In Islamabad arrivals, a great hullabaloo arose, like a volcano erupting. Hundreds of tired and disgruntled travellers crowded the luggage belts, struggling to catch sight of their possessions, like a flock of herons, frantically searching the water for fish. Faces scowled; babies wailed; ladies sat back, fanning themselves with their scarves. It had been two hours; their luggage had failed to arrive and, to make matters worse, the luggage of the next arrivals was beginning to appear instead.
“What the hell is this!” yelled a large, moustachioed fellow, in a rich, white salwar qameez. The officials, in blue uniforms, continued to play dumb, expressing platitudes: “we have some technical difficulties… One of the computers has malfunctioned, but it will be fixed, and your luggage will be here soon.”
Still the suitcases passed by the exasperated glances of the travellers; still the luggage from the following flights appeared with newly-arrived passengers threading through the awaiting masses, picking up their wares, leaving the frustrated ones behind.
A singular man, in plain shirt and dark trousers, with defined contours around his eyes, came forward, weaved his way through the seething crowd and picked up a wrapped object, which looked no bigger or wider than a thirty-centimetre ruler.
The people around watched him for a moment, bemused, confounded.
“Why on earth did you send that through?” asked a tall lady in a pink suit. “You could have taken that with you on the flight.”
“What a fool!” remarked a bald man with chubby cheeks and a swinging belly.
The man at first ignored those around him and presently ripped off the brown paper and disposed of it in a nearby bin. The travellers seemed to have given up hope in receiving their luggage and instead chose to watch this strange man and his item.
In his hand, he held a feather, thirty-centimetres long, as white as the snow in the Himalayas. He brought it close to his nose, inhaled deeply, then placed it on his heart as he exhaled with a most satisfying sigh.
The same tall woman accosted him: “are you crazy? Is that all you brought with you?”
The man smiled, “I like to travel light.”
The man with the rolling belly chuckled slightly: “very funny… But please tell us what your business is in putting a feather into cargo.”
The man, still smiling, replied, “well, you see, this is no ordinary feather. This is one of Simorgh’s feathers.”
“Simorgh?” questioned the woman. “What the hell is Simorgh?”
“Ah, well, the Simorgh is a mystery, but once you attain one of his feathers, all else fades from your sight…”
“Okay,” smirked the pink-suited femme fatale, rolling her eyes with derision.
“Yes, even if you discover one micro-feather of the Simorgh, everything becomes okay. You do not fear nor grieve for anything anymore. Life becomes a journey rather than a destination, and wherever you go and whatever you do, you take your trace of the Simorgh with you. Once you have just one trace, it is enough to leave you blind with love. That is why all I take with me is the feather. Look for his feathers, and then you will see what I mean…”
And with that, the strange man disappeared into the crowd.
The pink-suited woman suddenly saw her grandmother’s eyes when she was child; the same look of love as this strange man, as she knelt in prayer. The man with the swinging belly, in his mind’s eye, saw the feather that the old man in the village used to use, many years ago, producing the most exquisite calligraphy from the Quran, although he lived in a shack. These traces of love from their memories held them in place like a shackle of love.
Suddenly, a cry leapt out: “Our luggage!” The crowd rushed forward, ready to pounce on their possessions.
The pink suit and the swinging belly held back, feeling haunted. A white feather had appeared respectively in their hands…
This story was inspired by ideas in Conference of the Birds by Farid Ad Din Al Attar, may Allah sanctify his secret.