The red curtain made the room’s shade tangerine, it was burning like an engine. I was laying on the blue sheets of the bed, aware of every inch of the sheet touching my body, aware of the spotted sweats on my neck, my black bra completely soaked. A father yelling at his son outside “oh bacha, come back.” Laying on my face, not bothered by any of it, the tip of my right hand touching the wooden headboard, my left hand mingling with the bedsheet. I felt an enormous heaviness on top of me, a hand on my hair. Wanting to get up but I couldn’t. I feared the continuity of this sensation that was being thrown at me. As if an individual came and looked through me, my breasts, my skin, my veins, parts I hadn’t looked at either. And chose to take out a part and put it on the ground and left.
I heard the door pounding. As the knocks became louder, the desire to go and attack whoever it was grew. “Sara, open the door!” Shirin said firmly. Something happened between Maman and I last night. A night I longed for had happened. A feeling that all the pressures of my body had been compressed in my stomach only, it was both contentment and shivering.
Tell me you aren’t here to yell about your plants again, I said to myself. Walking towards the door, my eyes staring at the white wall.
I cracked my knuckles. I put my left hand on the doorknob. After a second, I put my right on the handle, giving a big sigh I opened the door. Shirin’s head was covered with a green scarf. You don’t look nice, I thought. Shut up, you don’t judge, I said to myself. Gripping my right hand abruptly, Shirin said, “Come with me.” Shirin’s usual annoying brightness on her stretched mouth was gone, her eyes sputtering something.
Letting go of Shirin’s hand forcefully, “What do you want?” I said, eyebrows knitted and lips pressed. Shirin’s hand was warm. She looked gravely with no word forcing me out of the room.
As I started following Shirin, my lists of frustration with her only built up. But I was already outside my refuge. My room was right across the kitchen, the first thing I smelled was boiled potatoes. I got excited to eat them for breakfast, a vague memory of eating potatoes on the porch came to mind. I liked the softness of potatoes yet I despised them for the day it reminded me of. It was the tracemark of yesterday’s bribes. Bribes you can only have when you give part of yourself away. Shirin’s hand still holding mine. To the left was the living room; cherry coloured balisht and tushak spread like pieces of art that one would feel they are committing a sin if sat on them.
Maman was usually in the living room knitting the balisht patterns by this time, was she still sleeping? The door to the yard was at the end of the living room. My eyes noticed the porch outside from the long wooden windows. Amir had worn a green checkered shirt. Why is everyone wearing green today? He was looking at the floor. Khala Karima sitting on the porch, half her body visible from the window. Khala Karima is wearing the chadar I gifted her out of obligation of being her niece. As I was led by Shirin towards the porch, I had already learnt what was waiting for me outside. “Where is Maman?” I asked.
Shirin entered the porch first, I followed her. Maman was laying on the porch covered with green and cream qaleen, her eyes closed. No movement. Khala Karima looked at me and looked away. “What happened?” I said as I was looking at her laying there still, as if it was a question that should be asked at such occasions. Last night I was at the spot with her where Maman is lying right now. I had almost told Maman about the incident.
“Come bachem come, khuda rahmatesh kuna,” Khala Karima said. Amir came and hugged me. His heavy hands on my back, my face touching Amir’s green shirt. I slightly pushed Amir away. He let go of me in a sigh, I sheltered my body with my arms in comfort. I looked at Khala Karima and Shirin hoping no one had seen me. “She was sitting here last night I think, I woke up and saw her like this,” Amir said.
I closely put one foot in front of the other and sat beside Maman and held her hand. I often thought about Maman dying, often thought about this day, how I would feel if she left, how I would react. Maybe it would be easier, easier to grasp. I didn’t know what would be the appropriate way to react, burst into tears or freeze, look sad or in despair, go back to the room or sit there with Maman. Weren’t our loved ones immune to death? I sat there thinking if Maman said her shahada before dying, I didn’t care but Maman did. “She still needs to go to the hospital for confirmation, I’ll call Mullah Karim,” Amir said.
“Maman” I said in a voice lower than a whisper. “Maman, bekhe, Maman. Maman, be-khe diga,” my voice cracked a little, “be-khe, Maman.” I was in a state of confusion, unaware whether I was mourning for Maman or for other things, mourning for Amir’s normal touch, or for myself. As I sat there looking at Maman, I noticed a tiny mole under her eyebrow; I had never seen that before.
At this moment, the seeds of the past seemed much stronger than the seeds of today. I closed my eyes, I wished to see Maman dancing to Choon darakht-e farwardeen; her favourite song. She danced with so much grace. Her right hand up in the sky and her left, down, towards the floor. She would almost look like a dervish. Twisting both her hands continuously. The floral prints on her clothes, the wrinkles on her face, the white strands in all the black. She wasn’t different but there was something about her that made you spot her in a crowd of a hundred people.
It came at once under my breath as I was holding Maman’s hand, not too loud, just enough to hear myself:
Choon darakht-e Farwardeen
Porshogofa shod jaanam
Dahmane ze gol daram
Bar chi kas bi afshanam
Aye naseem e jaan parwar
Emshab az baram begzar
War na een chonin por gol
Ta sahar namimanad
La la la la la la
“Get up, Sara,” Amir said. Shirin’s scarf started dangling from all the silver beads as she approached me. She held onto my shoulders. I was holding Maman’s hand tightly. “Let go, bachem. Don’t make a scene now,” Khala Karima said. Shirin pulled me by force and carried me up and took me towards the living room. I looked through the window, Amir was talking to Mulla Karim on the phone.
I was in my room, laying on my back on the floor. A room that will never witness me and my mother together. Everything was like a fog, especially at the funeral later in the day. As I stepped into the black pehraan Maman sewed for me, it had become real. Maman no longer breathes. Did she sew this pehraan for today?
We left in the afternoon for Maman’s ghusl. One last wash before her burial. She was already there inside a small room in a mosque when we arrived. Maman was laying on a rectangular cement table, her whole body covered with a white cloth. The strong aroma of camphor almost overshadowed the smell of sweat. She looked pale. Maman always looked so pretty with her black hair, brown eyes and a big smile. But not today, she looked like a corpse today.
Tears came down like a flowing river from Shirin and Khala Karima, rolling down like a slow rain. Khala Karima’s face didn’t change even after crying. I was confused why the helper, Nargis, was crying, she had only met Maman once or twice in her life. Khala Karima was standing beside me to give directions. There was Shirin, Nargis, and Yasamin, the other helper too. I took the pipe connected to the sink and started with Maman’s hair as Khala Karima directed. I went to her face, her mouth, her hands, her body. It was Maman’s last touch, the last time a skin would touch hers. Maman is gone, I kept repeating to myself. Everyone dies. Maman should too, she was a human, death was her end.
Before coming to the mosque, I wrote in my journal at home:
When I touched maman on the porch I couldn’t feel anything, at least not a feeling of void. I need to feel sad, I should be in despair. Maybe I am, but not for her, maybe I’m scared of losing the only hope I had. Maybe it’s my fault, she and I had talked for a long time last night. She told me about the day I was born. She never shared that story with me before. She was calm, she is never calm. I wanted to mention him but it felt too good a moment to ruin. Maman knew him. She even liked to cook his favorite food for him. She talked about the time when she kneaded the dough and went to tandoor to get the bread baked. She was nine at the time. I was nine too. She didn’t talk much about Padar but only the time when he couldn’t come to meet her because of the war. It was a good night.
After a while, Maman had been wrapped in a white cloth. Nothing could be seen. No eyes. No hands. No hair. Just a white cloth. I will never see Maman again. I started thinking about Amir, what does he plan to do with me? I slowly walked towards the bin and took off my gloves. Throwing it in them, I thought, that has Maman’s touch on it.
They brought Maman home from the mosque in a minivan. Everyone sitting in the living room two times the size of a garage. Maman in a steel taboot. A white cloth in all the redness. There were 30 women sitting in the room; some were reading the Quran, some were praying on the beads and some were drinking chai. Everyone coming to me, in a line, as if they were standing in the canteen waiting their turn to get their food. Her smile. Her white teeth when she used to grin. Maman once said, “You can never bring anything back to how it was before.” It is true. The innocence of the yesterdays get lost somewhere, when innocence is the only fine line between before-that-life and after-that-life.
Khala Karima approached me. I knew that face. She held my hands tight with both her hands and said, “I wish you got married before her death, my child so you would at least have a sarparast.”
I didn’t realize what she had said since I was focused on her hands gripping mine so tightly. I wish I could say I was surprised by her words. I don’t need a caretaker, I thought. I wondered whether the defensiveness was fear of her being right. Perhaps I did need someone to protect me. I have Amir. Or did I? He embodied all that society hoped for in a protector. A man. A decent man. A decent man with an ego.
“Thank you Khala jan.”
Maman was gone in the same grey minivan. The graveyard was dry and empty. Her spot was already dug up when the men arrived. Amir and our cousin, Ali, and some other male relatives carried Maman from both ends and put her in the dugout. They buried her. She was no longer alive. Resting next to Padar’s white tombstone, Mulla Karim started praying. All men raised both their hands together.
I wondered if Maman would forgive me now that she knows it within the confinement of her new home. But I also wondered if I would forgive her for living in oblivion. Mothers are supposed to know everything. I saw him at the house today. Standing beside Amir, eyes brown, hands hairy, hair pushed back with lots of gel. The mint gel, of course. Face gloomy as well. No eye contact. Shirin came to me and asked, “Faisal is about to leave, are you not even going to say salam to him?” A smirk but with power. Shirin’s reminder that she is in power of a knowledge that only two other people know, me and her brother. I with no answer to give left Shirin’s periphery.
I wanted to go to my room, take off the pehraan in which I couldn’t breathe. The phoniness in all of them. To make a sacred thing such as mourning a disposable thing. Some women started leaving as they got bored and as there was nothing else to talk about. I went to my room and stood in front of the dressing table mirror. I took off my black pehraan in front of the mirror and stared at myself for a good five minutes. It was an intruder. The mirror. This body, the brown mole on the stomach, the burnt scar on the left thigh, the stretch marks on the breasts were no longer personal but of an intruder. But intruders were no strangers.
I spent that night staring at the ceiling, walking back and forth in the room, staring at the frame, tapping my fingers as if I was playing the piano. I almost fell asleep, but the horn outside woke me up. I was pondering on how I could answer Khala Karima in a better way, maybe I could say “Khala Karima, it’s none of your business,” or “Khala Karima, you are being very rude and hurtful right now,” all this while I fell asleep. Khala Karima often made such remarks but this one hit harder. Perhaps because I truly felt helpless for the first time in that living room filled with people, none of which were Maman.
I woke up sometime the next day. Amir wasn’t home. I wondered where he went. Maybe to the cemetery, maybe he went to smoke. He never smoked in front of his wife, but I occasionally smelled something strange from him. Was it cigarettes or the smoke of the exhaust? But it was not my business to meddle, as Shirin put it once. The porch. It was still there. Maman was there not long ago. I went back to my room.
I left the room in the evening. I went to the porch and sat by the stairs staring at all the plant pots, the money plant which had grown so tall. Sitting there when Amir came and sat beside me. “You gave me a fright,” I said. His eyes red, pinkish like. He was still wearing yesterday’s green shirt.
“Oh didn’t mean to,” Amir said indifferently. It seemed like Amir was fighting with himself on whether he should say what he wanted to or keep quiet. “Well, I was thinking if you would want to go to uncle Jamshed’s house for a while.” I looked at him, surprised but not surprised. Sad but not sad.
He continued, “The house just feels heavy and Shirin’s delivery is also coming up soon.” He paused for a minute, “Maybe you can also get away from here for a while, so it changes your mood a bit.” Amir looked at me and gave a slight smile, waiting for me to respond. I was looking at the plants.
“Ok,” I said in a grunt.
“Ok? You don’t have anything else to say?” Amir said, biting on his lips.
“I’m telling you what you want to hear, what do you want me to say?” I said.
“Nothing, I don’t want you to feel like I’m kicking you out of the house.”
I stared at Amir for a long enough time to make him get up and start walking. Amir started walking back and forth very fast. After awhile of walking he started talking louder than before, “All my life, I have tried to give you the best, all my life I have tried to make you happy, yet you sit like this ungrateful and insensitive person,” he wanted to continue but it seemed as though he was trying to compose himself. “You have always made me feel like the bad guy here.”
I sat there not saying a word, I saw Amir’s eyes raged with anger. The last time he looked like this was when he found out I was skipping school. I started tapping my right foot. Amir was waiting for a response, but I still didn’t have anything to say. I felt something yet I didn’t know the words for them. As if the words have never existed for these feelings. I wanted to communicate what they were yet they looked like a language of which I was not a native. We both made eye contact, both eyes staring at each other, ordinary eyes with no unique shape, or depth, or color yet mine communicated something to him and his communicated something to me. “Look at you, no care in the world. Uncle Jamshed will pick you up tomorrow,” Amir said and went inside the house.
I knew I was leaving the moment I saw Maman on the porch. I wasn’t sure who and what I was mourning for at the time. I still don’t know. I will leave tomorrow. But tomorrow is still yesterday for me.
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Farida Alimi is a writer and poet from Afghanistan. She is a full-time Bachelor’s student in Lithuania.