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Mochi

2007 May 27

I don’t know his name. We’ve always just called him Mochi Saab. He’s a simple, honorable man who sets up his cobbler shop at the end of the street my late grandfather’s house is on. Mochi Saab sits half-squatting on a little wooden stool, surrounded by his tools. He repairs and polishes shoes, mends ripped bags and purses, and sells the leather shoes he’s made himself, the ones that are hanging on racks that he’s hammered into the concrete wall behind him. It never costs much, and he always throws in some smiles and political commentary for free.

But the best part is, he remembers us — noexpects us. The first time my dad and I stop by after we arrive in Pakistan, his tanned, wrinkled but still youthful face erupts into a smile that shines up to his bright eyes.

It’s summer now, he says. I knew you would come soon.

His speech is lyrical and beautiful. He speaks in Urdu, but it’s heavily accented by his Pashtun tongue. It’s like music and I love it. I go just to hear him talk. He always smiles sweetly at me, saying “Salaam baji, how are you?” But Mochi Saab never looks up into my eyes, following the old chivalrous traditions of politeness to women.

For half the year, the hot months, Mochi Saab manages the shop. Then he changes shifts with his brother and goes back home to his village. He’s always happy to go home. The journey ahead is long, but worth it. First he goes by bus, then by a public wagon he can just jump onto. Then he hires a horse cart to take him as close as possible to his village. When the horse cart can go no further, he has to walk the rest of the way home.

There’s only one problem. Darkness has fallen. He’s got another few miles to go on foot. And he’s carrying six months of profit in his pocket.

Aren’t you scared, Mochi Saab, my dad asks. Aren’t there a lot of dakoo?

Of course I’m scared of getting robbed! That place is notorious!
Mochi Saab replies.

So what do you do?

Easy! I light up a charss cigarette! Then I feel like there’s ten more men walking with me and I’m not scared at all!

True story.

Mochi – a cobbler and leatherworker
Dakoo – Robber
Charss – Opium. Causes hallucinations

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