Outside, the ice cream man’s jingle echoed in the gali. I rushed to my dada’s dawakhana, where he was usually found during that time of the day. Sat on his prayer table, with the Quran outstretched in front of him, he recited the verses as the sun from the window next to him exaggerated each and every mark on his face. His little mole that sat amidst his brows stood out, his wrinkles looked more prominent and his grey hair exhibited a tinge of gold in the warm afternoon sun. When he saw me, he smiled, stretching his withered skin. He knew what I wanted.
I went and stood next to him as he opened the drawer of his prayer table, revealing its contents. Neatly placed in his drawer was a white, cleaned and ironed rumaal, a grey tasbeeh made of marbled beads, a little bottle of chooran, a bottle containing dried date seeds which he would sometimes use as an alternative to a tasbeeh, and lastly, the object of my interest rested on the far right hand corner of the drawer, a black leather wallet, now worn from the edges. He pulled out a crisp ten rupee note from the battered wallet and handed it to me.
I rushed outside where the gali was swarmed with children, running around in excitement, towards the ice cream man. In exchange for my ten rupee note, I received an orange icelolly along with change, a copper 1 rupee coin, rusted and dirty, and a silver, slightly bigger 2 rupee coin. I tore the wrapper and lunged at the icelolly with my tongue, and just then, the corner of my eye caught Azam Uncle approaching towards me.
“Is Hakeem Sahab home, betay?” he asked
I nodded in response. A few minutes later, he came out of the house, carrying the same khaki paper bag I saw numerous people leave with after visiting my dada.
“What happened to Azam Uncle?” I inquired from my dada.
“Azam had a headache so I gave him some medicine. He’ll be okay.” he assured me.
The following night Ashraf uncle came with a backache, Sharfu chacha’s knee was making a weird noise, Asia baaji was having stomach pains and Mithu had fallen down while playing kho in the gali. People came and went with complaints, a little pain here, some there. Some had fever, some were recommended by my dada to another doctor. Most were satisfied with their everyday cures of minute inconveniences and swore by my dada’s concoctions. People left with puriya’s praising my dada’s humble demeanor and his willingness to help everyone in the muhalla free of charge. Dada’s miniscule expenses were covered by my father, who had dedicated a sum from his monthly salary to dada’s practice.
“HAKEEM SAHAB!” Mithu’s father had rushed in one day, calling out for my dada, deeply concerned.
“Araam say, janaab, what happened? Bethiaye, please.” dada said trying to calm him down.
“Mithu came to you the other day with a scratch on her knee. She had fallen while playing kho.” he reminded him.
“Yes yes I remember. I gave her an ointment.” dada said.
“Well your ointment gave her rashes all over the body! What did you give my daughter?”
“Rashes…what sort of rashes?”
“Little tiny bumps all over her body! Her itching won’t stop!”
“Bring her to me, I’ll see what it is. Pareshani ki baat nai.”
He stomped out in anger, mumbling something about dada making her daughter sick and then telling him to calm down. He came back with Mithu, her body covered in small red spots, just as he had described, just as mine had been that past summer. I recognized them as chickenpox before my dada gave his diagnosis.
“Don’t worry, this is just a case of chickenpox, my Ali had them last summer. Take her to the clinic in Main Town, I know it’s far away but she’ll be treated well there. She’ll be fine in a couple days.”
Mithu’s father apologized and shook my dada’s hand.
“You see, I was just worried. She had just gotten that ointment so I assumed that’s where the rash came from.”
“I understand, miyaan. You never have to worry about my medicine. I work in collaboration with God himself.”
Mithu’s father, ashamed and apologetic for his words, walked back, holding Mithu by the arm.
I left my book that I had been doodling on, and walked myself into dada’s dawakhana. The usual whiff hit me, a sweet medicinal scent filling up the room.
“What did you mean that you work with God himself, dada?”
He smiled at me.
“Can you keep a secret Ali?”
I nodded in response.
He walked me to his medicine cabinet. Piles of bottles, jars and boxes filled the shelves, some labelled “headache” some “stomachache.” Thicker ointments were placed in jars, while syrups and various powders were put and labeled in bottles. He pointed to the one labelled “headache.”
“Remember when I gave you this one for your headache?”
“Yes, it tasted like sugar.”
He let out a small laugh before answering, “That’s because it is sugar.”
He must have caught the confusion on my face because he began to explain further, going from jar to bottle, pointing out the purpose of each one to me.
“This one is powdered sugar mixed with peppermint oil, for headaches. This one is a rice flour substitute for people who can’t take sugar. This one is just kava with some cinnamon in it, this one is a turmeric ointment with aloe vera and honey, the one I gave to Mithu.”
“So you never give anyone actual medicine?”
“I tell them that it’s medicine, but it is their own body’s willingness to heal itself, which is why they respond to just sugar or flour, thinking it’s medicine. That, and my constant pleas to God to help me, help these people. If I think it’s something more serious, I tell them to go to the clinic. I never want any harm for these people. They believe my medicines bring shifaa to them. Their faith in me works better than the medicine itself.”
“But what if god stops helping you?”
“As long as I have faith, I’ll have his help.”
Rabia Malik is a writer from Lahore, Pakistan. She is currently pursuing her Bachelors in Liberal Arts. She writes around themes of tradition, culture and nostalgia and is particularly interested in capturing the experiences of Pakistani women through her writing. Her work appears in Fahmidan Journal.