An Illusionary Man – A Short Story by Hamnah Muhammad:
During the mid-day, when the sun was flaming right at the top of his head, he was pulling his legs with great effort through the sinking sand of a desert spread vastly. Reddish and orange-coloured dunes, beyond dunes, loneliness and burning silence–that was all he could see and feel in his surroundings. He was gasping, his heart pounding and beads of sweat dripping from his forehead. His thin linen shirt was drenched with sweat.
Every progressing step was a massive struggle in itself, but the spark in his shiny eyes depicted the reason, the driving force for the continuation of his journey. There was a ray of hope in his twinkling eyes. His mind was busy untangling his perplexing thoughts. “Yes, when I will reach there, all my struggles would be rewarded, my pains would vanish, it would solely be my day of triumph…!” He was murmuring to himself while keeping his eyes on a water stream, hundred miles far from his sight.
But the poor, older man never knew that was merely an illusion and nothing else.
In the dire need of water, When he reached there, the reality of the water stream unveiled–that was a Mirage..! He fell down with his knees bent over the bed of sand, his face up towards the sky, crying as hard as he could, bursting out his lungs.
In that intense moment of grief, he urged for few drops of water. His howl pierced through the vastness of the sky. Within few seconds of his cry, a dark blanket of clouds covered the sky. It rained heavily. Tiny drops of rain seeped in his mouth, tranquillising his soul. He felt like this was his first and last desire in life.
He was lost in the pleasure of sudden meteorological change, and all his pains were mixed with the smell of rain. He couldn’t recall the reminiscence of his agony and how the ‘merciful nature’ pulled him out of that pain. Undoubtedly, he was ungrateful.
Far behind the dunes, An Illusionary Man could be seen like an ant walking tenaciously.
As the distance between the older man and that wayfarer reduced, the older man could see a man heading towards him. He was a young man in his late thirties. His face was a reflection of the regal lifestyle he has had, but his eyes were telling an untold story of grief and melancholy in his heart. The older man could penetrate his eyes as he reached right in front of him.
“Who are you?” the old man inquired.
“I’m a lost soul; my quest is of myself..”
What s your name, young man?” the old man interrupted.
“My name is Momin”, the young man replied.
“Would you like to tell me more about your quest?”
“But why would you like to know?” Momin said with hesitation.
“I may help you in your quest.” Momin looked at the vague facial expression of the old man and then mumbled to himself, “from where should I..”
At last, he decided to open up:
“When I..I…was in my childhood, my perception about life and this world was highly fantasising. I used to think this world was like a garden where I could pick any flower of my choice and any fruit that I wanted. But, yes, perceptions do change.
As I grew older, I realised that I was living in a simulated idea of mine. Fruits of respect, dignity and justice were produced only for those who can afford it while they were bruising the flowers of love, sacrifice and modesty. I found people around me running out of fear of being left behind. After that, I never looked back.
I ran and ran to achieve “the best” of everything—the best home at the best location with the best car. I became the most renowned person. People around me believed in recognition without accomplishment, so did I. I was surrounded by people who adored pretty faces than beautiful souls, praised the high ranks rather than respecting humanity. Undoubtedly, they were worshipping their needs associated with those lofty ranks.
A person with no fame, recognition or accomplishment was not regarded just for being a human. Maybe being human is not an admirable thing. You have to make yourself ‘be’ to gain self-esteem. So, I also ran in an unplanned race to get ‘approval’ of my ‘existence’ and my ‘being’ from society.
Regardless of all that, one thing that perturbed my mind was that I tried to conversate with myself; I was entrapped in absurd anguish.
I asked myself many times, do I need this approval? Then where does the essence of me lies? Despite all my wealth and recognition, I felt a void in my soul. I couldn’t confront myself; each night was havoc, a nightmare for me. I tried to escape from it many times but failed. I felt like there is everything, but there is nothing. So, the only option was that I had to leave that place and go where nobody could recognise me and honour me for my designation” The old man sighed and then smiled. “ Do you know, you and I are kindred souls?”
Momin, who was lingering his fingers through the sand, shook his head with the jerk of astonishment, “Kindred, how?”
“Yes, kindred souls! Though you lived among a crowd of people, and I wandered all my life through these deserts. However, your every desire resembles each mirage I saw during the voyage in the desert. Every time I got deceived by its illusion. After crossing one dune, the next was ready to be chased. I ran after every mirage with a hope that this time it might be a water stream, but every time, it was merely a sand bed.
This thing only exhausted me and injured my soul and did no good to me. Your desire to be the best at everything was like a mirage I used to chase, You kept on chasing dunes of avarice one after the other, but still, you are empty-handed with a void in your soul.”
The old man put his hand on the heart of Momin and said:
“You know what, the problem lies here, you have grown physically, but your soul is still in the process of development. Your soul is in turmoil, entrapped, affrighted inside your heart because you never fed it with love and affection. You have always criticised and overbore its voice to pursue your evil desires. You never looked into your heart and began running in that undestined race, and now you are in that phase of life that you have started questioning your identity; you have lost the ‘real’ you.
All that you need is to look deep into your heart and find ‘oneness’ in it. Every man is born with a unique oneness of his own, which leads him to the ‘ultimate oneness’. All of us have to find that ‘oneness’ of our own in this world. Without it, our souls will remain restless and perturbed until we reach that oneness. Every evening you have to make yourself stand in front of yourself for self-accountability and ask yourself, “Did every act and speech leads you towards the oneness or not.”
Also, always remember that your quest shouldn’t be for recognition; its sole purpose should be to reach “the ultimate oneness”. One day this quest of oneness will enlighten your soul-it will be a light in the darkness of your life. It will heal your soul.” Then, the older man took up some sand in his hand and let it slip swiftly from his fist. He said to Momin, Can you see these grains of sand?’
An Illusionary Man said, “Yes! My life span was like this swiftly moving sand from my hand. It disappeared within a blink of an eye, and I was so helpless to stop it.”
The older man’s face became pale due to unknown fear. He continued, I don’t want you to waste your moments of life purposeless like me chasing the desires out of avarice. Your life will also slip away just like mine, and your soul will remain in this state of anguish if you don’t seek your inner self, the absolute you-the ultimate oneness.” “Go and seek the real you!”
The older man’s words rejuvenated Momin; he danced in a state of ecstasy just like a freed bird who got his freedom from the cage. He left with a lot of gratitude in his eyes for the older man. He had found the answers to his questions; He returned home with renewed spirits.
As he left, the sun hid its face far behind the dunes; the day was declining. The older man laid down with closed eyes on the sand bed, with muddling thoughts of affirmations and negations in his mind, to find his soul rest in peace…!
In between the dunes of the vastly spread desert, one found his authentic self while the other lost himself– Ahh, An Illusionary Man, An Illusionary Man