The Choice

 

Draft 1

Sand. It was a merciless creature, squirming into the smallest gaps, whipping holes into robes, weighing down the men who were foolish enough to go to the marketplace during Jumu’ah. There was no clink of coins, no hustle and bustle, no children weaving through, throwing their heads in merry laughter. Only the man, the wrinkled plum, was seated sedately amidst the beast which reared and tossed and clawed. He grasped his keffiyeh and wound it tighter around his head with brittle fingers. He had sat there, through incessant clamouring and days where if he laid down with sun-dried eyelids closed and allowed the beast to trample over him, he could hear his heartbeat, the rhythm of a feeble spirit trapped within a decaying shell.

In front of him were three objects: a sheepskin bag, tied with a cord of woven straw, bulging temptingly; a once-crimson bud, its petals withered, crumbling to the touch; and a pebble, smooth and elegantly rounded. He had lost count of the days he had waited, cross-legged, behind the items.
A beggar woman shuffled by. She was youthful, but lines of hardship and suffering mapped her face. She dragged her blistered feet to sit by the old man.

“What are those?”

The old man replied, “These are my three possessions. If you tell me the one you desire the most, I can offer you my wisdom.”

The woman pointed to the bag. “What can you say?”

“You assumed there was gold inside the bag; it is filled only with rocks. It is not unusual to desire wealth, alike a hungry man desiring food, but will gold satisfy you?”

“I believe so.”

“That is because you have never lived the life of the wealthy. Our hearts can be content with gold. But never for long.”

Draft 2

Sand. It was a merciless creature, squirming into the smallest gaps, whipping holes into robes, weighing down the men who were foolish enough to go to the marketplace during Jumu’ah. There was no clink of coins, no hustle and bustle, no children weaving through, throwing their heads in merry laughter. Only the man, the wrinkled plum, was seated sedately amidst the beast which reared and tossed and clawed. He grasped his keffiyeh and wound it tighter around his head with brittle fingers. He had sat there, through incessant clamouring and days where if he laid down with sun-dried eyelids closed and allowed the beast to trample over him, he could hear his heartbeat, the rhythm of a feeble spirit trapped within a decaying shell.

In front of him were three objects: a sheepskin bag, tied with a cord of woven straw, bulging temptingly; a once-crimson bud, its petals withered, crumbling to the touch; and a pebble, smooth and elegantly rounded. He had lost count of the days he had waited, cross-legged, behind the items.

A boy sprinted by, and paused, curious. He had escaped from the tedium of the mosque. He squatted in front of the objects.

“What’re those, Grandpa?”

The old man replied, “These are my three possessions. If you tell me the one you desire the most, I can offer you my wisdom.”

The boy hesitated, then poked the flower. A petal disintegrated into powder.

The old man smiled. “You are young, and have a pure heart. Gold has not claimed you as a victim yet. You appreciate the beauty in all, even if there is no beauty to be seen with your eyes.”

“But you’re ugly.”

The old man chuckled. “Learn to be wise and humble. And respect your elders.”

Draft 3

Sand. It was a merciless creature, squirming into the smallest gaps, whipping holes into robes, weighing down the men who were foolish enough to go to the marketplace during Jumu’ah. There was no clink of coins, no hustle and bustle, no children weaving through, throwing their heads in merry laughter. Only the man, the wrinkled plum, was seated sedately amidst the beast which reared and tossed and clawed. He had sat there, through incessant clamouring and days where if he laid down with sun-dried eyelids closed and allowed the beast to trample over him, he could hear his heartbeat, the rhythm of a feeble spirit trapped within a decaying shell.

In front of him were three objects: a sheepskin bag, tied with a cord of woven straw, bulging temptingly; a once-crimson bud, its petals withered, crumbling to the touch; and a pebble, smooth and elegantly rounded. He had lost count of the days he had waited, cross-legged, behind the items.

A man approached him, and sat down silently. He wore a simple robe and was unshaven.

The old man said, “These are my three possessions. If you tell me the one you desire the most, I can offer you my wisdom.”

He pointed to the pebble. The old man’s eyebrows lifted, surprised.

“Why that one?”

His voice was clear and mellow. “I have fallen from wealth; I cannot see beauty in our kind. I once had everything I wanted; now I am alone and without a purpose. I am as insignificant as this pebble; we are but grains of sand beneath the sun.”

The old man sighed and gazed towards the heavens, content. “Finally, there is one who understands. My journey is complete. My life has not been in vain.”

He closed his eyes and never opened them again.