A Christian, a Muslim, and an Atheist went out for dinner | Part 3 (The Pilgrim’s Feast)

( Continued from Part 2 )

February 2015

Islamabad, Pakistan

I clutched my neck scarf for the fifteenth time and looked around awkwardly at this place I had never before ventured to; a fancy new restaurant. Adorned in a bright coloured sweater striking against my off-white kurta, I felt rather awkward and lost, even though my folks and siblings were right beside me. This is it. Four years have gone by, and today is finally it.

It was the strange feeling that settles in our heart’s core when we meet an old friend after an entirety. I knew my friend for the kind human being that she was when we met in the sweet summers of 2011. But we all do evolve and grow with time; she would seize to be the character from my memories; the air around her would feel strange.

My thoughts kept mingling as we searched for her table. The manager asks us to ascend upstairs.

“Oh hi!” I heard a familiar voice sing. There she was: dressed up in a smart black shirt and pants with a coloured scarf hugging her shoulders, the friend I hadn’t met for four years stood up almost immediately as she saw us ascending the stairs to where she was. As if almost by bonds of kinship, we raced to Cynthie Ritchie and hugged for a good few minutes.

It was like meeting a long-lost sister; you met her once on a distant island and were sure your paths would never cross. It felt bittersweet. But here you were again; embracing each other wholeheartedly. It felt almost impossible, yet magically, the events unfolded and here I was, meeting her again; I felt like I was walking on wonder.

Alongside her, was Mister Sarwar and his crewman. Anyhow, we take our seats on the dinner table and open our mouths which only shut some three hours later. “Hasaan, wow you’ve grown up!” Cynthia smiled sweetly,”Oh wait! Is it Hasaan or is it Hassan?” she continued. “HAS-SUN” laughed my younger brother.

We talked about everything: from sharing random beautiful moments in Skardu and Sri Lanka, to recalling golden memories of 2011; talking about our childhoods, and touching moments in our lives, interfaith and cultural harmony, and random embarrassing stories and jokes! Not to forget voicing what we all share in common; Mother Mary/Maryam and Prophet Abraham. Among all moments of magic, there was one that stood out the most: it was when Cynthia asked about the Muslim pilgrimage, Umrah.

“I have seen that your family has visited the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah; is it an annual trip around a fixed time? Is it obligatory?” she inquired with sincere curiosity.

“The pilgrimage that happens annually, is Hajj. It is obligatory for financially and otherwise stable Muslims once in their lifetime. However, the trip you are referring to is Umrah. It can be performed any time of the year, and is not obligatory,” I explain carefully.

“I would love to go on Umrah, the spiritual journey, with your family if you make another trip!” she joyously exclaimed. I felt my heart melt almost immediately; here was a soul so divinely pure, that it continued its life long journey of learning and testing the self-imposed boundaries of the world.

The conversation continued and we discussed Abraham, and other figures common to both Christianity and Islam.

With Mister Sarwar and the crew documenting “Emerging Face of Pakistan” rather bored as we chatted on, the clock soon struck eleven and now was time to leave.

With the desi style of chatting all the way back to our cars, we stopped shortly as Cynthia and Dr Ehsen greeted mister Pervaiz Khattak of KP government, before finally exiting with many more hugs.

It was on this trip that Cynthia learned Ezza, was in fact, pronounced Izzah. 

“I cannot wait to host her at Abbottabad this week!” exclaimed mum joyously as we left behind the restaurant and our ever loving hosts, Cynthia and Sarwar.
To be continued…



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Vocabulary

Kurta: a tunic/ shirt usually with embroidery or block printing. It is normally around knee length.

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