Grandpa, what are you doing?" asked eight year old Saleem.
"Well, I was watching you," laughed the old man. "I was wondering what you're doing!"
"I'm trying to carve a boat from this bit of wood," remarked Saleem, "but it doesn't seem to be working out very well."
Saleem sat on the grass looking at the piece of wood, that appeared more like an elephant's head, than a boat.
"Would you like me to give it a try. Son?"
"Could you Grandpa?"
"Give it over here," said the old man with a smile.
Grandpa's shaky old hands were covered with little brown spots. His knuckles were still strong and round from years of hard work. In his younger days, he'd been a coal merchant and he and his wife had raised three sons into fine, successful men. His wife had died some years ago and so he'd come to live with his oldest son, who had his own dental clinic. Saleem was the only child.
He sat intrigued as his Grandpa carved the piece of wood into a fine little boat.
"There you go, Saleem. I don't know if it will float but we can try it out in the bathtub. What do you think?"
"I think it will be fine as long as mum doesn't see us."
Grandpa winked at Saleem. "Let's give it a try shall we?"
Grandpa stood on his rickety old legs and Saleem fetched his walking stick and held his arm as they crossed the lawn together and entered the house by the side door. Without anyone seeing, they quietly went into the bathroom and closed the door. Saleem filled the bath and Grandpa placed the boat on the water.
"Grandpa! It floats. Look! You did it!"
They pushed it to each other up and down the bath until there came a loud knocking at the bathroom door.
"Saleem are you in there? I've been looking for you everywhere," called out his mother.
"She's found us Grandpa," said Saleem with a disappointed look on his face.
"Never mind Saleem, you go and see what she wants. She's probably been worried about you." Saleem pulled out the plug and watched the water gurgle down the plughole.
"I'm coming Mum."
"What have you been doing all this time Saleem? I've been looking for you outside and everywhere," said Ranya in a stern tone of voice. Her hands were firmly placed on her hips and she scowled as she looked at the old man sitting on the edge of the bath.
"You people have been messing up my bathroom?"
"No Mum, we just wanted to try out my boat in the water."
"Anyway, run along and wash your hands for dinner."
Ranya gave one final hard, long look at Grandpa, then stomped away.
Grandpa looked down at his slippers. His crooked old toes made strange shapes and configurations under the woolen tops. He was old and he knew it. Soon, he probably wouldn't even be able to use the bathroom himself anymore and he didn't want to think what life would be like then. He snatched onto his independence at every chance, trying to make the best of it but age had already caught up and he was placed here, at the mercy of the woman of the house. His son didn't come home until late in the day and he never saw the hard, unkind looks or heard the sharp comments that emitted from the mouth of Ranya.
Grandpa heard the car pull up and smiled to himself, knowing his son Ahmed had at last returned home.
"Assalam alaikum, how's things Dad?" asked Ahmed. "What's news?" he asked again as they sat down at the table together.
Ranya brought the plates through and handed one to each person. They were brightly colored porcelain plates that she'd received as a wedding present. Grandpa reached out his shaky old hands and grasped the plate as best he could, but it slipped from his grip and fell into pieces on the floor.
"Of all the…" began Ranya.
Grandpa frowned and looked at the mess on the floor. Mashed potatoes, peas and gravy and a nice piece of chicken were splashed over the nice woolen rug that decorated the dining room floor.
"I'm ever so sorry," said Grandpa nervously, as he tried to get up.
"No Dad, don't worry. Accidents happen. I'll get a cloth." Ahmed got up smiling and continued to talk about his day at work, trying to break the tension that he could see forming around his wife's figure. He met Ranya in the kitchen.
"Your father is forever messing up this house Ahmed. I can't stand it."
"You're exaggerating Ranya, things like this don't happen everyday. I'll clean it up."
"What about my plate? Now the set's incomplete."
"I'll get you another one, don't worry," reassured Ahmed.
"Well, he's not getting another one of those plates," she said as she reached into the cupboard and took out a wooden bowl.
"He spent the whole afternoon carving out a boat for Saleem, instead of trying to do something to help around here, so if he likes wood so much, he can eat from this." And she threw it down on the kitchen table.
Ahmed looked at his wife. He saw in her, that day, a side he hadn't seen before and wasn't so sure he liked it. He looked at the wooden bowl and then at his wife and walked out of the kitchen carrying the dustpan and a damp cloth. Ranya served another lot of food onto the wooden bowl and put it in front of Grandpa.
"Yes, yes, I do believe that's better. I'm a bit clumsy sometimes," said the old man, half to himself and half out loud.
Saleem looked at the wooden bowl and started to eat his dinner but tears were forming in his eyes. He wasn't quite sure why he felt like that but he felt really sorry for Grandpa and knew he didn't mean to drop the plate.
The next day Saleem went into the garage and started working on another piece of wood. He was in there all day while Grandpa rested in bed. He wasn't feeling very well. Ahmed had a day off and had just finished weeding the flowerbeds and wanted to return the tools to the garage when he noticed Saleem working away.
"What are you doing son?" asked Ahmed in his kindly voice.
"I'm making something."
"What is it?" asked Ahmed, coming a little closer.
"Well, it's something for you."
"Really? I'd like to see it."
"Ok, I've just about finished. You can come and look."
Ahmed approached Saleem's work place and saw a rather large wooden bowl. He'd made it quite well and it was smooth and even.
"Good work son," commented Ahmed.
"But do you think I need such a thing."
"No, maybe not now. But I thought I'd keep it for you until you get old like Grandpa."
"And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attains old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honour." (Sura Al Isra' 17:23)