respected and beloved father-figure sort of person. All of us at home used to call him “Commissioner Sahib” out of sincere reverence. We all loved the old man because he was lovable. I have yet to see somebody as tolerant, kind, affectionate, genuine, sympathetic and generous as him.

We children liked him all the more because whenever he used to visit us when we were in Karachi he would always come loaded with Pistachio ice cream flasks, Cadburys Milk Chocolates, biscuits, cakes, roasted cashew nuts, almonds and peanut candies. He was full of affection towards us because, according to him, we were “the best of children” he had ever seen. We had lost both our grandpas – maternal and paternal – when I was four years old so he was just like a grandfather to me, my brother and my sister.

Hearing about his sudden departure from the world shocked every one of us. While puppa and mummy could hardly control their tears we children also cried. I for one was overwhelmed with grief. It was not right. How could such a nice person leave us without even a word of farewell? I was shattered to the core.

Daphne and Josh were also dejected when they heard about it. Daphne was sadder because all of us were depressed after the shocking news. Josh tried to cheer me up but I was beyond consolation. My friend realized it after spending about 90 minutes and with a look of gloom on his face shrugged his shoulders and went to the sofa set and started reading a Batman comic book. He wanted me to play badminton with him but I could not oblige him…not in the state of mind I was in at that time.

Daphne was with Naureen and was discussing a chapter of Lewis Carol’s “Alice in Wonderland” with her. Even Saeed was busy reading Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”. Both the books were in abridged form and formed part of their syllabus. But I knew they were reading because mummy did not want them to skip their homework tasks. I was never told to read or concentrate on my studies at any stage in my life because I was always in the top three ranks…a fact which I have mentioned earlier too.  Saeed and Naureen always needed a prodding after which they would indulge in studies and schoolwork.


That was also the day when I wrote my first poem. Seeing my siblings and friends busy with comic books and homework tasks and my parents reading the Holy Qur’aan and praying for the departed soul, I got up and went to my room. There I reflected on what I had lost and the feelings were penned thus:

Why is the day so gloomy and sad?

Is it because he who used to make me glad,

Has gone away?

When he came I knew he had come to go,

Then why does my heart sink so low,

In an unknown bay?

Something taken from my life,

Leaving it empty as the sky,

On a cloudless day!

Why do my eyes long to see,

Him, who’s now a memory,

Of yesterday?

For a short while it brings us close,

And when we cherish, it snatches those,

Moments away…

Ah, Time’s sway!

I read the poem again and again till I started shedding tears. Commissioner Sahib’s picture was right in front of me (I had taken it from the album) and Naureen was in his arms…it was a photograph taken on her first birthday, in our house at K.D.A. Scheme No.1 in Karachi. The poem and the picture had their effect on me and I lost control over my emotions.

Then I got up, performed ablution and taking out the prayer mat from the shelf, started praying for the dear old, unforgettable gem of a man. In between my prayers I was also complaining to God as to how he could call back such a good soul to His heavenly kingdom. Didn’t the world need a man like him?

Didn’t we need somebody like him...he meant so much to everybody…then why did he have to be called back? I got no answers but with my head prostrated before my Creator, I kept on praying and questioning…till I felt a hand pat me gently on the back of my head. I got up and saw mother along with Daphne…and I was taken aback…she too was in tears…

“Now you get up and stop weeping my dear son”, mother said:

I did not say a word…only kept on looking for some time, not at her but at the tear-filled girl wondering why caused her to come into such a state.

Mother detected my awe and remarked: “Look, even she is dejected because all of us, especially you dear son, are sad and overcome by gloom. I came with her because she wanted me to after having come here once and found you lamenting in front of God, your eyes overflowing…”

“And why did she have to come here?” I asked.

“Come on, don’t behave like this. She came to cheer you up…but after seeing you crying she too started weeping saying ‘aunty, I cannot bear to see Naveed sad and weeping…he is feeling so much…I can’t stand it…please come with me and advise him…stop him from crying.’…so I came…and I hope now you understand why she is here and behave properly, the way good children should with their schoolmates and friends. Okay?”

Mother’s short lecture explaining the situation made me get a grip over myself and getting up from the prayer mat I gently told my best friend’s sister to stop weeping and pouring a glass of cold water gave it to her.

Mother seemed to approve of what I was doing and left us. I pulled the chair for Daphne and told her to sit. When she did so I also seated myself on the other chair and looking at her gently asked:

“But why should you be so tearful because I am sad and weeping?”


“I cannot bear to see any of my friends crying and that includes you. I was unable to control myself after I saw you crying out before God. I simply couldn’t….and I also read the poem you have written…it is so depressing...” she gulped another sip of water and looked at me, her eyes still clouded.

 I did not argue. Her logic was, as usual, convincing enough.  But what surprised me a little was what cause my gloom had to drive her to tears. Anyway, I did not say anything to her. I felt she would cry even more if I tried to question her after that. So, I remained quiet for a while then getting up went to the shelf and taking out the album once more replaced Commissioner Sahib’s photograph. I did not want to do it but had to because I did not want to relapse into my jerky condition once again.

And, with Daphne around, I could not afford to do it because then she too would start crying with me and it would not be correct at all. It would prove to be too upsetting for mother. So, I seated myself one more time and after pausing in my thoughts for some seconds, asked her if she was feeling okay.

“Yes, now I am okay, because you are okay. I don’t know Naveed, but I cannot explain why I cried. It was too much for me to see you in tears so it happened automatically…I wish you would understand.”

“Okay, okay, now don’t start it all over again”, I told her.

She looked at me with a gaze of pure concern and said:

“Please don’t tell this to Josh or anybody as they will all laugh at me. Please…”

“Why should I tell anybody?”

“I knew you would understand. I knew you would.”

“Okay, now let’s go to the living room and see what they are up to, alright?”

“Well, can’t I stay here for some more time and ask you some more questions? That is if you are in the mood to be questioned.“

“What questions?”

“Just a few questions, not so many as I would have if you had been in your usual good mood.”

“Okay, go ahead.”

“Did you all love the Commissioner 'Uncle' so much?”

“Yes, he was a special man.”

“Okay. Now, where do our souls go after death?”

I could not help looking at her again. Her question, it surprised me for yet one more time. But I did not betray my amazement and said:

“Well, they return to God Almighty.”

“And after that, what does God do with them?”

“Hmmm…After that God decides whether they should be put into Hell or be sent to Paradise. If the person who has believed in God had spent his life having faith in Him and obeyed His commandments to the best of his abilities then that person’s soul is sent to Paradise. If the person has been an unbeliever or has been associating a partner with God and spent his life in ill deeds, then that person’s soul is flung into Hell and it stays there forever.”

“Oh…is it so?” She remarked and started gazing at the ceiling…she did this when she started thinking about something…as I came to know afterwards.

Then she asked: “I read in the Holy Qur’an you gave me about Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit and I also read about God. I am convinced with the logic given in the verses of chapters, ‘The Cow’; ‘The family of Imran’ and ‘The Table Spread’ that God Almighty is Unique and Incomparable. That nobody can be like Him because everyone and everything is created by Him. “

 “Okay. So?” I wanted to know more.

“So, now I know why Muslims do not bow down before anybody or anything but God and I also know why it is so important for the people to believe that God is One.”

“Alright, and what more have you found?”

She looked at me and grinned as her long and lustrous auburn hair were fanned by the breeze making her look like a fairy. Anyway, she continued with her statements, which I was prepared to listen to and explain if there was anything that did not appeal to her sense of intelligence and logic.

“I am scared Naveed. I am scared because I know that what you people believe in is correct and what we people believe in is wrong. I am scared of God’s wrath. I don’t want to be flung into Hell.”

I grasped the meaning what she was saying and understood her difficulty. She did not mention it but I could make out what all was frightening her. So, with the intention of sympathizing with her views I said:

“You need not be scared. If you have discovered the difference between right and wrong and are afraid of what might happen to your soul then you may start believing in One God just like we do.”

“Yes, yes, what you are saying is right but how can I stop my visits to the church and how can I tell my parents and brother that I don’t want to go there anymore. I am afraid and confused. I want to stop all those acts which I have found are just not correct, but I am very afraid about what might happen if I tell my mom and dad about what I feel and think and how it matters to me?”

“You mean to say that you believe that God is one and that only He must be worshipped?”

“Yes, I do.”

I looked at her and could not hide my elation. I smiled and for once that day did not feel sorry for doing so. Her simple yet honest statements were so astounding and good to the ear! Then, I said:

“You know Daphne; you may believe in God’s oneness secretly and need not tell anybody if you feel that telling them will not be correct at this time. God knows what is in your heart and that is enough. He will reward you and make everything of which you are scared now easy and convenient for you when the time comes.”

She looked happy. The joy of somebody telling her that faith and belief in the oneness of God may not be proclaimed at that time made her look radiant. The exuberance was betraying itself vividly on her features. I smiled again and said:

“And I won’t tell anybody. Okay?”

“O, thank you so much. You are so understanding and it makes me wonder why Josh can’t be like you. Why dad and mom can’t be like you.”

“Well, they all them have their own minds. You need not worry so much and thank you for considering me so understanding.”

She wanted to say something more when Josh walked inside along with Saeed and Naureen. They saw us and said:

“What are you two doing here? Can’t you see how upset uncle and aunty are and do something to console them?”

Both of us looked at them. We did not say a word motioned them with our hands to lead us out, to where puppa and mummy were…the living room.





It was about 5.30 p.m. when our friends' parents returned from Wrexham. Soon they discovered why there was silence pervading all over at our home and both of them condoled with mummy and puppa. Then taking along Daphne and Josh they left within 20 minutes. I wished they had stayed for some more time but Mr. John had a headache and wanted to go home and rest.

Before leaving, Daphne came to me and reminded me of my promise; of not saying anything about her beliefs to anybody. I assured her again that I never would. She shook her head and said:

"I feel that I can trust you."

"Don't worry, you won't be disappointed."

Josh came along and shaking my hand said:

"I am really sorry to hear, see and feel all that you are going through my dear friend and I wish I could do something to cheer up everybody. Anyway, take care and don't think so much about it because it would of no use…we can only pray for the departed person's soul. I know it is a big loss but what can anybody do? Please relax and be calm. I will try to come over tomorrow…till then goodbye."


I nodded and bade him farewell as he and Daphne slowly walked and joined their parents in the car. Soon everything appeared more still, depressing and gloomier. The silence was appalling.

Mummy and puppa did not sleep that night. The reality of Commissioner Sahib's loss had increased in intensity with each passing minute and eclipsed them totally.

They spent the hours praying and praying with grief and sorrow mingled with their invocations to Allah. I too had a disturbed sleep and it was by waking in between and again for the Fajr (Dawn) prayers that I came to know that neither of the two had even a wink of sleep. Their condition had its compelling effect on me and in order to ward it off I started reflecting on what all Prophet Muhammad (May Allah -- The God Almighty's -- bleesings and peace be upon him) underwent during his lifetime in heathen Arabia.

Pondering on how patiently he bore all adversities and misfortunes made me calm because our bereavement appeared insignificant in comparison. I wished I could tell that to mummy and puppa but couldn't. It wouldn't have the effect I wanted because I was a 10-year-old boy at that time and they were my parents…much grown up and experienced…and it would have been improper and inappropriate to counsel them.

So, I brought along my prayer mat into the living room, as both of them were there, and prayed. Somehow I was not in the state I was in the previous afternoon. I was calmer and poised because after thinking about what our beloved Prophet (PBUH) went through and comparing our grief with the patience-testing turmoil he put up with most of his life, made me cope with Commissioner Sahib's death with a more solid frame of mind. And praying at dawn also worked its miraculous healing effect on my senses and feelings. When I got up I was mostly in control of myself. I thanked Allah Almighty for His countless blessings and became more comfortable.

I sat in the sofa for a while as Naureen came from the kitchen with a flask of hot tea. My sister too was more mature and thoughtful than her age and knew what needed to be done at that time. She poured out three cups, one each for mom and dad and one for me. After handing theirs to them she came over and gave mine to me. I took it and thanked her. Then she asked:

"Naveed bhayya, can I ask you something?"

"Yes, please do", I replied.

"Why did Commissioner Sahib leave us so soon?"

I understood what she wanted to know. She too needed some words of consolation so I said:

 "Well Naureen, he did not go by himself. Allah decided so and it happened. It is Allah's will."

 "Allah's will? Hmm…okay. Thanks for explaining."

I just tried a smile as she sat in the sofa facing me and got busy with her special prayers for the departed soul. It looked so nice to see her praying for him even though she was still unfamiliar with the ultimate finality of death. I got up and went back to my room and lay there on the bed thinking about life, death, destiny and how they all join up to affect our lives one way or the other.

I also pondered about Daphne and while feeling happy at the thought that she had started believing in the oneness of God I wondered how everything would turn out for her and then me – because I was the one who gave her the Holy Qur'aan's translation the very day after her birthday – and having done so I found myself inextricably linked to whatever would happen with her in the future.

I prayed a special prayer to Allah Almighty invoking Him to have mercy on her and me and make everything smooth and problem free for her especially. Then I closed my eyes and slowly drifting into the arms of much-need sleep, grew oblivious of the world and its woes.

It was past 7 a.m. when I woke up again and sat on the bed for a while thinking back on the previous day and night.

After brushing my teeth and washing my face and hands I combed my hair, changed into casual clothes and went to the living room. Mummy and puppa were having coffee along with some slices of milk bread. As soon as they saw me puppa said:

"Well my dear son, I hope you aren't feeling Commissioner Sahib's demise so much? Then, all of a sudden, his eyes filled up with tears and he gulped a sip of coffee in order to overcome his emotional state.

I felt my heart leaping and reaching out for him. I looked at him and said:

"Please puppa; please don't cry. What can be done? We have to put up with it. The best we can do is pray for him…and you are doing that the most…so please don't cry."

He looked at me and then calling me to his side he embraced me and said:

"God bless you my dear son. God bless you. "

Mummy was lost in her prayers. Her head was drooping down due to the long hours of wakefulness and yet she was praying…it showed how much the one who had gone away meant to everybody…and I could understand why she was refusing to budge from her special prayers. She had finished her coffee and I knew that she had taken it just to give company to puppa, because when mother started praying, she would keep on praying till she could not do so any longer.  

Her faith in Allah was vividly glowing on her countenance quite tremendously and her patience was reflecting itself extraordinarily. She was the one who managed to stay calm, keeping herself from bursting into tears; and she was also the one, who bore it patiently, like every good Muslim should. There was no doubt about it.

The phone bell rang and I got up and answered the call. It was Mrs. John. She wanted to speak to mom. After giving her the receiver I felt like sitting there and listening to what was it that made Mrs. John call up so early. She had never done this before.

"O, why should you trouble yourself Mrs. John?" I heard mother saying.

"Well, what can I say except thanks and it is a thanks from the core of my heart. " Then she kept the receiver and looking at puppa said:

"Mrs. John has prepared breakfast for all of us and she says not to worry about lunch because she would be sending that too through the driver…I could only thank her as she refused to listen to a NO…okay dear?"

He nodded his head and said: "It is so kind of them. They are really caring and thoughtful. Please thank both of them on my behalf too when you have finished praying."

Mother nodded her head and said: "Well, no doubt they are nice people. Everybody in that family is caring and understanding. ..every one of them."

I got up and walked out into the lawn. The sun was up and glaring as I saw Tiger basking in its early light. On seeing me he got up and wagging his tail rushed towards me. I smiled at him and patted him on the head.

Then I went inside again and taking an easy-chair came back and sat there with my diary. I wanted to inscribe everything that had happened. It was a habit I acquired from puppa. He had inherited it from his father and so on…the trait proved to be ancestral.

As I was writing I heard the unmistakable horn of the Johns' car. I got up and after chaining Tiger, opened the gate. The driver waved a hello to me as he drove the car in. I closed the gate and waited for him to step out. He adjusted everything inside the vehicle and came out. Shaking hands with me he also condoled and asked me to cope with it calmly. Then pointing to the back seat of the car he said:


"This is for you all and comes with special instructions that I should personally hand everything over to your father and mother along with a note of what is what in those dishes and utensils. Okay? Shall we go inside?"

I paused for a while and said: "You wait here. I will tell puppa that you have come."

"Okay, fine".

Puppa came outside and after exchanging greetings with "Fatso" as everybody called him, asked the driver to take out everything one by one and hand them over to him and me.

Fatso did not argue. He did as instructed and kept everything smooth and easy with a smile on his face.

Josh had told me that the man knew how to adjust with people and happenings and it was plainly evident in the manner he was doing everything, as if he was a born expert at handling everything.

Then he handed the note for mother and begging leave left. "Boss is waiting for me as he has to rush to the office…and I must be off Sir…nice meeting you and please cheer up…it will only help you…because if you are cheerful then the other family members will also be so…okay Sir, goodbye, so long."

Puppa did not say anything and went back inside and I followed after closing the gate when Fatso left.

Mother could not help smiling while she was reading the note from her friend. Then she looked at me and said:

"She has praised you saying that Daphne likes you a lot."

I remained quiet. It was the only way to react as I did not want to open up a discussion. I remembered my promise to Daphne and felt my silence would be totally suited to the occasion.

Then mother got up from the chair and went into the kitchen where we had kept the utensils and dishes sent by Mrs. John.

She came back after some time and said: "Well, I am feeling terribly exhausted. But I am ready to serve breakfast if you two want it. Tell me?"

"What's there?" Puppa asked her.

"Lots of things, toasted bread, honey, butter, jam, poached eggs for everybody, cornflakes, orange juice, milk, tea, coffee, sandwiches and muffins…I wonder why she has taken the trouble because everything is here as well…anyway she is a wonderful woman and a real friend…can't say anything to her…just can't."

"Well, just give me some strong coffee and let us take some rest", father said without adding anything to her statement.

Mother went back into the kitchen and father looked at me and said:

"You also go to your room and take more rest. You look pale and withdrawn. Come on, get up and go. I don't want you to suffer unnecessarily…Go and take some more rest. Just lie down and concentrate on sleeping…it will help you son."

I did not argue and did as I was told. I had a book of the Prophet's (PBUH) sayings in my hand and it was soothing to read the Messenger of Allah's advice to the Muslims. Every word of every sentence was packed with wisdom and divine blessings. I kept on reading till I heard the door open and saw Saeed come in.

He came and sat on the chair and looked at me.

"What's it brother?" I asked.

"Oh, nothing special Naveed bhayya. Just felt like coming here and talking to you. Everything happened so suddenly yesterday and everything which we had planned got wrecked. Don't you think so?"

I thought about his words and replied: "Well, man proposes, God disposes".

"But why does it have to happen at a time when we plan some fun and recreation?"

"I told you. God decides much before we plan and implement our decisions. That is what destiny is. We cannot avoid it. It is futile to even think about the whys and ifs dear brother. Try to understand."

 He remained silent but his perplexed expression showed that he was dejected. I felt that I could not help it and got back to my reading the book in my hands.

He kept doodling on the table for about five minutes and then seeing that I wouldn't speak anymore on the topic he had stirred up, he got up and left quietly.

I started reading the saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in which it was stated: "When Allah decides well for a man or a woman He expands their understanding of Islam…" I felt like it was something I needed most at that moment. It made me comfortable and gave me a sense of peace and calm.

Daphne had started on her journey of understanding and accepting Islam and as the Prophet had said, Allah had decided well for her. "Now", I told myself; "Now, I can tackle everybody without fear…Allah will be on my side…let us see who is there to resist Allah's will and pleasure…"

As the moments lapsed I started imagining Daphne as a total Muslim…and the thought pleased me very much. I felt like Allah had chosen me to convert her from her erroneous ways and help her on the way to embracing Islam wholeheartedly, without fearing anybody, without remorse or regret. I felt like getting up and shouting, thanking my Lord God for whatever He was doing…but all of a sudden, in the next instance I felt I saw Commissioner Sahib's face staring at me, out of space…and I poised myself once more. Anyway I thanked my Creator and kept on doing so till I fell asleep.

It was about 12.30 p.m. when I woke up again. In fact it was Saeed who woke me up saying Mrs. John, Josh and Daphne had come to see us…and they had brought lunch along with them.

As I was getting ready to go and meet them, I saw Josh and Daphne enter the room along with Naureen.

After the usual exchange of greetings I looked at both of them with a sense of observation. Josh remained expressionless while Daphne smiled. And I knew why she was smiling. She was confident that I would always keep her secret as a secret should be kept. I smiled back and did so with a joyous feeling behind it because here was somebody so young and yet so wise, so innocent yet so intelligent, so pure of heart yet so sure of mind…and I thanked Allah again, inwardly, for enlightening the way of truth for the little girl...I kept on smiling for quite some time and until Josh grasped me by the arm and asked:

"Well dear old chap, I hope you are feeling better today?"

"Of course I am dear old Josh…of course I am" was all I could say as I saw Daphne take the "Book of the Prophet Muhammad's Sayings" and sitting on the chair with her eyes fixed on the first two pages. God Almighty was working wonders in His own divine way and I could no longer grumble about anything…because whatever was happening was bound to happen…and I was relaxed and pleased that it was all good...especially for Daphne.

 "Can I take this book and read it in the hall?" she asked.

 "Of course you can", I replied.

So, we all went into the hall and the living room…Josh took along some comic books of Batman and Spiderman while Daphne was with the book which Allah wanted her to read. Saeed and Naureen were with their syllabus text books while Meanwhile, I took up the "Sunday Times" and went to the Sports pages. But inwardly, in the deepest corner of my heart I was still thanking Him…God Almighty…and rejoicing at how one of my schoolmates was being transformed into a better human being.

In between my reading the news about soccer I kept glancing at Daphne. She was totally engrossed in the book. And from that moment onwards Josh's sister started being more important to me than all the others, including Josh himself. She was no longer ordinary but a very special person in my sight from that very day…the 25th of June, 1972.




A whirlpool swirls in the mind and imagination becomes an interwoven tangle of the past, present and future. Whatever clarity shines through with its soft luminosity is because of Daphne. At times she assumes the munificence of Shakespeare's Ophelia and at times she dazzles the mental limelight as Portia in the Bard's "Merchant of Venice."


As I have mentioned earlier she outshone everybody with her lucidity of thoughts, her innocent yet coherent logic, her gentle yet firm presentation of a viewpoint and her remarkable ability to emerge as the convincing and unruffled winner. And these unique traits of her being impressed not just me and my siblings but more than everybody they impressed my father. And she also respected and admired him to a great extent.


She liked mother's mental acumen and she appeared dazzled by father's learned and logical conversation. And perhaps she sensed and saw in me a honed and smoothened combination of both of my parents' plus points that she always came to me for help and support when confronted by ideas and situations she couldn't seem to resolve or cope with.


It was a cloudy afternoon of August 1971 when I first happened to take note of this inclination in her to approach me for help. I, Saeed and Naureen were at the Johns' house with the intention of sorting out our remaining homework for the vacation. As usual I and Saeed were with Josh and she was with Naureen. After half an hour or so they both got up and left the living room.


Then, in a matter of five or six minutes, Daphne came and stood by the sofa where I was reclining while solving a trigonometry problem. At first I did not pay attention and remained busy with my math task. But after a while I paused and felt uneasy. I looked up and saw her entwining her fingers and appearing restless to an extent. All of a sudden she stopped and looked at me. Before I could say anything she motioned with her hand, urging me to get up for a few moments and accompany her to her room. I blinked an expression of "yes" and got up. Josh and Saeed glanced, up from their notebooks and stared, first at me, then her. Then Josh spoke to her:


"Well, what is it now?"


"Nothing important. I just thought if Naveed could decide about a debate I and Naureen are having with cousin Emily."


"When did Emily come and where is she?"


"Oh no, she hasn't come here, she's on the phone."


"So, what do you want Naveed to do?"


"Nothing much; I thought maybe he could decide whether I am saying the right thing about God or whether Emily is correct."


"Oh, so you are once involved in a debate with her. Didn't mom tell you not to discuss faith with anybody?"


"I didn't start it Josh. It was she who brought up a passage from the Gospel of John and insists that I don't have the intelligence to understand the meaning."


Josh shrugged his shoulders and smiled at me. Then he said:


"Well my dear friend, it appears that you have to go and decide who is right and who is wrong. Are you ready?"


I smiled and said: "Well, since Daphne thinks I can handle things, I think I should go and do my bit."


"Okay, you go and let me and Saeed take a break as well and have a cup or two of Horlicks."


So I straightened myself and went with her to the room. Naureen was shaking her head and when she saw me she said:


"Look here Bhayya, this girl is twisting the facts and distorting the truth. Please talk to her."


Daphne took the receiver and after introducing me to Emily gave the phone to me and added in a whisper: "Just be logical. Don't let her sail through."


I shook my head and started talking to Emily. She was quoting a statement by Jesus Christ (Peace be upon him) which ended with 'Before Abraham was, I am". She said the statement proved that Jesus was referring to himself as God or the son of God.


I replied that the matter could not be resolved over the phone and asked Emily to come over to Daphne's house and discuss it whenever she felt like doing so.


That seemed to quieten the cousin and after agreeing she hung up.


Daphne smiled at me and said: "Well, you have dealt with it neatly and cooly and I am happy that the argument between us has not blown out of proportion. Thank you Naveed. I knew you would be able to handle it."


"But why did the argument start?" I asked.


"Hmm...She had come here last weekend and saw me reading the Holy Qur'an translation which you have given to me and that irked her a lot. She started lecturing me about how it is not wise to read texts or religious books other than the Bible and I did not like the way she talked and I told her so. She asked me if I doubted anything in the Bible and I said I did. That really shocked her and when I explained that I was reading the Holy Qur'an to try and to find out whether Jesus was really God or not she could not stand it and left me with a scowl on her face.


Now, just because she is three years elder to me does not mean she can behave in the manner she did. Yet I did not say anything to anybody and hoped the matter was over that day only. But today she called up and started lecturing again and when Naureen tried to help me she rebuked even her saying that she was a Muslim and so she could not fathom the real godliness of Jesus. That's when I got up and came to you because I felt only you could deal with her stupid stubbornness in an intelligent way."


She smiled again and I felt as if her whole countenance glowed with an inward joy. I looked at Naureen and after advising her not to indulge in religious debates on the phone I also urged Daphne to act with wisdom and caution.


"Not all Christians think the way you do Daphne and you will have to be very cautious and sensible", I told her.


She thought for a moment or two and said: "Okay Naveed. I will be careful from now onwards. Thanks again for defending me and telling me how to be wiser. I promise to do so."


"Okay. Good. That will be so tactful", I said. Then I paused and looking at Naureen said: "You too Naureen, never let such a situation arise again. We are in Wales, not in Pakistan. Okay?"


"Okay Bhayya", Naureen replied.


"Well, now you two also come to the living room and let us all have a chocolate drink and admire the grand weather."


"Yes, let us all sit outside for a while". Daphne suggested, with a spright in her steps.


"Yes, what do you say Bhayya?" Naureen was obviously supporting her friend.


"Well, I have no problem with that. But let's ask Josh and Saeed", I said.


Back in the living room, Josh and Saeed were enjoying their drinking chocolate with pure relish and adding to everyone's delight were cashew nut  muffins. We joined our brothers and after the snacks everybody agreed to go out into the lawn and have a game of badminton.


The breeze was cool and refreshing in the sprawling lawn as Naureen and Daphne decided to have a practice match first. The clouds were thickening yet the land breeze was not snappy. Everything looked pleasant and we boys sat on the lounging chairs and started watching our sisters' game which was interspersed with cries of glee and dismay from both.


"Well Naveed, what was the fuss about religion with Emily?" Josh asked me.


"Nothing much Josh: She was mentioning a quotation from the “Gospel of John” and wanted Daphne to read the particular portion again and reflect on Christ's words. Instead of prolonging the debate I asked her not to debate it on the phone but come over and discuss here. She agreed and hung up. That's all."


"Then why was Daphne so perturbed?"


"Because, Emily is offended, as she doesn't like my inquisitive sister reading the Holy Qur'an."


"Oh! So that's it. She thinks Daphne may be influenced by what she's reading in the Holy Qur'an. That's Emily our cousin. Always confused, worried and always keen to start an argument. I wonder why she is like that."


"Don't worry my friend. Nothing will happen. Let's not worry ourselves about it anymore. Let's watch the clouds float by. Let's feel the cool gusts of the breeze and let's watch the girls battle it out. Then we may also have a game or two. Okay?"


Josh smiled at Saeed and he smiled back.


"But Naveed Bhayya, why are you always poetic at such times?" Saeed questioned me.


"Because I feel that way my dear brother. Just look around and above and you too may feel so."


Saeed laughed and Josh joined him. Then they both clapped their hands and exclaimed:


"We are not like you...We would rather go to the club and have a dive in the pool instead of acting like poets."


I did not say a word in response. Just smiled at both of them as Daphne shot a powerful serve to Naureen. Naureen managed to return it and the rally stretched on for a couple of minutes. Daphne was fast and nimble on her feet but Naureen was relaxed and concentrating on everything. So it was quite interesting to watch and compare their different styles. Both were close friends and always gracious to let the other have a point instead of resisting the score.


Soon their practice session ended and Saeed looked at me. It meant he wanted to have a session with Josh but wanted to know if it was okay with me. I nodded my head and he got up with an energetic leap, grabbed Naureen's racket and went into the centre of the grassy court. Josh joined him with his own racket.


"You are always gracious, aren't you Naveed? You always let your brother and sister play first because you feel you are elder to them and so you should behave that way. Right?" Daphne queried as she went for the towel on the side table.


"You may so Daphne. It doesn't matter that much." I said.


"For some people it does, for example Emily would never let me play first. ..."


"Let's stop talking about Emily. She is not here so why even think about her. There are lots of pleasant things to think about. Don't you see?"


"But Naveed, can you really win against her in this debate on Christ's statement?"


"I think truth will always win."


She looked at me with a poised gaze in her look and slumped into a chair next to Naureen and exclaimed: "I wish you win Naveed. Emily has to be shown her place. Otherwise she will cause me trouble. I will pray that you win."


I smiled at her and just to reassure her said: "Don't worry. You will see how truth wins."


"But Naveed, she gets angry and snaps and leaves, sometimes without finishing the discussion. I don't want such a thing to happen with you."


"Nothing like that will ever happen Daphne", I said. "Now relax and watch how expertly your brother plays."


Naureen looked at me and then her and added: "Yes Daphne. Let us not spoil our time by thinking about her and her debate."


That seemed to console her a bit and smiling at both of us she said: "I think you are right."


Just as the game between Josh and Saeed ended the sky started to pour rain. It was a drizzle but not just a drizzle. It was strong and gaining intensity as the seconds ticked by fast.


Our brothers shrugged their shoulders and walked inside the verandah. Both of them looked unhappy that it had started raining.


"Aww!" Daphne said. "Now we can't play."


"But we can watch the beautiful rain", I remarked.


While others did not pay heed to what I said, Daphne did look up at me and laughed quietly. She knew I liked the change in weather and that seemed to amuse her a lot. Then she asked:


"You like the rainy spell?"


"Don't you?" I shot back.


She laughed again in the same quiet manner and started looking at the wind blowing a gusty shower from the west to the east. It looked like a glider was making his way with a gentle smoothness which was a visual treat for the eyes.


Then Daphne started reciting, very softly, Henry Wardsworth Longfellow's verses on summer rain:


"How beautiful is the rain,

After the dust and heat,

In the broad and stretching plain,

In the narrow streets...."


I joined her and soon Josh, Saeed and Naureen also joined in.

Longfellow's poem was followed by W.H. Davies’:


"What’s this life if full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare…"


We all raised our voices in crescendo as the drizzle changed into a shower and the wind became laden with fragrance floating in from the Gower seaside. Everything became resplendent and soon we started singing "Raindrops on Roses" and other songs related to the changing weather...and now when I reflect I find myself unable to control the tears from overwhelming me with their intensity. The wonderful afternoon of that August day remains as fresh and poignant in my memory as no other afternoon could be for another seven years.






Autumn days are quite different from days in the other seasons.  While there is a distinct feeling of everything slowing down, as if the moments are being slowly lulled to sleep by some unknown force, the nights become unpredictable. Sometimes they are windy and cold, sometimes clammy and stuffy. The humidity always lingers, sometimes to an exasperating extent. And, as I remember, with the sea breeze the atmosphere of Swansea in the early 1970s also became laden with haze and undue wetness.


School had started again and we were all quite busy preparing for the fall examination. I used to remain awake till at least 2 a.m. in the night preparing for the tests.  The competition in my class was very tough. Yet I managed to outshine my classmates. The secret was my night-time studying.  My father told me that I inherited the trait from my mother, who according to him, would spend hours and hours reading one book or the other.


Whatever it may be, another reason why I prepared so much was that I hated cutting a sorry figure in front of the Welsh and the expatriate Indian students and teachers.  I was determined never to let Pakistan down at any stage of my life and the schooldays were extremely important to prove what I believed in…that Pakistani boys and girls are second to none in the world. Mrs. Winfred, our class teacher liked this quality of mine, even though she herself was Welsh.

She was a well qualified teacher who did not allow territorial frontiers cloud her sense of reasoning while deciding which student in her class was the most outstanding one. In her words it was me…and I felt I should not betray her confidence in me at any stage of my life till then. She also fathomed it instinctively and made it a point to praise me in front of the whole class whenever I excelled in studies or extra-curricular activities.


Mary Hopkins voice echoes with "Those were the days..." and my thoughts return to the places where Daphne and I used to play, laugh and sing as we grew up over the years. There are so many incidents, memories, which have embedded themselves to the very fabric of my inner being, refusing to be detached no matter how much I try. I have tried everything to overcome the fondness of the past and have succeeded to an extent but she does not fade away. On the contrary the longing to be with her once more intensifies and engulfs me all over, rekindling the stark, parched embers of separation.

I have tried even drowning my heart and mind in wine and other forms of intoxication but in vain. She remains; and everything associated with her surrounds me like a cosmic skein of stars and galaxies, from which there is no escape. The whirlpool of unseen patterns revolving around makes me more desperate and I long for release ... a release which can take me back into the realm of souls, where I can be with her, forever and ever...beyond the shackles of earthly bondage, suffering and Karmic rebirth...the nirvana...O, why is it still so deceiving...why is reunion so distant from me!


 It was a beautiful November morning in 1976. There was chill in the air but it did not make itself felt due to the warmth enveloping me.


I remember the Sunday vividly as it glows as fresh as it was when it first dawned on me.  What made it more grand was the news that Daphne was coming, along with her father, to Islamabad. He had to attend an international symposium for electrical engineers at the Inter -continental Hotel (Now the Pearl Continental)  in Rawalpindi. It was a three-day event and Mr. John was to be the chief guest. We had a phone call on Friday night informing us about their arrival on Sunday. My father was glad on hearing the news. He and Mr. John were not just old colleagues but fast friends as well. Mother was also elated. Naureen and Saeed came to know about it on Saturday afternoon and were thrilled...because Daphne was also coming.


As for me my joy knew no bounds. I was overwhelmed with a sublime inner excitement because she and I were going to be together again. We had been separated for five months and the agony of being without her was excruciatingly terrible. I was feeling as if my very happiness had been snatched away from me, mercilessly plucked away by the hands of conniving fate and time. I was lonely and forlorn, not able to reconcile with Puppa's decision to bid adieu to Hyesons and return to Pakistan. He had his reasons but I have not been able to come to terms with any of them even today. Anyway, when he told me the news that Mr. John and Daphne were coming on Sunday afternoon, I was on the ninth cloud of inner happiness...and in a state which cannot be described in writing. It was felt from top to toe, inside and out, yet something which is impossible to be put down in words.


It was 11 a.m. and our house in Satellite Town had been made spick and span. Even though Mr. John had a suite for himself and Daphne at the five-star hotel on Mall Road, father had ensured that the guest room was up to the standard befitting his Welsh friend and his teenage daughter. He even had a separate servant hired for the occasion so that nothing was thought of as incomplete and lacking. We were up at 7 a.m. and in our best of appearances by 10 a.m. Breakfast was over by 9 and the final touches given in the remaining hour to anything that was considered as needing a redoing. The flight from London was to land at Islamabad International Airport at 1 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time. Mother, Saeed and Naureen were told to stay at home and prepare for a warm reception while I accompanied Puppa to the airport in our Toyota Corona car.


Having reached the airport at 11.45 a.m. we spent the waiting time of another 75 minutes by talking about how we should keep our guests entertained and happy. As we talked and talked we did not know how time flew by as the announcement blared that the British Airways flight from London was landing at the airport in the next five minutes. It was 12.55 p.m. I thanked God that the flight had not been delayed. Now, as I heard the announcement, I could not , despite the best of efforts, manage to hide my excitement...as Puppa looked at me and smiled.


And as they came out after the immigration formalities I could not believe myself. She seemed thin and pale even though the same elation which excited me was beaming on her countenance. And yet I could sense, as I waved at both of them, that something was amiss, something wrong with my childhood friend, because her eyes lacked the sparkle which had distinguished them as ultra-shining before we had bid farewell in June. I hid my tinge of sadness and greeted them along with Puppa who shook hands with Mr. John as I did with Daphne. She was smiling as ever and trying her best to restrain the tears of joy that were floating in her pupils


"Hello Uncle", I greeted Mr. Trevor John Smith, as he shook hands with me with the same enthusiasm he had when we were in Swansea.


"Hello young man", he responded and looking at his daughter added quickly: "Your friend here was bent upon coming with me and in the end I had to give up...hope you are as happy to see her as she was all along till now."


I laughed uncontrollably and revealed how happy I was. And I replied: "Happy? I am overjoyed. Can't you see how elated I am?"


"He is happy indeed". Puppa quipped; "Happy and excited to see his childhood friend...has been thinking of her all these five months and often arguing with me as to why I left Wales....he has been a troublesome worried young man since he parted from Daphne."


Saying this Puppa shook Daphne's hands and kissed her on the forehead. As I have said before, everybody in our family loved the Johns and had a special fondness for Daphne...she was everybody's darling...as mom would say.


"O thank you Uncle Ahmed...you are so kind..." was all she could manage with a darting glance at me.


We shook hands once more and again...it was so comforting to be with each other after the long spell of parting and distance. We had so much to share and so much more to be talked about that the moments we got were worth the cherishing in every sense.


She kept on smiling and I kept reciprocating as we got into the Toyota and began our homeward drive. Her father and mine were busy discussing their own matters and except for that occasional glance they did not bother us as we talked about how it was from June the 19th to November the 9th. ..reminders of how beautiful everything could turn out to be if two persons who understood each other are reunited, even though for a short period of three days.


"What is wrong Daph’?" I asked, "Why are you so thin and pale?"


"I think you are thin and pale, not me," she replied, her smile as fresh as ever.


 "Me? No I am alright...it is you who is looking weak ...what is the matter? Won't you tell me?" I said.


 "Oh nothing Naveed...it is the constant air flights...from Swansea to London and then from London to Karachi and then here...I am tired, that's all."


I looked at her with more concern in my gaze. She laughed and checked me then and there. "Hey! You are still the same mysterious boy who is keen on unmasking others. But believe me nothing is wrong with me...I missed you very much ...that's all, nothing more."


 I felt somewhat sad deep inside. It was a feeling which I was not able to fathom at that time.  I tried to shake it off as it was just not the time to be sad. Here was a girl whom I knew for six years yet who seemed to be my friend since time immemorial. Daphne had become rooted deeply and had become a part of myself and the emotional state which was taking hold of me was plainly evident. She too observed it and exclaimed: "Hey you...now, now, don't lose control over yourself...why do you want to shed tears now...don't you know  that if you cry I will also burst into tears? Please... Naveed…"


 I managed to smile faintly. We had some more distance to cover till we reached home and that was somewhat more comfortable as we sat there, smiling at each other without a word. Our eyes were doing the talking of how tough it had been for both of us...the separation of five months...after an association of six unforgettable years in Swansea.


As we sat Puppa turned on the cassette player and The Carpenters’ "Yesterday Once More" rent the silence that had crept inside...an amazing telepathic quietude.


Daphne had started singing along the song as the car entered our bungalow in Satellite Town and the horn blared informing those waiting for us that we had come.


The grand welcome that was accorded to our guests by mom and my siblings took both of them by surprise and in a matter of time the formal atmosphere became homely and jovial as we intermingled and exchanged our feelings and thoughts till tea time. Seated by the drawing room heater on the Persian rug, my siblings and I were simply fascinated by all that Daphne was recounting...all about Josh, our school in Swansea, our classmates and also about how the spare times were spent since we departed. It looked like we had been once more transported by the Gower cliffs, the clean blue sea and all the tranquility that characterizes everything in that Welsh city.


 And we all told her about how sad we all had been since we left Wales. She listened attentively and with questions now and then came to know how difficult it had been for us to adjust to life in Rawalpindi after the grand time we spent in Swansea. She laughed in between our chatter and often looked at me to see what I was thinking....she was accustomed to my lapses into "thinking sessions" -- as she defined them -- in between conversations and was constantly on the alert to check if I was once more into that phase that day. I did not lapse...because the most special person in my life was sitting in front of me, with all her exuberant innocence and talking to me and my brother and sister.


How could I think of anything else? Sensing this she would smile meaningfully in my direction now and then, to reassure me that she was really there and that it was not a dream. Happiness marked the evening as long as she was with us in the drawing room, oft sipping hot chocolate and oft chewing cashew nuts and peanuts with the three of us on that warm rug by the fireside.




 Time went by with the velocity of a space shuttle that day. Afternoon, lunch, tea, and periods of conversations in between...everything shared so far as memories allowed and that was it. In between,I longed for Daphne and me to be given some time all to ourselves, but it did not happen. At about 4.30 p.m. Naureen took Daphne to her room after tea and she remained there till dinner time...fell asleep after a warm shower while with Naureen and kept sleeping till the dining room clocked chimed and informed us that it was eight p.m.  and it was also the first signal for dinner time...which mom would have ready in another 30 minutes ...we were to be seated at the dinner table by 9 p.m.


I called Naureen and asked her if Daphne was up. She replied in the affirmative but added that she had a severe headache and was not in the mood for dinner. I was shaken. Daphne rarely had headaches and when she had them it was really punishing for her as well as those to whom she mattered. And I need not say here how much more she mattered to me than she did to all the others in our house. So, without a word, I accompanied my sister to her room and saw Daphne sitting on a chair, her elbows resting on the study table and her head held in her palms...she was pressing her temples hard, in order to lessen the pain that was throbbing inside her head. I was pained...to see her in that condition. 


Wearing a dark green full-length velvet gown she also looked idylically beautiful. She was maturing from a girl into a young woman  -- in her 15th year -- and was turning out to be more attractive and charming than she was before...yet… her headache was my chief concern then...and I wanted to help her in any way I could. With this in mind I walked inside the room and standing a feet and a half away from the table asked her soothingly: "Hey Daph’, would you like to have a pain killer tablet ...I have Aspirin tablets with me, if you need one or two, here..."


She looked up at me for a moment or two and then smiled. Even though she was battling pain she managed to give me a smile as if assuring me that all was well. However, I was not convinced and asked her again if she would like to have two Aspirin with a glass of warm milk. She stretched her hand, accepted the offer and gulped down the tablets with some water after drinking the glass of milk. Then she smiled at me once more and said: "Naveed, can you sit here for some time with me? Can you?"


I did not think twice and said, "Why not Daph’. Here, now, is it alright?"


I was on the other chair and on her right hand side at the study table. I smiled at her as she looked at me and then at Naureen. Naureen looked at both of us, smiled, and left the room. She knew that Daphne wanted to be with me only, for some time and left without a word.


 As a minute or so ticked by Daphne looked at me, deep was her gaze, as if reaching out for the core of my heart and started saying:


"I have been miserable Naveed. You were my only friend with whom I shared everything. In fact you happen to be the only soul with whom I have shared everything about me and that includes my beliefs and faith too. Naveed, only you know how disillusioned I am with what has been mentioned in the Bible and how enlightening everything in the Holy Qur’an has been for me. Now, to be honest, I am fed up with hackneyed concoctions of the truth and want to tell you what I really feel like doing.


“I feel like converting into a Muslim...believe me Naveed, I am honestly saying this, with all my faith of heart, mind and soul...that Christianity as it has been taught and preached to me is disappointingly incorrect and convuluted. There are so many versions of The Bible and as you would be aware by now I was seeking the truth even when I was only 10 years old. As the days and nights stretch into weeks, months and years, I find myself at the crossroads of my life as it is and Islam attracts me more and more with each passing moment. There is only one Qur'an in the original Arabic as it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (May Allah's Blessings and Peace be upon him)  and recorded by his trusted friends and family members, 14 centuries ago. The translations too are not as varying as are the Bibles. Now, my dear trusted friend, tell me this: Can I convert into a Muslim secretly? Is it possible and not too difficult?"


Now I felt I knew why she was so thin and pale and shrunk. I also knew why she got the headache. She was struggling with her surroundings and consoling her conscience to be patient. She had me to share her innermost thoughts ever since I gave her a translation of the Holy Qur’an by M.M. Pickthall four years ago. The link grew stronger when I blunted Emily’s (Her cousin) vitriol on the phone some weeks after that.


But, after we left Wales in December 1974, she must have felt totally alone...with her new set of religious thoughts...her thirst for the Truth had made me her best friend and confidante. After me there would have been nobody for her with whom she could share all that she thought and felt about each and everything...from jokes to social events, from school and friends to parents, brother and Islam...how lonely my cute childhood friend would have been....I could see through all her sadness very clearly now...after she told me about what she was going through now.


I assured her in the best manner I could and told her that I knew a religious scholar, well versed in Arabic, Persian, English and Urdu and was a Ph.D in Islamic Studies and the Holy Qur’an who would be able to help us out without anybody knowing anything about it. This comforted her and gave her solace...as was evident in her relieved expression. She looked at me once more and smiled...this one was a heartwarming smile...full of appreciation and gratefulness....a smile which helped me too in warding off the shaky feeling that was creeping slowly and stealthily...because of all that she was bearing with courage and yet being bowed down by the weight of the burden on her soul....now everything was easy...for her and for me. Allah, I knew, would solve everything for the two of us now....and Allah did solve it...as the coming details will reveal.


After this conversation both of us got up from our chairs and put our hands in each other’s and smiled once more. We both were happy and confident that Allah would show us the way out and support us all along. She wanted to accept the Truth and I was helping her in doing that. How and why could we be worried anymore?


 I left the room after a while as she said she would change and come for dinner. 

 --To be continued). Copyright: Emmenay (Muhammad Naveed Ahmed).

Author's Notes/Comments: 

Well dear friends, poets and poetesses: Several among you must have read my poems on/about Daphne John. So, I decided to write a biographical novel about her and I am sure that you will all find out more about the girl, the maiden, the chaste and virtuous woman, who was not just my schoolmate and first love. She IS still my BELOVED...and God willing, will BE SO, as long as I am alive, nay...As long as this world lasts...God willing. I would love to have your feedback and honest comments...while I proceed to continue and (God willing) complete all the chapters. I hope you enjoy reading my prose just as you enjoyed my poems. All Praise to Allah, Lord of all worlds.

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