A sheltered hibiscus

I wasn’t trying to be perturbed by his hairy, wide pot belly, or the dirt in his nails. The image only made me feel that way. I took shelter in his cramped shop from the rain. I thought then…

I should have stayed in the rain. 

The grey skies wept and wept that morning, and I had woken too late to catch the report on the radio. I had to rush. The interview wouldn’t wait for the rain. Until the text came in while I fidgeted on the bus.

Aisha, will have to meet you at 10am, the rain is holding me up

I exhaled relief as the congested bus jerked to a stop. I had time to dry off from running to the first bus stand, and maybe find a coffee stall, if anything was functioning on such a hazardous morning, that is. But the wolves in heaven growled, then huffed, then puffed. My dupatta wasn’t pinned to the kameez material on my shoulders. Nevermind the dupatta, I felt lighter than air, ready to be blown away. So I stepped into the shop, because it looked open for business.

Why did he have to look so menacing, hungry? Why was he sweating on such a windy, wet day? He watched me step in, I know he did. He smiled too, which made the acid in my empty stomach intensify.

“Ridiculous, isn’t it, this rain? “

I nodded fast and turned to face the road so he wouldn’t think I wanted to continue with small talk, or any kind of talk, or acknowledgment.

This probably isn’t a good idea. 

If I have my back turned to him, I wouldn’t see an attack coming. I wasn’t so not street savvy. I studied most of the time, inside my two bedroom house. Turning to the side, resting my left elbow on the glass counter, I decided, was the angle at which I would not be ferociously attacked by this shirtless, fat, bald man in his dusty blue sarong. They never wear anything underneath. I shudder. From the cold and other fears.

“You are drenched, daughter. Should I get you a cloth or a towel or something? “

The cheeriness in voice escaped me, so did the concern. I only heard a rasp. I am not his daughter. Why do middle aged people want to own you by titling you as family?

“No. “

He let me by myself, quietly for some time, and retreated to the back room.

Where he could storing some kind of weapon, or some kind of chemical…

He came back out with something long and red in his hand. No, orange.

“I noticed you don’t have an umbrella or a rain coat. This is my wife’s umbrella. Use it. “

I took it.

Say thank you Aisha. 

“Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it, daughter. I woke up late today, opened up shop late too and I forgot to turn on the radio to listen to the weather report. These days come and go. Strange, uneven days. Don’t they.”

I nod, smiling. That’s when I get a look at what he has in the glass case of his shop. He’s a baker. His fingers are covered in a sticky film of dough, that’s what he smells like too. I wish he had a shirt on though. A wife beater, at least.

“I better get back to the kitchen. The rain will stop soon and customers will come in around lunch time. People get hungry for bread during the colder seasons. You take care now. ”

“I will bring the umbrella back. “

“You can if you want. I don’t think the wife will mind if you don’t though. “

I stayed a while, until the shower ceased. He wasn’t in the front to wish him a good day. I regret not smiling a little more, not doing a little something more to show my gratitude, because I never returned the umbrella. I hope his wife isn’t upset. She must have liked the hibiscus pattern on the rim. I do too.

 

 

 

Burning winds

farahfilasteen:

Sebastia near Nablus, Palestine

“Careful, Samaya. You will burn the naan if you let it sit too long. Flip it now!”

Samaya flipped the flat dough in the furnace obediently and sighed. Her ammi knew all too well, how impatient her oldest child was. What the twelve year old wouldn’t give to run off and join the boys racing their bicycles in the next community. Samaya never cared that her parents would never afford a brand new bicycle. Her friends would share theirs because Samaya was almost faster than the speediest of the juvenile lot.

“You shouldn’t be playing with boys anymore, Samaya. This is not the age for that.”

“You will bleed soon, you are taking a big risk by racing with them. You will understand my words when your body begins to change.”

“You think they are your friends now, but wait and see how they look at you, how they speak to you when you have breasts, when your hips show.”

“Your father disapproves, Samaya. He will be angry if he finds out you’ve been over there again. Your father disapproves. So does your grandmother.”

Ammi didn’t really want to say all those things to her daughter, so vibrant, competitive, adventurous, living the dreams she dreamed as she slept soundlessly. She didn’t want to take away the innocence of play time, the drive to run off, keep running, running. Teaching her how to mix and knead the dough, roll it out and put it on the flame, this was tradition. Samaya understood that too. But there was always times for making naan, it was made every single day. It wasn’t every evening that the boys took their cycles out. Samaya was angry at her father, she knew it was he who choreographed this. He and her grumpy grandmother who stayed in bed all day, never lifting a finger. Ammi was an angel. She only chastised Samaya as she ran off, never before. So Samaya sacrificed an evening of cold biting winds knocking the cotton dupatta off her head and ruffling her curls as she sped down hill, weaved around potholes and made hair pin turns.

The neighborhood gossips twittered about Samaya, fashioning her out to be a whore in the making, craving the company and attention of young boys at such a fertile age. Samaya and her ammi jaan knew they were lies, words for the hens to chew on, instead of paan. Only the truth hurt Samaya, however. These four boys had already begun to look at her through different eyes. Not because Samaya was changing, but because they were. Their shoulders broadened, their hips looked narrow, their voices deepened, the hair on their faces thickened, their hands turned rough as their touched lingered.

Of course they weren’t malignant, none of them.Their bodies were only morphing, puzzling their spirits, setting the stage for new discovery. Samaya made this day about recalculation. She can decide to oppose the wishes of the snarky old woman and her son, continue seeking the rush of racing on two wheels in the face of the setting sun. Or she could realize that these days will end, and at the end she wanted to have her own bicycle. If she were to acquire one by herself, with her own earnings, no one could take her joys away from her. Not the warble of society, not the furrows of her family, not even the sense of belonging in the adjacent neighborhood. She would have a choice. She could do both. Race the chill winds in the afternoon and then snuggle beside the furnace, breathing in the smell of butter spreading on the warm naan.

She looked at ammi. Her old eyes, older hands punching the ball of dough, pulling, rolling, balling some more. Samaya turned to the pile of freshly cooked bread, broke off a piece, blew onto it and leaned over to her mother, interrupting the process.

“What-“

Ammi took the food into her mouth, felt Samaya’s long fingers cover her hand and heard a voice full of assertion.

“Don’t worry ammi. It will not burn.”