It is never easy to find parking on Kumaratunga Munidasa Mawatha, better known as Thurstan Road for reasons that warrant another article, even when it is not under repairs. Even at night, there are vehicles parked on the stretch from Alfred Place to Pedris Road, mostly by those who stop to have a bite at Raheema Hotel. A week ago, I did find one spot, just beyond the pedestrian crossing. It was around 8.15 pm. I went in, gobbled down a couple of parathas and came out. I was essentially waiting for summons from my daughters who were attending a concert at Bishop’s College. I got the call, got into the car and started it. That’s when the drama happened.
There was a vehicle parked right in front. I had to reverse and then pull out. I hadn’t noticed a motorcycle parked just behind me and I didn’t see it in the rear view mirror or the side mirrors. The inevitable happened. I knocked it down. I got down immediately. The bike had fallen. Then someone called out my name.
“Malinda, nothing happened. Just lift it up.”
The voice came from a car parked behind the said pedestrian crossing. Tariq Mahushukeen had noticed me. He later said, ‘I didn’t know it was you until you got off and was checking out what happened. Shirt out, slippers…the iconic Malinda Seneviratne look…that’s when I recognized you.’ Tariq knows how to make anyone look good, I learned that night. I learned other things too, about Tariq, about school and about people.
He told me that a couple of police officers had come on the bike and that they had gone in. ‘In’ I thought was Raheema, but he said ‘no, they went up those stairs’. A communication centre. I went up. I found two people at the counter, one in uniform and the other in civvies. I told them what happened.
They came down and checked ‘the damage’. A few scratches. They ‘found’ more serious damage and the one in civvies said that he had just got the bike ‘fixed’, the area near the handlebar, he said. The man in uniform took my driving license. He took pictures. I felt these officers who said they were from the Cinnamon Gardens Police, were trying to pinch my pocket (‘pick’ would be too unkind a word). I told them that if that’s the case, then we should let the law deal with it. That’s when they raised their voices. I asked ‘how much’ and the owner of the bike said ’10,000’.
Suddenly someone intervened. Tariq. He told them what he had seen and he told them not to be unfair. The ‘price’ was brought down to 3,000 rupees. I was in a hurry and fortunately had enough money with me. I gave 4,000 rupees. Then the owner started crying. No, I am not making all this up. Tariq saw. It was too much for me. Stupidity and a weakness in the face of tears came into play. I can’t see anyone cry, machang,’ I told Tariq, gave the man another 6,000 and left.
The following morning Tariq called. He first apologized for butting in. Then he said that ‘repairs’ wouldn’t have cost more than 500 rupees and that we should take it up at some higher level. Maybe I should have at least informed the OIC of the Cinnamon Gardens Police Station, but it was water under the bridge as far as I was concerned.
I have known Tariq for 46 years. We were never in the same class (he was in the English medium class and I was in a Sinhala medium class). But I knew his face and name because I had heard people address him. I don’t think we ever spoke while we were in school. Years later, whenever we ran into each other at reunions we both attended, we exchanged greetings. Once I ran into him at Shanti Vihar and we spoke for a bit. And of course we would catch each other on conversations of mutual interest on Facebook.
I thanked him for standing up for me and by way of expressing appreciation, reminded him that we hadn’t really talked in all the time we’ve known (of) each other.
“That doesn’t matter machang. All that matters is that we walked through the same gates to school. We don't look away when someone is in trouble. That’s what my father taught me and that’s what my religion teaches me.”
Those words gave extra value to his simple act of intervention, because he had told me as he was about to drive off that he was on his way to hospital to see his wife who was not too well.
And I thought of Tariq Mahushukeen. I remembered a Facebook post written a year ago (October 19, 2015). This is what he wrote: ‘I miss my dad. I lost my best friend 40 years ago today. I lost my dad to an Aortic Aneurysm in front of my eyes and it changed my life. Today I recommit myself to be the man he was. I love you Dad and miss you so much. May God bless you always.’
I had never spoken with Tariq in the 12-13 years when we schooled together. But I had always remembered him as someone who just couldn’t stop smiling. And all those ears of smiling, he was also a little boy who had lost his father. I remembered writing him a short note a year ago on his birthday and dug it up.
“I still remember you from Grade 1L. Always with a smile (although I am sure there were times you didn’t feel like smiling). Your smile and your eyes have remained the same Tariq. And although we haven’t really talked too much, I suspect that your ways of being have remained pretty much the same. Be well, be at peace and keeping on this special day and always. Happy Birthday, brother.”
That was on July 28, 2016.
A week ago, our paths crossed and I can say with absolute conviction that he is the man his father wanted his 10 year old boy to grow up to be, and also the man Tariq believed his father wanted him to be.
A week ago, there was a minor accident. Money exchanged hands. Comes, goes, no big deal. But lessons were taught and learnt. No price tag. Walking through the same gates means a lot. Not looking away when someone is in trouble, regardless of commonalities associated with entrances and exits, means a lot more. There are gates other than those which belong to schools. Thousands walk in and out through them. Some are marked by grace.
A week ago I met Tariq Mahushukeen. It was the first time we had really spoken to each other. And it made a difference.