The man stood in a corner of the garden, staring idly into the middle distance. He noticed the tremor of leaves and fronds that had been painstakingly tended and then neglected. The dead leaves strewn across the yard by the wind crackled underfoot, causing him some heartache.
He was well aware that all the plants in the yard would soon wilt, die and be forgotten.
His 30 years of work as a gardener would also disappear, without a trace.
If that difficult time came soon, he would be prepared. But how painful it would be to see the plants and branches he had arranged into words, welcoming visitors at the gate, once they had dried up and died.
No other gardener possessed his skill. A skill bestowed upon him by God, thanks to his perseverance and pure heart. He never imagined that one day the garden he created would disappear, that the branches forming the most sacred words in his religion would rot and die.
"Bahar!" the secretary called him gently. Reluctantly, he turned his head to the voice. "Come on in. Mr Omara wants to see you. He has been watching you standing there."
Bahar stole a glance at the secretary. Standing up, holding his sickle, he entered the office. He knocked at the door and respectfully greeted the director,"Assalamu'alaikum," and dragged himself inside to meet his boss.
Omara Otunnu, the Kenyan director, stood up and extended his hand to welcome the gardener.
"I've been watching you for quite some time from the window. It seemed you were whispering. I guess you were praying. If I may know, what were you praying for?" the director asked warmly.
"No," Bahar responded brusquely, looking deep into the eyes of the director, who was sitting in front of him, separated by a large desk.
"No. I wasn't praying. I blamed myself. I condemned our organization. It is said that the organization was founded to make peace, just like the dream of all Muslims. But, now it has been destroyed by America and its cronies. They crushed Iraq and its people to ruins. And, now they want to destroy the garden I have taken care of for 30 years. Thirty years. You know that Omar," he said, slowly shutting his eyes.
"If our religion allowed it, I would get down on my knees and beg you to accept this reality. Truly this is not meant to offend you. A cleaner is not an outcast. It is also the work of the faithful. If I were allowed to, I would get down on my knees and beg. This is just a change in title. Your salary will not be affected," the director said.
"What? You are a Muslim," said the astonished gardener. "How could you say that? Cleaner was the job of the Jews when they were treated as slaves by Pharaoh. Cleaner is not a job for a Muslim. I don't want to be insulted. No. I cannot accept this position. I am sure you could do something, if you were willing." said Bahar, turning his head to look out through the window.
"This is New York's decision, it's not my idea," said the ever-friendly Omara.
"Bahar, I think the reason is this: How many United Nations offices have yards? Remember, the management always refers to our offices in London, Washington and Tokyo. United Nations offices in those cities only occupy a tiny part of big buildings. The offices are just like pigeon holes. They don't have yards, not even small ones."
Omara looked reluctantly at Bahar, a man who was born to be a gardener.
"Were I permitted, I'd get down on my knees and beg you to accept this position. Please, take it, Bahar. This is a reality we have to cope with. In the Koran and Hadith there is no connection between gardening and faith. But, cleanliness is clearly referred to, if not considered the primary teaching of our faith," Omara spoke convincingly.
He turned his eyes away from the gardener sitting on the other side of his sturdy desk.
As a diplomat, Omara had never been confronted with a problem as crazy as the one his gardener presented him with.
In his 20-year career he had never had to deal with a problem as complicated as this one. Omara felt like he had come to a dead end. Bahar persistently rejected the position of cleaner. He was not willing to give in. He loved being a gardener, a job he had held for 30 years.
If he were forced to leave he would sue the United Nations for robbing him of his dignity.
The United Nations made headlines recently. It went bankrupt because of the unpaid contributions of its member countries, particularly the United States.
To pay the salaries of thousands of its employees all over the world, the organization borrowed funds from all over. In order to survive, the management was forced to make a number of positions redundant. The decision to eliminate the post of gardener was accepted without fuss in all of the United Nations offices.
But, here, the policy was challenged by an intractability of opposition unimaginable to the decision makers in New York. Bahar, the gardener, resisted. He was prepared to face any risk as a result of his stand.
No one could persuade him. One day, a high ranking official who was on leave from New York dropped by at the office. He tried to convince Bahar that cleaners were not considered outcasts. To prove the job was not contemptible to any Muslim, the official asked Bahar to watch him sweep the floor, wash the dishes and scrub the toilet.
"Don't you know how many unemployed people are waiting for any job, and will take yours as soon as you go? You have just seen me sweeping, cleaning dirt, and I have done it honestly. Working as a cleaner is not against our religion," the man said.
Bahar kept stroking his beard as the official spoke. He glanced at his sickle, and said in a low earthy voice: "Na'udzubillah mindzalik".
There are no words stronger than these to express refusal. Bahar firmly refused to sign on to be a cleaner.
"You have been working for this office for 30 years. There is no need for me to stress this is a decision taken by headquarters. It is not my idea. If you don't want to sign the contract, it will mean you have decided to stay away from your brothers and sisters in this office." Omara drew a deep breath. Bahar stood up from his chair and left his boss alone in the office.
Although he was not allowed to enter the office anymore, every day Bahar stood on the sidewalk across the street. From there, he stared at the yard of the office, which was drying up from lack of care.
And Omara Otunnu did not even have the courage to meet his former subordinate's eyes while passing him on his way in and out of the office.
Bahar quickly became the talk of the city. When one day he didn't show up on the sidewalk, staring at the yard of the office across the street, where he had worked for 30 years, the people in the city panicked. Some people went to his house. But he wasn't there.
Unexpectedly, the office secretary received a strange signal in the yard. She saw the word Allah, which was still standing in the garden, but strangely it was standing a little higher than before.
The people of the city were shocked. When the ground under the sacred words was excavated, they found Bahar lying flat in his grave, smiling. His body was still warm, but there was no sign of life. His left hand was holding a sickle firmly across his chest. He seemed poised to go to a new world with that simple tool, a world where its expression of a meaningful life would find its eternal way.
In the meantime, Omara Otunnu was sitting alone in his office, with his face on the table while his hands hung down. On the table was Bahar's will, in which he declared that none of his pension money should go to his wife. The money must be contributed to a peasant organization in his country, with the sickle as its symbol: an organization that did not exist. Had it existed it would have been banned by the militaristic authority.
Omara was distressed by the will. It was not a mandate to sit at a negotiating table and reach an agreement, where all participants respect the principle of tolerance. This was the will of a gardener whose intractability of faith had driven his director crazy. A gardener who had decided to pursue his cause at any cost and to die in his own way.