Jack In The Box—Is That You!

Posted on October 24, 2007
Filed Under >Pervaiz Munir Alvi
26 Comments
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Pervaiz Munir Alvi

Our sixth grade teacher meant business when on the very first day of the school he informed us that no talking or horsing around would be allowed in the classroom. To further enforce the discipline he also declared that no one will be allowed to sit next to his friends but in the order of his assigned role number. “Not fair”, we cried. I was particularly upset because I got to sit behind this sissy little thing named Iqbal no body wanted to be friends with. Iqbal was a very shy and quiet boy and it soon became obvious to all of us that he could be easily harassed and picked upon. Class bullies will push him around while the rest of us will tease him mercilessly. Sitting behind him at first grudgingly I must add, I also discovered that when poked in his side he would jump up like a jack-in-the-box. Not that I liked him, but for that quality of his alone I started calling him ‘Jack in the Box’, a name that he did not seem to mind.

The year passed very quickly. Our seventh grade classroom was relatively large and airy and being on the second floor, we could fly paper planes on to the court yard below. But one thing was missing; Iqbal did not return to the school that year. In the beginning we all noticed his absence but soon he was forgotten and everybody found other preoccupations.

As a young teenager I used to accompany my mother to the bazaar. My job was to stay with her during the trip and then carry home some of her shopping bags. I must have been in the ninth grade when one day my mother and I were out on one of her usual shopping trips. We were at this jeweler’s shop where she was checking out some jewelry when my bored eyes started wandering toward the back of the store. There was Iqbal sitting against the back wall quietly tinkering with some jewelry pieces. It was obvious to me that his parents could no longer afford to send him to school and he had to take up a small job to help out his family.

We had a short conversation and he told me that he had given up studies and now he was working in this shop as a jewelry repair apprentice. He asked me about our other classmates and said that he really missed being a student and going to school every day. For the first time I really felt bad about my sixth-grade juvenile behavior toward him. I told him I was really sorry for all that needless teasing we had done to him. But he assured me that it was ok and there were no hard feelings from his side. My mother was ready to leave so I said good bye to Iqbal and moved along with my mother.

Years had passed on and my mother was no longer making her trips to the bazaar. One day she asked me if I could go back to the same jeweler’s shop and get this piece repaired for her. I knew the shop and had no problem doing so except arriving at the shop I discovered that the elder gentleman owner had retired and now his three sons were running the store. It was a much larger store now with mirrors and shining lights every where. The salesman informed me that they no longer do the repairs but he knew a very good person who does that sort of work. He directed me to a back ally and explained me how to find this particular repair shop.

The place was actually a small house where the front room was being used as the jewelry workshop. A small thin curtain hung in the middle of the room dividing it into a front receiving area and a small work area in the back. The door was wide open so I walked in and sat down on one of the two small wooden benches and waited for the repairman to come out. A few moments must have passed when a tall woman dressed in Pakistani shalwar-kameez appeared from behind the curtain and asked in her husky voice how I could be helped. Holding the jewelry box in my hand I looked up at the woman and in half astonishment and half disbelief I heard myself saying,
“Jack in the box—is that you!”
“Yes it is me” she quietly replied.
“Good God! What happened to you Iqbal?”
“Nothing. Nothing happened. I am just Iqbal Begum now”, she replied with a smile.

It took me a few minutes to regain my composure before we both sat down on the two wooden benches and assumed a normal discourse. Finally I told him about my reason for being there. He pushed the curtain back and sat down behind his repairman’s desk and started to work on the damaged jewelry piece. While he was doing the repairs, he quietly began to tell me his story.

Iqbal was telling me that even when he was only six years old he liked to dress in girls clothes. His parents knew it and tried everything to stop him from doing that. His parents also knew that he was regularly being picked on and teased by his classmates. At first they complained to the school administrators but finally gave up and took him out of the school. For a couple of years they also tried home schooling him but then in his best interest they decided to set him up as an apprentice at the jewelry shop. He worked there for a few years but when the boys took over the store he lost his job and decided to open up his own workshop.

Listening to his story, for the second time in my life, I felt bad about him and offered him my apologies if I had caused him any grief. He answered me with a smile and told me that he was happy with his life and I should not be worried about any thing. I tried to pay him for his work but he would not accept any money from me. Finally we shook hands and I walked out of his shop. On my way home I kept thinking about him. Who was he, this Iqbal, now Iqbal Begum, this “Jack in the Box?”

Note: The charaters and story of this article are fictional

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26 responses to “Jack In The Box—Is That You!”

  1. Watan Aziz says:

    The writer is acting like “Jack in the box”… Sir jee Bahar aa jaen :)

    Well, this was chuckles and priceless.

    PMA, you never changed the third person pronoun. And kinda left the story hanging:

    Did she get married?

    Does she have any problems living the life of a begum?

    And when did she realize she need to live the life of a begum?

    Well, the slow Sunday moved fast on this one.

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