Like Most People – a short story

Nov 2014

Saturday Night

Like most people, Hakim Hakimullah’s mind had the unfortunate habit of releasing a floodgate of worries right as he lay his head on his pillow each night. Like most people, Hakim would reluctantly bulldoze his way through these anxious thoughts, disposing of some through denial, others through belligerent optimism (which is often, but not always, the same thing). Any problems left after all this he would transfer unto God’s court, like most people would do.

Like most people, Hakim’s anxious thoughts revolved largely around his job, and specifically around his worries about how a downturn in his employment could derail the future for his family, but like most people, these worries were largely idealised. What Hakim really worried about (like most people) was the sense of self-worth his job provided, and the fear of having none left if he were to lose his job. A stagnant career, diminishing prospects, redundant responsibilities – these concerns animated Hakim’s anxiety, like they do for most people.

So here was Hakim, lying on his charpai, unable to sleep since he lay down five hours ago. Hakim knew he had to start getting ready for work in the next fifteen minutes, even though he had no energy left inside of him. The whole night had been spent worrying about what his immediate supervisor, a burly fellow named Baitullah, was thinking of him these days.

For what was probably the one hundred and thirty fourth time that night, Hakim recounted the entire cycle once more inside his head. He had been one of the star students at his seminary and had been head-hunted by his current employers even before he graduated. In their interview – well, meeting-to-announce-job-offer, really – they had made special mention of how impressed they were with his people skills, an obvious hint that they saw a future for him in upper management.

Employees’ Annual Picnic, 2007

Hakim recalled with a swell of nostalgia how limitlessly possible those days used to feel. Their company was going places, it had international recognition, and even though he was just an entry-level employee at one of their larger regional subsidiaries, he still felt a pulsating sense of idealism pervaded everything they did. More importantly, he genuinely admired… actually, and Hakim was not ashamed to say this, he loved his branch manager; a philosophical, genial man called Ehsan Khalid who insisted everyone call him Sajna. Sajna loved to come over to Hakim and ask him for advice on little matters, a gesture which Hakim realised meant more than anything even his father had ever done for him.

Like most people, Hakim had then used the good fortune in his career to plan for his personal future. He married one of his younger cousins, built a separate annex for them in his father’s house, and soon became the father of two girls. As he lay in bed this night, Hakim could physically feel the taste in his mouth turning bitter as he remembered how he gotten up for Fajr one spring morning many years ago and thought if life could get any better.

Well it certainly got worse.

First there was the workplace accident which killed Sajna. Hakim felt as if he had lost not just a father, or even a mentor, but the axis of his world. He had feared that the office-politics that had been held at bay due to Sajna’s dexterous diplomacy would now explode and engulf them all. He was right. The new boss immediately decided on who he liked and who he didn’t, and Hakim fell in the latter camp.

At first, it looked like Baitullah would fire Hakim, but Sajna had trained Hakim for working in the IED Division, and Baitullah transferred him there. What was worse, Baitullah pretended as if this was some huge favour he was bestowing. Hakim was a humble man who sought to quell his own ego, but he couldn’t help shivering with shame when his thoughts went back to that day when Baitullah assembled the whole office and announced Hakim as the Manager of the IED Division – a division of which he was also the sole member.

Like with most people suffering from such a humiliating incident, Hakim grew paranoid and withdrawn, constantly feeling like people were plotting against him. As he lay in the charpai, even he realised that the people skills he was famous for had deserted him, and that he had no friends, forget allies, left at work. Ultimately, because Hakim (like most people) drew most of the idea of who he was from what he did, this realisation had crushed him.

Eventually, Hakim put his hand under his pillow and fished out his mobile phone. His eyes took a few seconds to adjust to the neon-yellow screen, and he realised that he was already running late. He was about to groan when the thought came to him again, perhaps because he was holding the phone.

The thought that struck Hakim was this – there was an international competitor of their firm which had been particularly aggressive in moving into his company’s operations. They had been secretly advertising huge cash rewards for inside information, and many of Hakim’s colleagues had discussed the rumours amongst themselves. Unlike most of these people, Hakim had never even considered the possibility of selling out the company for his own good.

But as he realised for the one hundred and thirty fifth time that night, what good was the company doing for him? I mean, half of Hakim’s mind argued, what would most people do in my situation? Hakim convinced the other half of his mind, and typed out his office’s coordinates into an SMS, which he then sent. Like most people, Hakim realised that the only one who could help him was himself. 10440856_10154237533100322_6148667988200988478_n First two images via this video. Last image was made by one of my students, Anisa Mahroof, at NCA Rawalpindi.

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