Moments of Epiphany and Delight

(Quarter of Quarantine)

Her parents were decent farmers, and they owned a barn by the end of their town. The town where Jasmine lived was far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was called Ashville. Although she had never been to the city, she was intrigued and curious by the way they lived. Jasmine never went to school. The reason why it was because there was no school in the town where she lived. And her parents could not afford to send her to the city. By the time she turned fifteen, Jasmine had started to help her parents in the barn. Since Ashville was a town by the hills, many people came here to sightseeing the beauty mountains especially during the months of winter when the mountains got snowcapped. Jasmine would watch families celebrate their wedding and birthday parties
here too. She would see girls dressed up in beautiful white gowns decorated with linens of gold, red or black. Seeing all of this, Jasmine had a feeling of emptiness in her life. Like she was missing something, and nothing seemed to make sense at all.

It was a hot summer day of May when a book fair had been arranged in the
town of Ashville. Jasmine was not interested in it because of two reasons.
First of all, she did not know how to read. The second reason was that she
was not interested in books at all. The entire field was decorated in tables,
pictures of authors, and stands for free food. Jasmine was not planning on
visiting the book fair, but upon seeing the free food being distributed, she
changed her mind. The book fair was about to go on for eight days. Jasmine’s
parents were hired to take care of a few things, too, such as setting the tables
and giving a few people a place to stay in their houses. As the book fair
began, a crowd started to form on the court, and people dressed in expensive
clothes from head to toe roamed throughout the festival. Writers and
philosophists from all over the country sat on their tables, signing books for
their admirers and avid readers. Somehow, Jasmine felt out of place. Like she
did not belong here. A group of girls standing beside her stared at her from
head to toe and giggled to themselves, whispering something in each others’
ears. Jasmine saw them, and her face turned crimson red.

The book fair would go on from 8 a.m till 5 p.m. The current time was just
2 p.m and Jasmine was already getting tired from walking. She noticed an
empty seat on an empty table, and she decided to sit on it.

“Jasmine, you don’t belong here,” she whispered to herself. Jasmine was not
surprised. She was used to the stares of everyone ever since she was young. It
was because of the clothes that she wore and the way her hair was organized.
Jasmine looked messy and had dust residue on her hands. Getting up from
the chair, Jasmine decided to explore the fair some more before leaving for
home. Clouds were forming in the sky as she gazed up at the sky. It would
rain tonight. Jasmine came across a stall that had a book with an eye-
appealing cover. She took the book in her hand and felt the exterior. It felt
nice in her hands. Opening the book, she touched the pages too. They felt
soft. But the words written on them she could not understand. Staring blankly
into the book, tears started forming in her eyes. Afraid someone might see
her, she kept the book back at the table and wiped her tears. As soon as she
was about to turn around, an old man who looked to be in his mid-seventies
stood in front of the table.

“Hello. Would you like a book?” He asked.

Jasmine hesitated and replied, “I do not have the money.”

He threw his head back and laughed, “It is for free.”

Jasmine smiled a little, “Oh.”

He signed the book and gave it to her before saying, “I do not need money. I
have written this book not to become rich but to educate people.”

Jasmine gazed sadly at the book he had given to her that was named “Hollow
pursuits.”

He noticed the look on her face and asked: “Is everything okay?”

“Yes,” Jasmine smiled at him.

“By the way, my name is Bilal Khan. And you are?”

“I am Jasmine.”

“Nice name.”

“Thank you, sir. So is yours.”

“Thanks, I guess” Bilal chuckled

“What is this book about?” Jasmine asked him.

“As written on the cover, it is a book about love and loss. Heartache and
moving on. It is less like a novel but more like a philosophical book.”

Jasmine stared at the cover without saying anything. Bilal waited for a
response.

Finally, she replied, “I do not know how to read.”

Bilal looked at her, surprised, and said: “I did not know.”

“It’s okay. I should go back to my house. It was lovely meeting you.” Jasmine
smiled and waved goodbye. He was a new friend she had made in a long
time.

When Jasmine reached her house, and it was time for her family to welcome
the guests, she was delighted to see that Bilal Khan was staying at their
home. Jasmine told her parents about how she met him at the fair, and he
gave her his book too. They were beyond delighted to hear that but were soon
filled with disappointment because they knew their daughter did not know
how to read. When the clock struck midnight, and all of the guests were fast
asleep, Jasmine lit a candle in her room so she could touch and feel the
words written by the mysterious writer she met at the book fair. She
contacted the pages of the book and could feel their warmth on her fingers.
Jasmine could not read. But sitting in the corner of her room by the
candlelight, she could feel them. Her heart filled with grief as she turned
every page until the last one. The words inscribed seemed so strange to her,
yet, so familiar. Tears fell from her eyes and unto the pages of the novel.
Jasmine closed the book and kept it under her pillow. Outside the room, she
could hear footsteps. When she got out, she saw Bilal Khan walking from the
bathroom and into his room. Jasmine closed the door of her room quietly and
went to him.

“Hello sir” he was surprised to see her.

“Hello, Kid. What are you doing here? Aren’t you asleep?”

“No, I couldn’t fall asleep.”

“I see. Well, c’mon in my room if you’d like,” and Jasmine followed him into
his room.

Bilal’s suitcase was kept safely at his bedside. And there was a stack of books
beside his bed written by various writers.

“I tried reading your book, sir. But I couldn’t,” Jasmine said. Bilal stared at
her with a look of empathy in her eyes and did not say anything.

After a few moments of silence, she finally said, “May I ask you what this
book is about? What inspired the title “Hallow pursuits”?

Bilal took out a pipe from the pockets of his trousers and lit it up, putting it to
his mouth, he inhaled in the smoke before letting it out. Jasmine gazed at the
smoke in the room, slowly fading away. He took a deep sigh and said, “You
know Jasmine, I have lived for sixty-three years. And in these sixty years that
I have lived, the only definition of Life that I understood was that everything
is temporary. Just like the smoke from this pipe, everything shall wither
away. Once when I was young and free like you, I used to think that I could
conquer the world. I had a passionate soul and a heart that was filled with
plenty of love to give. One of the major mistakes that I did was to believe that
just by being a good person, I would be happy. The world doesn’t work like
that. There are times when we lie to ourselves when we are too afraid to
confront the truth. There are times when we wonder if God put us in this
world just for the sake of living life ordinarily. And there are times when,
deep down, we know that something or someone is not right for us, yet we lie
to ourselves that they are. The human being is so afraid of facing the truth.
Because reality hurts. And it’s only with the passing years of seasons that we
do truly realize that reality is a tragedy. It is not as beautiful as the movies
portray it, nor is it as hopeful as the novelists visualize it. Human beings tend
to daydream a lot. Every success story starts with a dream. But if dreaming is
all a person will do, he will watch his life pass by. And it’s not only until
years later that he would realize that he lived his life waiting for the right
moment to be happy without knowing that the happiness he searched for was
right in front of him all along. Often, hope betrays. Some dreams are
unachievable and some people are unattainable. In this world, not everyone
gets to taste that sweetness of love. This is where I got inspired for the title of
my book, hallow pursuits. We spend our lives chasing the temporary things
that are bound to wither away, Without focusing on our present, we worry
about the inevitable future. But we don’t realize that perhaps we wouldn’t
even be alive tomorrow. Perhaps, we would be one of those people who, in
the end, remain just as stories.”

When he looked back up at Jasmine, he realized that she was crying.

In between sobs, she asked, “Sir, I wish I could read.”

“What’s stopping you, dear?” He asked

“I am twenty years old. At my age, most girls find potential suitors and get
married. At this age, am I supposed to start reading?”
She stared at him,
waiting for an answer.

“Yes, you can. There is no age restriction for getting an education, for
learning, or for making yourself a better person.”

“How will I learn? I can’t go to school.”

“I will help you” Bilal Khan replied

“How?”

“My dear, I am an old person. I have no family, neither do I have anywhere
to go. All I have is an apartment and a cat that is too old to walk. I can spend
some months in this part of the country by waking up each day with a view of
breathtakingly beautiful mountains.”

Jasmine did not know what to say. She wiped her tears and got up from the
chair and said, “Thank you,” and he smiled back “your lesson starts
tomorrow.”

And it was at that moment Jasmine realized, life may have moments of pain,
but there are moments of joy as well. Every once in a while, something
happens, and your ordinary life becomes a little more exciting. Something
happens, and the life you once thought was boring becomes magical. Every
once in a while, someone walks into your life, and they teach you the
meanings of love, friendship, loss, heartache, betrayal, or envy. These days
may be painful, but they won’t stay this way forever. If the good times have
passed away, so will the bad ones too. We expect our life to be something,
and it turns out entirely different than expected. All of those things that have
happened to Jasmine, she never would have predicted it. And now, she was
happy. She was content.

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