Aqeel heard the echo from the speaker. He knew that voice anywhere and anytime. He flashed back to his first year at home. Home, he had referred to the University which had become his alma mater has his home. Back then, by just listening he could tell whose Artist song was playing even if he was just listening to the song for the first time but before he left home he could tell without asking if the reciter was Sheik Al -Shatiri or Sheik Al-Sudais, he could tell if the lecture was being delivered by Mufti Menk or Sheik Khalid Yasin without asking. Home had changed him and he really missed home to. He missed attending Al-Ushra programs; He missed the comedy that often took place during the Q & A section during Halqo classes. He missed the countless numbers of meetings he had to attend; He missed sleeping in the University’s Masjid. He missed attending Nikkah and Aqiqoh ceremonies. He missed the gist with his brothers about Mandhira Khan. He missed the fact that no one had asked him if he had found Aqeelah. He knew what they meant by asking after Aqeelah. Aqeelah was the name of his potential spouse, who at present did not exist but then He often replied, ’She’s still at the spelling bee.’ He had come up with that excuse after watching the movie titled, ‘Aqeelah and the bee’. ’ He missed the Jihad, He missed home so much and so he was so glad that he had returned, even if it was just a brief visit. He could not wait to get into the hall where the sound emanated from. To be greeted with smiles and hugs and the words ‘Salaam Alaykum’.
It was the formal event of the annual Jihad week program. The Hall was filled and it was a surprise to see people standing by the windows at the side of the hall. Aqeel was deep in thought as regards getting a spouse. The flash back he just had brought worries about finding a spouse. He smiled as the thought that he might find HER here came to his mind. It was kind of difficult finding a spouse after leaving home. ‘I don’t care if she doesn’t bear the name Aqeelah’, He said in a monologue. Aqeel had actually come to collect his transcript from his alma mater. Getting a job was kind of hard and finding a good job was harder. He had concluded that he had to earn a Masters’ degree to raise his chances of getting a good job. He had sent someone to help him get the transcripts from the Students Affairs Unit, SAU but his contact in school was having a difficult time getting the transcript. His contact had complained that he was often told by the members of staff that he should come tomorrow. In his annoyance, his contact had nick-named the SAU, The department of tomorrow never dies. Aqeel hoped his presence would facilitate is getting of the transcript.
Aqeel was impressed at the large crowd he met at the venue. ‘Subhanaalllah, Publicity and Mobilization committee must have done a great job ’. He said. He recalled the oft-repeated complaint of low turnout of people at Islamic events during committee meetings. Then he had suggested that if ITEM 7, was well taken care of, automatically that would serve as PRO for the upcoming events. Naturally people would talk about the food they ate and tell those who didn’t attend how they had missed but his idea was never implemented. It was mainly because there were no funds to carry out Aqeel’s idea of ITEM 7 and partly because there was apprehension that people might not be sincere on the reason why they attended Islamic events. Aqeel entered the hall smiling as he was ushered in. He had envisaged that he would hear calls of ‘GRAND AMO and Salaam alaykum’ simultaneously. He was perturbed at the reaction he got. A few glances fell on him but they turned away immediately to the direction of the podium. There was no Teslim, no hugs, no handshakes, and no shouts of ‘MY AMO’. ‘Am I not at home… or am I in the wrong school? Aqeel thought.’ When did I become a stranger at home’? He continued. Aqeel looked around the hall; there was hardly any face he knew. Had he been gone that long? It was just two years, ‘Just two years…’ he muttered. ‘And I am now a stranger…’ He supposed. ‘…a stranger at home’ Aqeel continued. His rubbed his eyes; they were wet with tears as he walked trying to find a place to sit down. Aqeel could not bear the pain. He decided to come out and BREATHE. The sun was at its zenith. Aqeel decided to find a shade. He noticed the bus which he had often driven when he was the AMO parked under a shade. His face lit up as he saw the bus, which he had nicknamed ‘Agboye on wheels’. It was part of the duties of the Assets Maintenance Officer to take care of the bus that belonged to the Muslim Students on campus. After all the bus was one of the major assets they had. He recalled the day he had named the bus ‘Agboye on the wheels’. The word Agboye meant understanding in the Yoruba language but it was generally known that the understanding in Agboye referred to the understanding of the religion.
‘Salaam alaykum Grand AMO’, Maruf said as he gave Aqeel a bear hug.
‘Walaykum Salaam, Maruf’, Aqeel said with a smile. At least someone remembered him, Aqeel thought. Maruf was a member of the Asset Maintenance committee in his first year, then Aqeel was in his final year. That was where they had met. Aqeel was not surprised when he learnt Maruf was now the AMO. He had shown the zeal right from his first year.
Aqeel sat in the front seat of Agboye on wheels. He looked around the bus. It had not really changed. An awkward feeling came over him as all the memories he had shared with the bus flooded his head. Maruf had tried to start the bus but it had refused to kick-start. He got down in a jiffy to check what was wrong with the bus. He was far from calm. He was already late. He was supposed to be at the University’s central Mosque to carry the food meant for the event. Aqeel held the steering with his left hand and asked, ‘Do you remember me or have you forgotten me too?’ He knew he could never get a reply from Agboye on the wheels. He was not James Bond whose car talked to him.
‘Why don’t you check the battery’, Aqeel called out to Maruf who was panicking already. A few moments later they were in motion.
‘Jazakumullahu Khairan’, Maruf said
‘After all these years you still know what Agboye needs to make her work’ Maruf continued. As he revved the engine in his race against time.
‘No wonder you are the grand AMO’, Maruf concluded.
‘Wa iyyakum’, Aqeel retorted.
‘Grand AMO?’ Aqeel thought. He had served as the AMO for three consecutive years till his final year and yet with all that in just two years. He had been forgotten. Truly there was no point in doing things to be seen by people and be praised. Even if it was kind of hard to purify your intentions, one had no choice but to try. What was the point of doing things to earn people’s praise? That was something that could not even last a few years let alone a life time.
‘Please just drop me at that junction’, Aqeel said. Pointing to a T- junction some meters ahead.
‘No,’ Aqeel said cutting Maruf short.
‘Need to get some rest,’ Aqeel concluded as he got down from the bus carrying his bag.
‘Are you sure about this, you know you might get to find Aqeelah if you come’, Maruf said smiling wryly.
Aqeel waved his hand indicating he was not interested.
‘See you later then, GRAND AMO’, Maruf said as he sped off.
Aqeel walked to the hostel where he had lived all through his stay in the University. He could not help but think about all that had happened recently.
He pondered on the words of his Lord.
‘While he who will come to Him as a believer and has done good deeds shall have the highest ranks. Gardens of Eden, beneath which rivers flow, live therein forever; such is the reward of those who purify themselves from evil.’ Q 20:75-76
‘Forever, Reward, Purify and Evil ’, those words kept recurring in his mind. Aqeel sighed as he trotted on the deserted street that led to his former hostel. He had to purify his heart from the evil of Riyaa so as to earn the reward that would last forever. It was not a nightmare after all. He was a stranger at home.