Artwork by Daehyun Kim
The translation, ‘my mother’, does no justice to the tender possessiveness, almost selfish reverence in having you as mine and mine alone. Hearing that title in its many forms almost being carelessly repeated; mom, mama, mother, doesn’t lessen the pain of having to hear it from everyone… except me.
I lost that privilege.
Although our Holy book tells me where you’ve gone, it still does not stop me from uttering to the now emptied side of your closet ‘where did you go?’
Umi your smell is gone.
I keep your perfumes lined up on my dresser, a small shrine to you with Gucci, Estée Lauder & Chanel No. 5. Did I tell you I probably will never wear those specific scents again? Because when I get just a whiff, its like I just found out that you passed, the grieving process refreshed & anew. So I keep the boxes to your perfumes closed shut, the lids on them gathering dust because its been five months.
Peace evades me Umi.
In fact, she and forgiveness totally avoid me and instead my head is filled with those who I considered ‘friends’, but didn’t even bother to offer me condolences even in a single one line Whatsapp message which goes to show I carry that same cursed gene that Sudanese women have of who did & didn’t visit me, you & your family are blocked for life & my mind reels & seethes, but I know its all misplaced.
Only a mask, a noxious way of grieving for you umi, because I haven’t seen you, heard you, physically touched you in five months.
I often wondered if you knew you were dying. Even before the diagnosis or the noticeable new aches in your body, or the hushed prognosis shared by your doctor for fear of you hearing. You were sleeping during the day, and I was sitting beside you when you gripped my hand & I found you awake, looking at me & you just said: ‘انا خلاص’
‘I am done’
I couldn’t say God forbid, may He give you a long life, because you knew. Then you closed your eyes & hours later you passed. That was the last thing you said, to me, and only me, your youngest… your baby.
People kept telling me at your funeral how lucky I was that I was there to be present at your passing. Not to have to experience the sudden death of a loved one, given no chance of a warning or for preparation. But I don’t think any of them have physically seen the process of ‘الروح’ (the soul) quitting a sick body. In fact I cant remember anything of you before you were sick umi. The way you looked, the smell of the so many drugs & medicines on your skin, & just the anger, the utter rage of having to witness your demise & the constant whisperings of why, why?
I didn’t play the role of a bereaved too well umi, so unmemorable in my mourning that women actually skipped me, my calmness deceiving yet most likely insulting in their eyes, but I could careless because I was incensed. I hated every single moment of your funeral umi. I hated the putting on of the show of such insincere lamenting, wails & faintings transformed moments later to silly chatter & exchanging of news and gossip asking me why I was so silent. Those same crocodile tears, those same screams & slapping of the chest are what kept me away from your burial. Men decided that it was just not proper and not in our beliefs that I be there when they put you in the ground because I’d put on that same melodramatic show, when hours before I’d prepared & dressed your corpse. So they left me parked at a distance in a car to watch your burial as if I may taint your final resting place.
As a stranger.
I didn’t shed a single tear with those women umi.
The guilt claws & digs. I am sorry that I envy and hate my siblings for the longer time they had with you, that their children got to know you. I should’ve been a better daughter. A kinder one. A more patient one, that could easily utter ‘I love you’ just because, and hadn’t spent so much time full of adolescent angst with my identity, misunderstood, and treated you like you were meant to be here forever. It took a stage and a crowd of hundreds of strangers for me to be able to express my love for you.
“I used to think that the only thing similar to umi and I is that we look alike. And I realized that the amount of passion and dedication that she puts not only in cleaning, or the kitchen, or the house but in everything she does is just as I do in my writing. The hard headedness in wanting perfection in the things we do so we can show the best in it, is the same as her and I, and its because of my writing that I was able to come to that realization. Because of writing I was able to see how the term ‘housewife’ does no justice to the depth, and complexity, and beauty and awesomeness of women like umi.”
You deserved that truth much sooner, but to have you be in that crowd, hearing those words that were just for you, I hope they brought you as much joy as me having to say them.
The story can resume umi, even though every time I turn on the t.v its another story of a loved one dying of cancer & I cry all the tears I couldn’t cry at your funeral, forgive me umi but the story can resume even though your oldest friend from Medani saw me for the first time & gasped & hugged me all the while weeping ‘its you, its you’ because she though I was you umi, but the story can resume although there’s the question of ‘who?’, whose going to dab beneath my earlobes al khomra & whose going to readjust & tug & fix my toub & whose zaghareet will gaily fill the house happily proclaiming ‘finally your’e a bride’ to ‘she has your nose but definitely my eyes’ to ‘Don’t be so strict, they’re the joys of my life’, but the story can resume umi, because there can be no final ‘final thoughts’ of you, every story I’ll write is about you, but I am at a pause & not quite sure when to move again, to laugh again, to wear bright colors again, to be me again, because the moment I do is the moment I know you wont be coming home again.
But I promise you, the story will resume umi.