A tapestry of sorts, the night unfolded in all it’s modest glory as each individual went about. The youngest, with her ever secluded ways closeted in her bedroom, clutches to her man made fiction, reading away the apprehension, only it dawns on her that the content that had had her so spellbound was beginning to fade. Two rooms over her older brothers guffawed at a naughty recollection, each now a man of sorts, some baring a ring that shown, only deep at the back of their minds the question to everything still lay unanswered. Down the stairs into the living room her father sat on the worn out moslaya, as he ticks away at the prayer beads and tries to restore the golden age when the hearts and minds of men were so decent. A corridor down and into the kitchen her mother mildly satisfied with today’s creation, scrubs away at the countertops and with her shadows the clattering thoughts of have I done enough, is it ever enough, why does it hurt so much?
It was an awkward but safe silence, a truce that all and nothing hung unspoken. Each sunk into their indissoluble pattern as the night continued to unravel. But before they could prolong this repetitive performance, fate hands them a moment to collide and shelters them in darkness.
Sucking in an oath she refrains from hopping on her foot, her vision encased in an explosion of brightness as her mother sourly holds up the candle.
– bara7a ya…
-I know I know… ma feeky fida, 7aita, 3aweera… broken record mama
– Is everyone alright downstairs?
– ya ya… Can you believe this? Mid July, and we have a power outage in the U.S.… Damn I love it, ya7lailyk Sudan!
– …. Freak
The family manages to assemble downstairs, all intently listening to their father as he hands out orders. Being that it was early evening and the weather was tolerable, they decide to sit outside rather than get lost and irritable within the house. The brothers head out to arrange the seating while the daughter is given the task of preparing the shai and the mother and father are given the untimely chore to do nothing.
Cussing away the task at hand the daughter grumblingly holds a match to the hissing gas of the stove, placing a pot of milk atop the deeply neon blue licking flames. A few bumps and scrapes later she has the tea set ready on a tray, with a plate of gargoosh stacked high, she now leans into the counter and watches the simmering milk. Undoubtedly there was something that was troubling her otherwise laid-back aura, but like anything that was within her, it was unseen not only to those around her, but even herself. Hypnotized by the teeth shaped flames she uncertainly approaches this hidden self, which she immediately regrets when her mother materializes and grabs for the now foaming and sputtering milk. Mentally scolding herself, she throws open the windows to let out the stench of burnt milk. Already her mother was letting out a line of letdowns to her inability to do anything right. Usually she could take them with a shrug, having built an immunity, but there appeared to have been a chink in her armor, a crack that was widened on this night.
– mas6oola, ma shaifa gidaa…
– I Said I KNOW!
Never had she raised her voice, and never had she realized how loud everything had been when electricity thrummed through the house. Now her shout seemed to resonate and could probably be heard across the neighborhood. Clutching the sink she has her back to her mother, shoulders tense, eyes beginning to water from the frustration.
– You’ve made it clear mama… you don’t conceal the fact that am not the Ideal daughter … you make sure to remind me Every Day, how insolent, useless, irresponsible I am… a mother-in-laws nightmare sa7? Huh… I don’t even remember the last time if ever… you saying something nice to me…
With annoyance she clears her cracking voice. Roughly she rubs at her cheeks, wanting to put an end to the free falling tears. Giving up at the futile attempt she gives a sigh and stares out at the moonlit backyard.
– I wish I could say it doesn’t bother me anymore… that I honestly don’t give a damn what you think or hope for me to be… I… I wish I were made of tougher stuff
Giving off a startled laugh she shakes her head.
– Even then you’d find a way to chip at me
Turning her body so that she could face her mother, she bites at her trembling lip. She tries to hold her mothers gaze but her vision is blurred from the increased tears.
Mother and daughter silently gaze at what had become of a bond that was weak to begin with but now had become poisoned from all the buried words that were never spoken. Her mother was a hard woman with little affections. A simple kiss, hug, even a pat to the head were seldom given in the span of her childhood and it pained her as a child to watch the easy warmth that naturally flowed between mothers and daughters. But she never vocalized that discontent, and so became somewhat of a mother to herself. The confusion of adolescence, the rites of womanhood, the first blush to touch her cheeks, the first cry of despair at a world terribly wrong, thoughts and cares that were meant to be shared were kept and defectively answered by herself. Adding another layer to her calamity was her unbending pride. She could never admit that something was truly wrong with her hidden contempt for her mother, but standing there before her that night, she got a glimpse of an ugly self she was on her way being. A simple reflection of what she was to be reflected back to the woman who had caused her so much angst. Attempting at a smile that only comes out broken, she reveals her Achilles heel.
– … umy… I can only take so much
Wiping at her eyes she hurriedly pours the now mildly warm shai into the pot, picking up the tray, not bothering to call for anyone to open the door she uses her elbow and back, rushing so not to hear a response from her still silently standing mother.
Her hands shook as she spooned out sugar to each cup, yelling over her shoulder whenever unsure of an amount. It didn’t take long for her brother to notice tense lines on her face, magnified by the vagueness of the candle light. Idly he stands next to her.
– How much sugar do you take?
– Three and a half… malik?
– Sure you don’t want it 4, 5, 6?
– Quit avoiding… what the hell is wrong with you?
She didn’t mean to have the spoon clatter to the floor. She wished she could fold into a ball and roll into a corner, clap her ears, or just make a run for it, anything to avoid the scathing words that were sure to come. But she waited, and she listened, and nothing came. Biting her lip she slowly picks up the spoon, unsure what to make of the silence.
– Say what’s on your mind sis, you cant keep choking like this
She was so weary. All this anger, this bile at the back of her throat that never lessened, increased with each cutting remark, and her words, so many words that swam within. Yet she held back, she always bit her tongue and held back.
Shaking her head she slips a mask of calm and smiles up at her brother.
– What’s done is done… don’t look at me like that
– For one that is so gifted at expressing through her pen, you’ve lost your voice sis… words on paper wont make up for things that need to be said now!
– I know what I want
– How many times have you let an opportunity past? How many times have you sat back to let everything go by?
– It’s not a question of articulating it’s a question of…
– … the time of observing is over!
– … fear
Dissolving her crouch on the floor to resting her elbows on her knees, she twirls the spoon between her fingers, feeling the pricks of tears coming on.
– The ice queen has a heart after all…
Chuckling he avoids the flying spoon. He crouches next to her, resting his heavy palm on her head.
– Fear is relentless and a constant companion that you adapt to… its the nagging conscience that veers us from risk… which you need a helluva a lot of
– Shut up! Ama in your case, its’ not fear that paralyzes you, but your canny pride
– … am not the only one
Side by side they sit as the shai goes from mildly warm to cold.
From a child he was told to stand and be in awe of the solidity, greatness, and enduring frame of his father. So he chased and tried to fit into a skin that hung shabby on him, that never became him. Even now, a head taller with the world and its experiences under his belt, he stood small and lacking next to this aloof & unreachable shadow. He never felt pain or anger at not being something of his father; even when he built himself up halfway to nowhere, even when indecision spoiled his relations, even when he was labeled the outcast rebel when it was apparent he was nothing like his father or older siblings. In response he fell to pieces and grew, journeyed into knowing, into living, into being at peace with himself.
Standing, his younger sister stumbles as she looks for the flung spoon.
– I gotta re-heat this shai
– and hey… thanks
– no probs sis
– and hey!
She shoves his knees, making his chin slip from his hand. Laughing she runs for the kitchen.
The air was tense as she stepped out with re-heated shai. As in all evenings the ever decaying status of Sudan was discussed, re-discussed, over and over till it had been chewed out into a meaningless lump leaving an unpleasant aftertaste. The youngest sibling liked to call these dialogues the opportunity to see grown men turn into avid b*tches, not leaving one topic thoroughly b*tched out and no where near solved.
Politics, economics, blasted younger generations, failed marriages, failed administrations, curse the West and devil U.S., whites are the root of all evil, damn Arabs lack a backbone, Africans are nothing but hopeless, bless Gamal Abdel Nassir, praise the old days and nothing, nothing will ever be the same… lakin.. Alhamdulilah, Alhamdulilah.
Sipping on their shai, leg resting on a knee, these discussions have been so overplayed that responses are cued and overtime perfected, and after a while, everything sounds the same. And one has to ask, what’s the difference between these intellectual debates to the daily rants of women and their gossip?
Her ears picking up with the onslaught of words, she wipes at any spilled shai on each cup.
– … to go back now is not only unnecessary but a waste of time…. tamshy wa ta7ryg nafsak syy, 3ala shino? People that lack morals and any sense of discipline? People who only depreciate the work you put in? No..
Grinning over the almost spilled cup, she regains her composure and focuses on each step as she walks over to her father, slowly placing it on the table.
– no… I’d rather stay here, amount myself to something then go back… because money is the only thing that’ll get people moving in Sudan, lakin to go back there right after college… what a waste
– … am no waste
Catching her fathers stare she nods at the last cup of shai and heads towards her last brother.
– well atleast not yet…
– sis… do you know the saying ‘a7laam zaloot’? The featherless rooster who pined to be just like the alpha rooster, and when one day he sat atop the roof to spy on how the hens adored the other, he lost balance and fell right into a boiling pot…
– Dang bro… no wonder your kids rather have your wife tell them bedtime stories…
Smacked at the side of her head by another sibling, she only giggles, sitting on the floor, resting her arms atop her knees.
– … I appreciate your words of… wisdom, though I find your caring warnings to be anything if cynical… I am not you
Bringing up her gaze she stares only at her father.
– You all say, ‘I’ll go back when I am set and ready, when I have enough to finally give.’ But that makes sense to me as much as a doctor telling a dying patient wait for me so that I could learn more, suffer while I gain more … First it’s to get a better education, then it’s to gain more familiarity in the workforce, then masters, then it’s I want my children to have the best education, then it’s I’ve gotten the promotion, I’ve found that house, I can finally afford that car, I have to pay off this mortgage, apply my kids to the top colleges, and what about my grandkids… and in these span of years you only visit back home every once in a while, your children natural-born expatriates, more and more of those you once knew dying off till you become nothing but a stranger, that distant relative that is more of an American, arrogant with his blue passport that you feel you owe nothing…
She couldn’t clearly see any of her parents or brothers expressions.
– I thank you for the chance you’ve given me, to be raised in a free thinking environment and receive the best of knowledge… but please… my heart, my mind, my soul is back home. They may not value my effort, but not even their contempt or your overwhelming caution keep me…
And then the strangest thing happened.
At first she didn’t recognize whose touch it was, but once she knew, she could not help but shirk from her mother. Her hand hesitates, but then gently slides down her daughters head, repeating the caress, she unused to the motion. With each stroke her daughters shivers lessen, the tenseness in her shoulders loosens and she releases it all with a long sigh and in answer artificial light sweeps through the neighborhood. Quickly the daughter rises to turn off the blaring garage lights. No one complains, but instead breath easier, lean more into their chairs, put their phones on silent, daughter takes her place by her mothers chair to tentatively bring back the palm of her hand to her forehead, each remembering just this once to look up at the stars and revel in mans madness.