Not very long ago, there lived an old man by the sea. Every day, he would rise early and head to The Healers’ Home; he would stay there for hours and tend to the poor fishermen, holding their rough hands – memoirs of a life lived hard – listening to their stories with compassion in his eyes, empathy in his heart, and magic in his hands, and he would cure them of all worldly ailments and soothe their distressed souls just a little. And the fishermen would go back home to their wives and tell them what a great healer the old man was and then the next day, they would leave their biggest and best catch at his doorstep. Because the old man was truly their only friend.
This old man loved painting. He would paint the sea, the corals, the fishermen, the sunset, the stars, the sunrise – every stroke of his brush narrated a different story, every colour that he spilt on the canvas magnified a different emotion. And they loved his paintings. They were a mystic collection of the atoms that spun him, and his story was one of its kind.
One day, as he sat on the roof of his impeccable cottage furnished with taste and adorned with loyalty, he pondered over the lyrics of the song playing on the radio.
“Myn pul do pul ka shair houn / pul do pul meri kahani hai / pul do pul meri husti hai / pul do pul meri jawani hai.. “
“Strange, no?” she was gentle with her words.
“What?” the old man liked her presence – it was startling and sweet.
“Life, us, this.” She had aged gracefully.
“Very, I’d say,” he studied her, wondering if this was the universe or just an atom.
“Tell me, if it wasn’t for the Healers’ Home, would we be here? Standing under the canopy of black, stitching the stars, signing unspoken bonds, understanding the sadness of the past, daring the joys of future?” she whispered, overwhelming him with an old, foreign feel.
“No. This is another reason why I’m proud of it.” he whispered back.
“And what’s the other reason?”
“The fishermen’s ship,” he smiled with the contentment of sharing a secret.
“How’d you know?”
“I may not be a pro like you, but I’m not a kid, you know.” She was comfortable.
“All kids say that!” he said trying not to smile.
“You’re an incorrigible tease!”
“Haha! I’m sorry.”
She nudged him with the end of her glasses.
“I’m not complaining.” That smile was pure.
“Good.” He was slowly rubbing his knees.
“It’s been so many years and you still call me that?”
“You’re the evil magic who calls an old woman a kid..” she knew that age had nothing to do with the banter that had been their’s and that they both liked snuggling into.
“When I was young, I was told I’m a dangerous painter,” he was trying to memorise the Orion woven by Philotes, steadily avoiding her knowing gaze, knowing that she was doing the same.
“And I was a brave painter…” she had a far away look on her face that reminded him of a brave angel.
“That’s the best thing about you. You overcome your fears,” he whispered.
She didn’t reply. She didn’t have to.
“You know these fishermen? Each one has their own story and every time I shake hands with them or hug them, I wonder why I am here and why they are there and that life is unfair. But then I look back and I’m glad of all that I was – the journeys I’ve undertaken, the people I’ve met – and I know that I wouldn’t have greyed this hair over anything else,” nostalgia was making his eyes misty.
“I know. And I wonder who I am if you are magic.”
And he knew that she wouldn’t have said it if she didn’t want to hear it because he also knew that she understood; she understood why he was an old man and why he lived by the sea and why colours drove him to Rumi and why it was so important to seek God.
“Look there!” she pointed towards the sky. It was beautiful.
The sky was lit with fireworks. Red, blue, yellow lights were being showered across the stars and the crescent of the moon was smiling down at the living mysteries and it was just gorgeous. He could read her thoughts, or so he thought. And she looked towards him and he remembered that while the first rain may be special, it was the last one that mixed with the stardust, and all that was in between were the protons and the neutrons that made their nucleus.
He was going to paint again and answer the avoidable.
He looked up at the painting that He had painted and then he looked down at the painting that He had painted and he looked beside him and realised that His paintings were the best, and suddenly, he was glad – he was glad for the pearls of patience and the language of Sufism.
And he was the Old Man by The Sea.