The story A Night Never to Be Lost is a part of “Gift in Green”. Sarah Joseph explains, ‘Gift in Green’ above all, is a book of stories and story-tellers. These stories have come down to us from an assortment of sources: the Bible, The Holy Quran, Zen and Sufi traditions, the Puranas, folk narratives, historical events and those attributed to the life of St. Francis of Assissi. These stories have been recreated and reinterpreted within the alchemy of Aathi. Aathi is a fictitious place where ‘Gift in Green’ is set.
When daylight gave way to the night, Noor Muhammed, could be heard singing from his boat in the heart of the dense mangrove forest. The birds and water creatures remained silent, listening in rapt attention. Noor Muhammed’s song was instinct with the sweetness of pain. He sang as though transcending life itself, like the little bird in the story of St Francis that he loved to narrate. There was something common to Noor Muhammed and the little bird in the story of St Francis. Referring to the little bird, St Francis had said to his disciple Leola: ‘God dwells in its throat’. What he said was apt for Noor Muhammed too. In the story, before St Francis could complete his sentence, the little bird fainted and fell from the branch on which it was perched. Grief-stricken St. Francis took the bird in his hands. The little bird was blood-soaked and it quivered on his palm. Its tender throat was still warm with life. Soon it slipped into the stillness of death. St Francis remarked that the bird died singing beyond what it could take.
Like the little bird in the story, Noor Muhammed was singing in the bliss of love. It was only in seeking and following the girl he loved that he reached anywhere. He would set out at dawn in a tiny boat, sailing in her trail, without being noticed by her, along many water paths. He used to wonder what it was that she sought so carefully. He had never seen her catching fish or anything like it. She was wholly concentrated on locating and removing the dirty garbage that the callous visitors had put behind along the pathways, in the fringes of the forest, among the roots of the mangrove trees, and along the narrow water paths. The garbage consisted of cigarette packets, liquor bottles, left-over food, polythene bags, cola bottles, matchboxes, rotten fruits and so on.
With unwavering attention, the girl looked for the pieces of garbage, picked them up one after the other, loaded them in to her boat, and went away happily. She was going with the garbage she had to a small uninhabited island in the eastern corner of Aathi. She dumped the garbage into a deep pit she had dug on its surface.
On her return, she was surprised to see Noor Muhammed standing face to face with her. He said that he had been following her. To her query regarding his motive, he only muttered to himself that holy trails are meant to be followed indeed. He then lent a helping hand to her in her venture. Till noon, he worked with her, picking up garbage and casting it into the pit on the lonely island. She quenched his thirst with pristine water collected in a green bamboo mug from a nearby water trough she had set by letting water drip, drop by drop, from a green bamboo stem into a pit she had dug.
Completely over-come by his intense love for the girl, Noor Muhammed kissed her. From the forest, a thousand birds rose in bliss and the water in the trough rose and stirred. All at once the girl vanished. And when the night was drawing to a close, Noor Muhammedsang in the bliss of love:
‘……Did the way I spend the night,
prepared me for peace?
or, perchance, if the night I have wasted,
let me suffer, but endure…..’