As if wanting to burst out of a womb his wizened eyes serenely watch the horizon, a birth he has witnessed as far back as to when he sat on his fathers lap, to him passing his shoulders, to now; a wife, six children, four grandsons & daughters later he stands that same stance, his jalabeeya softly wavering to the early morning breeze. Resting the top of his chin on a long weathered cane he continues deciphering the shape shifting skies. Another dry season is upon us, he whispers nonchalantly to the thirsty scenery. The lands were scarce and with each adding year the rains lessened, dryness infected and the hunger insisted. Yet his will to maintain his family, his village persisted and instead of succumbing to the worry, he gracefully shoulders these burdens.
The dirt settles as she relaxes her puffed out cheeks. A low steady fire burns, slowly she feeds the flames wood. Dusting at any soot that hung to her toub she cannot but warily eye the grain storage. She knew that they were in for hard times. She can taste it, feel it, see it in the way her husband told her without speaking to be thoughtful, careful in how much she used. But no matter, they were to celebrate their first daughters’ marriage and no drought would ruin or slow the occasion. She would be generous as she had been for all her children. Reluctantly she turns her gaze away, calling out to her youngest daughter to go wake her grandmother.
Little hands gently peck at her back as she moves with a quickness surprising for her age, grabs and rests the hand to her smiling cheek. It could’ve been she’d dreamed the same dream since in her mother’s womb, but it had always been the same; unchanged, unmovable, untouched and unbothered. Every night that she’d laid her cheek against the ground she was consoled by this one constant, and the moment she’d close her eyes, she was falling. It didn’t matter where, or how, or even why, but the sensation that wrapped her body, the sensation of free falling, swoosh of the air, the trill of her spirit as it took something so bloodcurdling and embracing it. There was never the fear of landing but the bliss in soaring while plummeting.
– I know I know
Intertwining her fingers with her granddaughters she squeezes in reassurance.
– Just a little more…
Soft fluttering of a heart beat on her back, she resting serenely on the crook of her grandmother’s elbow, the girl buries her nose deeper into the thinly covered ground. Nothing can compare to her love for this place. Though she was young she could detect the strain and hardship riding on her parents shoulders. Even though they tried to protect her from the apparent she was a perceptive child. Who could not notice the villagers words laced with bitterness, who could not realize how rare it was to find a smile, or of the growing of lines and new patches of gray hairs, who could not see the paranoia shadowed underneath drained eyes. But no matter, she lives her childhood to the fullest, builds mounds of dry earth into steps leading up to the sky which she lays under, stares and lets her hands trace the cracked ground and in that moment when her breathing steadies and all she could feel and be are the sun rays beating on her bare face, she understands this is where she belongs, this is where she needs and wants and will always be.
Balancing the empty water pot on her head she slows her pace almost to a standstill. Staring through the gaily dyed toub, her eyes leisurely comb through the grazing grounds for her beloved.
Thinking it brings unnatural heat to her cheeks. But it was in fact at this same spot, a day when usually she’d walk with her head bowed only to focus on her dust coated feet, that a gust of wind brought up her chin to catch the sight of him. That gaze must have lasted some twelve decades, but it was just as brief and glaring. Looking into the sun hadn’t brought this much dazzle of illuminated spots. On her walk home she wondered ‘what grew, and inside who?’ Her answer came in the firm grip to her shoulders as her father spoke slowly, a creeping happiness in his eyes as she lowered her face to stub her toe into the parched earth, nodding with bubbling jubilation. It didn’t take the jab at her side as she sat cramped and surrounded by soft giggles, craning her neck to see the Imam, her Father, and other men let the palm of their hands slide down their features, pinches all over her arms as it was whispered excitedly she was at last a bride, for she had known well when that wind had teased her, that inside a sublime emotion grew.
The heavens tore across the horizon as the sun was doused and all the stars came crashing, flinging him onto his back. At first there was a silence, a nothingness that he’d never heard, only to have sound revived by a ear-splitting wail that he recognized as his own. His feet had become lead, awkwardly placing each foot after the other, his once pristine jalabeeya now flowering with blood spots that could have been his own, but this was not what hurried his steps. His village, his home, his land, his family, his life, his wife, his four sons and two daughters, his grandson and three granddaughters, his victories and failures, his toils, his hopes and dreams, ablaze, all ablaze.
She had to hold on, hold onto, hold on or else her heart would fail her. Calling out tenderly ‘umaa!, sweet daughter!’, willing them to rise from the raining soot. Falling to her knees she quakes at the sight of the glowing embers. Thrusting her hand into the cooling ashes she feels no heat or pain but only bewilderment. Here, right here is where umaa would doze in that one position, her knees drawn up, hand between thighs, resting her face on her arm, and there sweet daughter would be cocooned in umaas frame. Digging and flinging all the earth she could till she lay trembling in a hole, grasping her head, holding on, holding onto, she had to hold on.
She didn’t hear as the bombs fell, feel her body disintegrate and burn away, or even heed to her daughters call for she was still falling. Only this time it was as if there was a purpose to it all, a meaning. What an unfamiliar but a gorgeous variation it was. It was as if all along she had detached from a tree, and at a great height had been tumbling to finally arrive, settle, and truly slumber.
How long would she lie beneath the sun wishing that she would just be seeped into the land, be one and the same? Dive headlong into the chocking dust and just bathe? As her umaas arms instinctively tightened, she could only sigh in content, not bothering to fear the oncoming pain, or question ‘why me’ and the unfairness. Whatever cracks the ground held, her liquefied remains nourished and filled it, for this is where she belongs, this is where she needs and wants and will always be.
This constant ringing in her ears as she slapped away at the invisible web that clung to her would not lessen. Rising she does not notice the smoldering ground, blackened trees, flung corpses of the once grazing flock, stench of burning flesh, only her eyes continue to sweep through the grazing ground. Finally they rest on the frame of her beloved. It was more or less half of him. The ringing in her ears intensifies. Lowering her gaze to her now blackened feet she turns her back and walks away. Each footstep a curse to that day, that wind, that gaze, that recognition, that sublime feeling, her body shrinking as she let down the dully dyed toub as if a finale. Then that something inside her that grew, died.