Laila drove down the drive way. It was a rainy day..as she was driving down the road she noticed an old man sitting at the bus top. It was raining heavily and he had no covering or sheets to protect himself. Just another beggar she said to herself. It was a long day at work. She parked the car in the garage and headed home. There was no one at home as usual and why would there be…she lived alone…she was single and no close family other than a brother so stayed in another city.
After keeping her stuff on the sofa Laila showered and changed into her home clothes. She wondered what she should have for food, she had been having a lot of junk food in the past few days’ courtesy a lot of client visits. But today she wanted to settle for a little Indian but she was too tired to cook something lavish. Thanks for convenient food, she began heating a paratha and some ready to eat frozen chicken. While she was preparing to eat she looked out the window. She saw the old man sitting there.. the rains had not subsided in fact it had only increased with more ferocity. Laila felt sorry, for the man and on an impulse picked the food in front of her and walked out of the house with an umbrella. Before she knew it she walked across the road to the man and offered him some food. The man looked famished he took the food and just gobbled it..she just looked at him and then she did something very absurd. “ Why don’t you come with me? I just stay across the road, you are all drenched, you can leave once the rain subsides”
She helped the old man to her house.. and he stood in the corner all drenched almost afraid that he may spoil anything in the house. She realized this discomfort and said.. “come this way “and led him to a room…”here are some clothes why don’t you change into something warm and then we see if there is anything more to eat”.. and she walked out of the room closing the door behind her…She went in the kitchen made some noodles. On opening the door she heard the old man snoring…he was sleeping peacefully. Laila closed the door and went to her room and slept off.
The next morning she showered brewed some tea, switched on the TV to watch some headlines. As usual there was the known face of the new anchor who was demanding answers to irrelevant questions from all irritating panelists. It was until she was leaving for the day is when she remembered about the old man. There had been virtually no sound. She peeped into the room.. there he was still asleep. She kept some tea in a flask with some rusks alongside and quickly scribbled something on a note and kept it by his bedside.
On her way to work she was wondering what had come over her, she invited a complete stranger into her home and now have left him in the house with no supervision and she was not worried at all. Laila spent the whole day moving from one client meeting to another by the time she got done it was late night. As usual she drove home and parked her car in the regular spot. She was not sure what to expect now that she had returned home. Was her house robbed, turned upside down…was he still there or had he left.
She opened the door and there was the old man smiling at her.it just warmed her heart and she smiled back. “Hi, I am Laila”. “Hello” he said.. she realized that this is the first time he had spoken. He had a deep voice. “My name is Ben. Thank You for last night.. when I got up today it was quite late and I saw your note but couldn’t leave without saying Thank You.”
“So why don’t you join me for dinner, I am just going to fix something for myself and I could do with some company”. He had a twinkle in his and eye and said “sure”. Laila walked into the kitchen and there was sumptuous smell of food and she looked in the dishes there were 2 freshly cooked dishes. She was shocked…Ben said….. “I am sorry that I intruded into your kitchen but I thought this was the best way I could say thank You..this is the only thing I know best”….Laila didn’t know what to say…they took the food to the dining table and sat quietly for a few minutes…”Ben the food is delicious I have not had such tasty food for a long time…So where are you from and where do you stay”…Ben looked up…here and there….Laila was puzzled.” what do you do”…..”this and that”….he replied….then he heaved a deep breath…”I used to be a chef in my restaurant….had a family but lost everything in the Tsunami. Ever since I have been working here and there” they kept talking through the night. By the time they realized the time it was very late. As Ben got ready to leave almost on cue it started raining heavily. “Where are you headed” Laila asked, “Don’t know” Ben replied. Almost instantly Laila replied, “Why don’t you stay here. You can stay in the room ,that used to belong to my brother he doesn’t live here anymore so you can stay until you get a stable job & a place to stay”. Ben was unsure, Laila persuaded him in the end.
Next day Laila got up to a wonderful aroma of coffee..She got up and saw that Ben was up and preparing breakfast. Laila felt foolish, “Good Morn Ben, sorry looks like I overslept again…so lets see what we shall have for breakfast”t. Ben chuckled. “Laila breakfast is almost ready, why don’t you freshen up and we can have breakfast together.” Laila was stunned here is a man a complete stranger 2 days ago almost behaving as though he has been around and has known her for ages. A stranger who she completely trusted and was ok to have him in the house. From that day on the routine had changed, Laila would go to work and Ben took charge of the house. Something else changed, Laila looked forward to come home and relax. Every evening she made sure she was back home while there was still light. She and Ben would go out for a walk in the park, jog, ride a cycle. On the weekends it was either garden plantation, replenishment of home supplies or community services. On one such occasion – Ben told her” You know Laila, when I am helping these families as part of community service I am really helping myself. It alleviates the pain of missing my family. Someone somewhere is probably taking care of them. I tried everything I could to search them but couldn’t find them. If they are alive I will meet them some day. If not, me being alive is not a coincidence the purpose of my life is exactly this that I help others so they can help themselves When I feed, clothe or share a laughter with the destitute I do so for my inner peace.”
So Laila and Ben continued to enjoy and cherish their new found friendship. At work Laila was a changed woman she was more forthcoming and warm but very clear of her work life balance and protected her self-time. She looked forward to her time with Ben and the activities especially gardening and house repairing. Laila’s life had a new meaning…
It was close to a year and life continued its beautiful hew. One weekend Laila woke up late and she felt emptiness. The coffee aroma was strong, she jumped out of bed got onto her feet and walked hastily to Ben’s room and her worst fears came true. The bed was made, the blinds were drawn and there was no sign of life. She moved to the other rooms to the shower…and finally ran out into the garden but he was gone. Laila felt lost, she devastated and didn’t know what to do. He dint have a mobile contact or any other address. She quickly started calling places where she though Ben could be, starting with the community service center, Laundry, garden tools, supermarket. She then rushed in her car to check all over the neighborhood. Had something happened to Ben, was he hurt, did he just leave, why did he leave. She was trying to remember the conversation from the previous night, but everything was a blur, she couldn’t focus. She then turned the car towards home.
Laila opened the door and was hoping that Ben was back. But it was not to be, she knew in her heart that he was gone. She had a sinking feeling and dull ache in her heart. She just couldn’t understand the wave of emotions that she was going through.
They were just 2 strangers she had extended her hand and helped a homeless stay in her house. Their relationship had deepened, there were not lover’s coz both of them had never felt like that for each other. It was just a relationship based on humanity and care. That’s it, so why did Laila feel the pain, she knew this was bound to happen at some point.
The next day Laila accepted the fact that Ben had left and he was not coming back. She went about doing her chores. That’s when she realized that even though he missed Ben he had taught her a new way of life. Everything around her had a new meaning she was more aware of the surroundings. She had a vacuum in life which only she could fill. She remembered Ben’s words of helping other and having a new meaning to life. Help others and move on.
Ben came into her life for a reason. In the one year they spent together….Laila had learnt that you cannot give what you do not have. She had to heal her life, forgive and let go of her past life. She had to love & appreciate herself in order to love and appreciate others. She had to have the courage of letting others in her life even if it meant that she would get hurt. Even if she did get hurt she should forgive herself and the other person and go on in life. Ben had taught her a beautiful lesson in life without preaching or talking about it, he simply showed her by example. Yes she missed him but now she was a happier person and continued all the activities that they did together. She expanded her friends circle, community service was her prime focus. She also was always on the lookout to help someone. She had to empty herself before she let anyone in…She had finally let her guards down, all walls were broken. She was willing to give life a second chance. Ben taught her that one can live life alone with nothing to live for but she could enjoy life by sharing it with others. It’s easier to go through lives ups and downs when you have people to share them with….You have to be independent enough but not isolate yourself with the word and everything around it. Laila now lives life to the fullest enjoying everything that it has to offer.