[Short Story: Autumn Days Are Gone]
Autumn Days Are Gone
Brown are the leaves of change, flying free in the open, dusty wind as they venture into the great unknown. Where the wind takes them, they will never know. Unforeseen were their destination and unforeseen were the circumstances. But what they do know is that this is the fate written to them and their kind since time immemorial.
Hailing from the mother that once nurtured them on her arms for three seasons, it was time for her to rest albeit rather hesitant. The barks of their mother can withstand the mightiest of blows but she can never withstand making the sacrifice of letting her children go.
What was once a bouquet of a vibrant hue of green is now segregated and as brown as the ground that shoulders her children.
Such is life personified.
If only men possess hues of such vibrancy. But no, men possess hues of the entire spectrum. You never know which ends of the spectrum they might manifest.
Although I do not sway with the wind except in cases of a typhoon and euphoria, I am apt to be swayed by irrational considerations. And I am a man of action; I execute what has been set in mind. Four hours have I been sitting under the same sycamore, unmoved with no sense of time. I was determined to conjure a piece of writing and needed to find the perfect place to settle and put my mind at ease. Al-Azhar Park sprung to mind. The fields are wide and luscious with an attractive array of botanical life forms, liberating pollens and inspirations. Given its uphill geography, the chilly wind caresses those who set foot on it, for which I have clad myself in my trusty H&M jacket to shield against.
As I continue to sit, I have my eyes fixated on the leaves dancing harmoniously in the wind, making my mind dwell deeper and deeper into space. How can something detached from its primary source of life, basically dead, put on a display of such adroitness and grace? The acrobatic feats make a good spectacle to the eyes of the beholder. One of the leaves land on my crossed legs. Judging by its form, it is a typical species of Platanus occidentalis, native to this area. Even with a body so fragile, it still goes wherever the wind takes them, just like humans. No matter how strong we build ourselves to be, we are powerless in the face of time and fate.
No. That is the wrong analogical interpretation.
Even if we are powerless to alter our fate, we make the best out of whatever that comes our way, as depicted by how the leaves dance wherever the wind takes them. My fate happens to take me to Zagazig University of Egypt. I was reluctant from the start to leave the place where my parents’ embrace can reach me. But knowing I bear their hopes and dreams on my shoulders, I must leave.
Five years have passed and I am still learning to acquire a deeper understanding of what it means to be an independent adult. I thought I knew everything about life but with every passing year, I find myself learning more and more. They say if you have lived in Egypt, you can basically live anywhere else in the world. The struggles you face as a student living in Egypt are like no other and can only be understood by those in the same boat.
But even with such adversity, I still thank the Almighty. Without everything that I have went through, I would have still be in the cocoon that I am comfortable in, oblivious and never able to mature and sprout my wings to fly the skies and see life in its truest form.
“… That is such an awkward impromptu attempt on an analogy.” I thought to myself. I stopped my pen and scraped what was written.
“Having trouble writing?” said a familiar voice to my right.
“Oh, Maulana. Where have you been?” I asked as I tilted my head to face him.
Maulana is companionship embodied in human form. The epitome of good-natured amiability. His motives are pure and his actions are just. Everyone loves to be around him. He exudes nothing but positive energy in the air and most of it has permeated within me over the course of these few years.
“Went off to get some refreshments outside the park. I bought you a couple of tokmeyah sandwiches.”
He knows how much I love tokmeyah sandwiches and Egyptian cuisine in general. Especially when the tokmeyah came straight from the fryer and the ful is in perfect consistency.
“How generous of you. To what do I owe this honor?” I asked jokingly as he sits beside me.
“Nothing, really. Just wanted you to be fed. Thought it would help your hand write whatever it is you’re trying to write.” said Maulana as he looks at the scraped piece of paper I tore from my book.
“Do I strike you as someone who has to be babied all the time?” I tested, with a slight chuckle.
“Hey if you don’t want it, I can give it to the fishes.”
“I jest. Thanks man, I appreciate it.”
As we ate our sandwiches, the wind declined in velocity. My bangs stopped swaying and rested on my forehead. But the atmosphere remained chilly.
“Winter came early this year. I don’t think I’m ready to freeze in the shower every morning just yet.” I said, looking at the sky transitioning from a brilliant orange to a vivid purple. Dusk is nigh.
The dancing leaves settled on the ground. The very ground I have been sitting on for five hours now is getting colder. I turn to Maulana who has his eyes on the sky with a melancholic look on his face, giving me a sense that he is contemplating something serious.
“You know, I’m not good at literature. But if I were to describe us in an analogy, it would have to be the seasons we face all year round.” he said as he gulped down his first sandwich.
“What do you mean?” I asked as I took my pen out and began writing.
“Other than spring and autumn which are relatively easy on the skin, it would be harsh to go through the extremes of temperature during summer and winter alone. But when you have friends, you acquire this sudden courage within yourself.”
“You lost me.”
“Summer and winter are like the challenges we face living here. They are unpleasant. Vexing. They recur year by year. They seep through my bones and irk my nerves. But when I have friends to go through them with, I’m able to last and experience the beauty of spring and autumn. Humans individually are powerless, but if we join forces, we are able to achieve feats unimaginable.”
I nod in agreement. My friends are basically my family here. Whatever we go through, we go through together. They are always present during my ups and downs. If it were not for them, I would not have lasted this long living in this country. And now that the autumn days are coming an end, I need them now more than ever.
“And what about change?” Maulana asked out of the blue.
“What about change?”
“I’ve seen you make remarkable progress throughout the years. You’re no longer the snobby kid who only thinks about home all the time.”
I have to admit, I grow more and more fond of Egypt the longer I stay here. It feels like home even with everything it put me through.
It took me a few minutes of contemplation and flashbacks before I responded him.
“You know, even the late caliph, Omar bin Abdul Aziz was a very different man before his ascension to the throne. He was a dashing young man, fond of fashion and fragrance. But when he accepted the responsibilities of the Caliphate, he proved to be the most pious, able, far-sighted and responsible of all the Omayyad Emirs. He discarded his lavish lifestyle and adopted an extremely ascetic life.”
“So you’re saying change is possible no matter who you are.”
“Yes, and crucial. Imagine if you weren’t around and I stuck to myself all the time. I’d remain as the snot-nosed brat and wouldn’t last a change of season here.”
“You’re attributing your change on me?” Maulana asked, pointing at himself.
“Mostly, yes. The right type of friends make the right type of impact on oneself.”
“Wow, I’ve never felt this level of flattery before. I feel like I should buy you another sandwich for that.” he said as we giggled it off.
The Sun dissipated into the horizon, making way for the moon to shine its silver light on these grassy fields. The adhan began in the distance, melodious in tune and solemn in nature. Moments like this are what makes my stay in Egypt worth reminiscing when I grow old. We set off to oblige to the muezzin’s call for prayer.
Friends, resilience, determination, a strong desire to constantly learn and better ourselves. These are some of the things you need to last multiple years of studying in Egypt. And with only a year remaining, my time is coming to an end.
It is almost time for this brown leaf to stop dancing in the open wind and finally settle on the ground, making way for new leaves to take the stage.
And with that, I rest my pen.
A short partly-fictitious story by,
Lee Min Ho Zagazig.