A long time ago
Walad rubbed his eyes to mark the end of another long day of toil. He slipped under his blanket and felt the first wave of fatigue break over him when he heard a knock at the door. It took some effort to break out of sleep’s sweet embrace, but Walad managed it somehow. He threw a shawl over his shoulders as he ambled over to the door of his little cottage and opened it cautiously.
An old man stood on his doorstep. He was dressed in robes of white and gray. His long flowing beard spoke to many years of wisdom and wise company. His eyes sparkled with a curious intelligence and a thick hood covered his head but for a lock of gray that floated down a high cheekbone and curled up into his beard.
“I… am Sanad. I have journeyed four days from Alqaryah,” he said.
Walad’s eyes went wide with excitement and he ushered the old man into his cottage and onto the only chair that occupied his living room. He then rushed into the kitchen and brewed a pot of tea for his guest. Walad poured out a cup for the old timer and enquired after his journey, for that was from the etiquette of receiving a weary traveler. He knew the old man must have news for him, but decided to wait until the news was dispensed at his guest’s own moment of choosing.
The gray-haired Sanad took long sips of the calming beverage, exhaling sighs of pleasure. A slow smile spread upon his face as he gazed into Walad’s expectant eyes.
“Your hospitality speaks to your lineage. I thank you.
Walad nodded, and ran a hand over a knuckle, quite unable to hide his anxiety.
The old man’s face then hardened and showed lines of gravity, betraying a sense of mission and purpose. He took another sip and set the cup upon the table before him.
“My dear Walad. Your father,” he paused and his face softened again. “He was a dear friend to me. I loved him dearly. God have mercy on his soul.”
Walad stared back at the old man, paralyzed momentarily by the tense and phraseology announcing his father’s demise. When it sunk in, his eyes moistened and tears fell. He wept as any loving son weeps to hear of the death of his father. This continued for some time. And when the weeping abated, the old man continued with that same tone of purpose.
“You father was old and wise, much loved and respected. He owned no land, no wealth but for the wisdoms he accumulated.” Sanad extracted a scroll from the inner folds of his robes before he continued.
“These are some of his words. I collected them for you that you may know him better. Some of them I heard from his mouth, others I obtained from his family. I shall read them to you now.”
Walad dried his tears and listened attentively. He emptied his mind of everything as he received every word the sage uttered.
“Enjoin what is good as well as you can
As well as you can forbid what is bad
Leave what is in doubt but know that a man
Is by his intentions and in that be glad”
Walad nodded slowly at the profound prelude. Sanad proceeded to read slowly and deliberately from the scroll, pausing after each aphorism.
And so, the visitor read untiringly. The young host listened attentively. The words between them contrived images of a man beloved to both. And thus the night grew old.
“Ah! We are down to the last three,” Sanad smiled. “But before I read them, might I bother you for another cup of your delicious brew?”
Walad bounded off his cushion and disappeared into the kitchen. He set another pot to boil. His heart, though swollen with grief at the sad news of his father’s death, felt revived and infused with hope in the company of the kindly Sanad.
When he returned, he found Sanad had removed some of his outer robes and laid them on the floor beside him. The old man smiled graciously as aromas of the steaming brew filled his nostrils.
He took one sip and turned his attention back to the scroll.
“The first of the three that remain. This one is also from your oldest Uncle, Sahh, like many of the others you have just heard. Sahh was a man of great integrity and character. You know this.
Walad nodded. “I do.”
Sanad sighed and continued, “Sahh says that your father said:
“Forgive all your foes if come you to sight
The whitest of moons on the longest of nights.”
Walad repeated the words to himself. He resolved in his heart to act upon these words transmitted by Sanad, going back to Sahh and his own father. He nodded for Sanad to proceed.
“These last two. They came to me from Daeef.” Sanad looked up at Walad from under bushy white eyebrows. “You remember him?”
Walad’s eyes narrowed in thought as he searched for a scrap of memory, anything from his boyhood days. Nothing floated up from the recesses of his conscious, so he shook his head.
Sanad took a deep breath. “Daeef is your father’s youngest cousin on his mother’s side. He is known to be, how shall I say it… a bit of a prankster.” Sanad’s mouth widened in a grin.
“Yes, Daeef is the funny one. As much as your father was known to reprimand him for his silly acts of humor, he loved his little cousin very much. And Daeef loved your father dearly as well. And that I can vouch for. But that is all I can vouch for. I tell you all this because you must know that I have no way of knowing if his words are true. But I have them here for you.”
“Was he known to lie habitually?” Walad asked cautiously.
Sanad exploded into laughter at that. “Yes, yes. He was. And he is known to possess the sickly habit to this day.”
Sanad composed himself before he continued. “Daeef says that your father said:
“When you find a lone branch fallen from a tree
Cut down another to give the fallen his brother.”
Walad nodded slowly, repeating the words to himself as had come to be his wont.
Sanad continued. “And the last of them that I bothered to write is this. Daeef says that your father said:
“Plant a tree, and do so before
The winds of autumn knock on your door.”
Walad smiled, and felt his eyes moisten. “That sounds like father.”
Sanad nodded and cleared his throat. “Yes, but you need no reminding that I only have it on the word of Daeef.”
Walad nodded, “I understand.”
Sanad looked out of the high window and his eye sensed the first light of dawn. He rolled up the scroll and left it on the little table before him, then shot an arresting glance at Walad.
“I have done what I set out to do. And now, I take your leave.”
“But, Uncle, you must be tired. Rest a while,” Walad implored.
Sanad stood up and donned his robes. He turned towards Walad and smiled.
“I do not grow weary, my son. Age only makes me stronger.”
And with those words, he kissed his young host upon the forehead and strode out of the cottage. Walad stood in the doorway and watched as the old man made his way to the dusty road, his slightly bent figure gradually fading into the misty dawn.
* * *
Fifteen Years On
“More water, Father?”
Walad looked askance at his lively six-year-old son and nodded. He couldn’t help smiling as the little boy scampered off with his pail to the nearby pond, sending a duck flying out of the reeds.
Walad pressed down upon the soil around the sapling. He ran his finger through the dirt in a circle around it. He then motioned to his son to empty the pail inside the circle while he himself washed his hands in the cool water.
“Will we do this next autumn too?” the little boy asked.
Walad pursed his lips. Ever since that visit from Sanad years before, he had lived every day of his life guided by the words of his father. And every autumn, he remembered the words of Daeef, words that his father may never have spoken. He would never know. He recalled the opening words on the scroll.
Enjoin what is good as well as you can
As well as you can forbid what is bad
Leave what is in doubt but know that a man
Is by his intentions and in that be glad
He could ignore the words of Daeef altogether, but they had not been discarded by Sanad.
Leave what is in doubt…
Walad loved his father. He believed Daeef loved his father. He believed his father had loved Daeef.
… but know that a man
Is by his intentions, and in that be glad
The little boy persisted, “Father, will we do this next autumn again?”
Walad took a deep breath.
“I don’t know. Maybe we should skip a year.”
“Well, just to be a bit like… like Uncle Daeef. You know how Grandpa loved Uncle Daeef.”
The child continued to rain questions upon Walad, who enjoyed the diversion as fathers do. They walked hand in hand, exiting the orchard and entering their cozy cottage, leaving behind the sun to quietly set upon their little farm.