Tag Archives: Life

And full stop.

 

I lay in bed last night asking you to visit me in my dreams. To sit with me. Stroke my hair. Peel back your eyelid with your finger like you used to and give me that sweet sweet smile that would sweep away any melancholy clinging to my heart.

Did you hear me?

It’s been five months since you’ve been gone and I waited. I waited for the 40 days to pass so that your soul could finish the journey to heaven. You see I didn’t want to hold you back. And since then, I’ve asked and asked and asked again, and still you don’t come.

So I am writing to you Mama. I’m etching out the lines of my bittersweet grief, because I am afraid if I don’t, you will disappear into the haze of colourless bite sized memories that emerge at family gatherings, becoming sound bytes that are told in the same words every time.

First of all I would like to register a complaint. I heard that you visited my cousin in his dreams. I am not going to pretend and say that I wasn’t irrationally hurt by that. But to expand any further will only make me sound petty, so I will draw wisdom from your own words and know that you must have had your reasons.

You know, I don’t miss you anymore.

Instead the missing has turned into a yawning pulsating longing that won’t go away. I crave you. Doesn’t that sound odd? Normally, when you crave something, you comfort yourself that there’s a chance that you’ll get it. But the eviscerating nature of death means that never ever ever ever ever again will I trace my finger over the crinkly, papery crackle of the skin on your hand, marvelling at how it seems completely unconnected to your flesh. Never ever again. And it makes me want to throw a frenzied tantrum. I get angry at unreasonable things. My fury lashes out its forked tongue at anything that crosses its path. The guy on the road who cuts me off. My ex who has started dating again. My shoulder blade, beneath which a stubborn painful knot has deposited itself and refuses to be dislodged.

I see you everywhere.

On your birthday we took some of your new dresses to a home for the elderly. There was a woman there who had the same gorgeous cloud of silver hair. When I leaned in to kiss her soft cheek, she smelled like you. And it tore me apart inside. I wanted to climb into bed with her, the way I used to on Sundays with you, when you would peel back your eyelid to see who had come in. And cup my face with your trembling hand. With you, I felt unconditional non-judgemental love, the kind I’ve never felt with anyone else, comforted by the knowledge that you had no opinion on how I led my life. You were just happy to have me there.

And we look for meaning everywhere.

In loud whispers we marvel at the enchanting nature with which you almost seemed to plan your death. We grasp onto these signs, refusing to let go. Believing that you were in control.

You died on Mir’aj. The holiest night in the Muslim calendar. When the Prophet’s own soul ascended to Heaven. You were buried on Mother’s Day and when we came back home from the funeral, the headline on the newspaper read ‘Mama’s final journey’. It makes me smile thinking how amused you would have been reading that, and how we would have discussed Mama Lucy’s passing on for days. And your birthday fell on the new moon, when your other favourite granddaughter was leading prayers at the mosque and had to say a special prayer for the departed souls. You would have said how clever she was. I loved that about you. How you always thought everything we did was so clever. How you were filled with awe when I would drive you to mosque, exclaiming that indeed I was very clever to be able to do so.

Here’s the thing Mama. None of us truly understood how exceptionally clever you were. It didn’t strike us as extraordinary that an Indian woman born some 90 years ago could recite Shakespeare as skilfully and passionately as you used to. That it was quite incredible that your KCPE essay was number one in the whole country. That you read every line on the page before you put your signature down on anything. We didn’t understand the odds against which you battled, in a world where women were expected to wear their pachedi and stay put in the kitchen. Daddy says all that the family accomplished in life was because of you. That you were the ambitious, fierce, driving force of their success. And as he tells me the stories, I’m only just beginning to appreciate how remarkable you were Mama.

After your soul left your body, we sat together in the living room, peeling back the memories, year by year, going back in time to the forgotten, which at one time seemed so mundane but all of a sudden felt profound. We took turns, urgently reciting them, all of them we possibly could summon, terrified that they may remain forever forgotten.

The recent. How you would hide your food on the plate underneath the spoon in the hope that you could trick us that you had finished eating. The way your brain would wander back in time, propelling you into a vivid memory that was more real than reality, so that in the middle of praying you would shout out ‘And full stop. Pencils down. That’s all now,’ your brain convinced that you were back teaching a classroom full of rowdy students. We would giggle, delighted that we had the chance to peek into a life of yours from before our time.

The not so recent. How you would brusquely tell your sister to mind her own business when she scolded you for not bothering to dye your hair. Your complete obsession with the curtains being closed the moment the sun even considered setting, yelling out at anybody unfortunate enough to be passing by.

The before. How you would get ready for mosque, making sure that you had the right amount of money in your purse, and heckling Daddy for taking so long, with his dozens of hair creams and potions. How you used to have a crush on Fayaz Qureshi and was completely captivated by his moustache.

The before before. How you would take us for walks as children, lacing up your bulky white sneakers and warning us not to drink your blood. (This saying makes sense in Gujurati, but gets lost in translation). The frank way in which you sat me down and asked me if I had heard about S.E.X and if I had started wearing a brassiere yet. You never called it a bra. Always a brassiere.

Could you hear us then reminiscing? Could you see us in the days leading up to the funeral? Me endlessly lighting sticks of incense, clinging to the ritual of death to protect me from the horror of loss. It hardly seems like the right word, loss. You lose socks, pens, maybe even a job. But how can you use such a casual word to describe the violent ripping away of a chunk of your heart when someone you love dies.

I used to think death was like a switch you just flicked on, and life would instantly stop. But I don’t think its like that anymore. I watched you struggle. I watched the battle as your soul navigated its way out of your body. How for days you sank into the space between two worlds. And when the time came, we knew. And you didn’t want us there. You never told us. But we knew. Inside. Which was strange as you always hated being alone. But this time, you had to do it alone. And so we left you that night. At midnight. For the first time in days. We left you to slip away. And when the phone call came at 2 am. We knew.

And when we gathered around your body in the hospital, holding on to each other desperately for comfort, I remember being filled with such intense gratitude when the nurse asked if she could pray for your soul. First she silently recited a Catholic prayer, then a prayer in Kikuyu. It was a very long prayer Mama. I think you would have been so enormously touched that this woman who only knew you for a few days, would take the time to talk to her God. For you.

And then you would have been very annoyed that they put down ‘housewife’ as your profession on your death certificate. You were a teacher. Proudly so. How arrogantly presumptuous to decide that a woman of your age couldn’t possibly have a career.

I lied. I miss you desperately.

I got your gold filigree ring. Let me tell you, when all the ladies were gathered and asked to pick something of yours, we went in order of descending age. And I prayed so hard that I would get that ring. It was probably the oldest, least valuable, most faded item. But I had spent my whole life slipping my fingers into yours, feeling the ring rubbing up against my skin and watching your face light up as you exclaimed how warm my hands were. And it was the one thing that reminded me most of you. I wear it now on my thumb and when I feel the yearning becomes too much, I look down at it and remember your sweet sweet smile.

Won’t you visit me tonight?

And full stop. Pencils down. That’s all now.

Photo Credit: Paul Saad

 

 

In Your 30s

You will look back and see yourself, from outside yourself. An awkward looking not yet awkward feeling young girl, all teeth and pudgy limbs, barefoot on the carpet, swirling on tip toes, feeling her dress swish and swoosh. Hips, shoulders, arms, neck, wrists; moving, flailing, jerking, gyrating, flicking, twisting, swaying. Pupils dilated in the pleasure of the moment, music surging through the body. A pair of drum sticks at rhythm’s bidding. She of the big toothed smile, slurping up the adoration of adults gathered around, revelling in the experience of them enjoying her, enjoying her self.

Then it will change. You will remember the feeling of confusion, but not how the message was relayed; that it wasn’t appropriate to be dancing for the adults anymore. It will come as an inwardly radiating awareness, that there existed a self to be conscious of. A self that existed outside of you. A self that could affect others. A self that could offend others. A self that could arouse others. A self that had to be curbed, constrained, controlled to save others from feelings that they may not be able to curb, constrain, control. A self that was your responsibility to mould into acceptable acquiescence, because others could not be expected to be held responsible for the way their selves behaved.

You will start to understand the code. That your body is not yours to do with as you please, willy nilly.

This will have happened around the same time you learn that bare shoulders are threatening objects that must be covered in public. Your grandmother will have told you this. The same grandmother who was an English teacher in the 1940s and urged you to become a lawyer.

‘They can take what’s in your hands, but they can never take away what’s in your mind’ she will tell you.

‘But they have taken my body’ you will want to scream.

You will learn to stifle your hips on the dance floor at weddings, tame your body, suppress its expression, choke it back like a sneeze. You will appease propriety.  Then, when you are home, you will lock the door, turn the music up and make up for the half-hearted swaying of earlier. You will explode. You will dance…I mean really dance. It will erupt in a frenzy, a gushing of movement, uncontrolled and greedy, until you collapse, sweaty and satiated, your cheek seeking out coolness from the hard wooden floor.

You will feel like yourself again. In that moment. In the privacy of your bedroom where your body is not responsible for the reactions it elicits.

You will live the code. Your body instinctively remembering what it has been taught, even as your mind forgets.

You will see your young cousin with her armor of make up, and you will see yourself in her. Where her lips are forcefully pouty and chest is thrust out, your lips were pursed and shoulders were rounded in. Where she makes her body shout out ‘Take me’, you made your body shout out ‘Don’t take me’. But you will realise you are the same. That you both believed somewhere inside, that your worth as women is purely to fulfil man’s needs. It will make you weep. It will shock you, because by now you will be an educated, accomplished, rebellious, confident woman with a glittering web of support woven around you by the incredible women in your life.  You will wonder how this seed managed to plant itself inside what you thought was an inhospitable host.

Then, one day, many years later ,you will hear a powerful woman talk about her shame. A woman who you admire deeply; a woman whose friendship warms your soul. You will be filled with wonder, that such a confident, accomplished, assured woman once felt shame. Maybe still feels shame. You will recognise yourself in the loud pauses between her words. You will marvel that now you have a word you can sink your teeth into, the name for something that in the past existed only as shadowy mist swirling in your veins, now feels crunchy, breakable.

Shame is a controlling animal. It demands. Don’t be fully you. Be less.

It will strike you as odd, how the message of shame is often enforced by women. This will niggle at your brain, and you will pick at it, like a toothpick probing at the bright orange mango stuck in between your teeth. You will talk about it with your mum, hands cupping hot mugs of masala chai, deeply inhaling the familiar comfort of cardamom. You will realise, women have taken this role on, the education of shame, as a survival mechanism. They know that women have to look out for women, teach girls how to behave in a man’s world. Shame is self-defence.

Then you will hit 30.

You will wake up one morning, look in the mirror and notice that your features aren’t where you left them at night. It will take your eyes, lips, cheeks longer to remember where they sit, for your face to settle into the memory of itself. That this bothers you, will surprise you. You will have never thought you would be unsettled by age. Yet in the shower, you will notice the muscles in your legs are softer than they used to be, the sweep of your waist more hesitant, your shoulders less defiant. Later, you will dig up old photos of yourself to try and measure what aging looks like for you.

With wet hair dripping onto the paper, you will marvel at how hot you were when you were younger. How vibrant, how you glowed, how the stomach that you pinched at then was flatter than it may ever be. You will feel stupid that you wasted those years, feeling unattractive, when you could have been enjoying your body. You will not allow yourself at 50yrs to look back and feel regret at wasted pity.

You will spit on the message that you only deserve to enjoy your body if it looks a certain way. You will refuse to force it to behave a certain way.

You will look in the mirror and see fleshy lips, mischievous eyes, big ears, chicken pock marked forehead, crooked nose, long eyelashes and a hint of cheekbone under full cheeks. Mostly, you will see a woman who has lived.

Now, you will take pleasure in being upside down in a headstand, blood rushing to your head, seeing the world all higgledy piggledy. You will stand on stage, in front of hundreds of people, and appreciate your knees for being solid, for not buckling under you. You will wrap your arms around people you love, and be thankful for this body that can give and receive love. You will curl up in bed at night, left leg askew, and be grateful for this body of yours that gives life to being alive.

You will take your body back from the world. And you will dance….. I mean really dance.

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/malakhkelevra/6117809384/”>Malakhi Helel</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Woof, there it is: Life lessons from a dog walk

There is this thing old women in our family say when they are particularly irritated by something you are doing.

‘Mane Tension ni aap’ – Don’t give me tension.

It is quite appropriate that our smallest dog is nicknamed Tension. He started out as Sparta, because he is a scrappy, feisty thing, but my Grandfather bastardised that into Farta, and no creature should have to endure such a noxious name. So we re-named him Tyson, which was meant to be an ironic name; this tiny little fluffy puppy being named after a heavyweight champion, but he soon grew into his name and started picking fights around the neighborhood, yelping insults across the fence, sticking his nose into other mutts’ businesses and generally causing quite the kerfuffle. My grandfather then bastardised Tyson into Tension, and it was so apt, that it stuck.

Every now and then I take Tension out for a walk, and inevitably he will embarrass me in front of Mzungu dogs. What is it about Mzungu dogs that make them so darn well behaved? We will pass this unruffled Mzungu jogger, with a dog trotting in tow, and Tension will start screeching away, hollering all kinds of filthy provocations, meanwhile the Mzungu owner will calmly say ‘Heel’ and her dog will turn his nose down at Tension, and carry on with their civilised jaunt around the neighbourhood. I am then left tugging away at Tension’s leash, red-faced, loud-whispering at Tension to behave himself, or I will never take him out again.

He knows I don’t mean it, because inevitably I do take him out again. Sigh. I am a terrible disciplinarian. What sort of parent am I going to make?! Am I going to have one of those kids who bang their heads and throw tantrums until they are red in the face, as I try to explain the merits of not having that 6th cupcake?

Anyhow, the other day we were out for a walk, I was wondering in our wandering, and it occurred to me there are a lot of life lessons that can be learned from the incidences that take place on these walks.

The following is a lofty list of life lessons, courtesy of Tension:

  • We came across this giant mushroom in the grass, the kind that fairies use as umbrellas. I am a little kid at heart, and so bent down to take a look, pointing it out to Tension, and asking him if he thought it was a ‘Magic Shroom’ – not the fairy kind of magic, the kind of magic that makes polka dotted, gum boot tooting sheep appear out of rainbows. At which point, he looked at me, lifted his back left leg, and promptly let out a jet of yellow liquid all over the thing, dousing any plans I had of a psychedelic adventure.

Lesson: You can always rely on someone to piss on your parade

  • We passed this gate, behind which three enormous Alsatians were growling, baring their teeth, frothing at the mouth, taunting Tension with teasing barks and trying to lure him close enough so they could snap their jaws around his puny neck. I was very worried. Tension has no concept of size and would normally be smack-barking them back. This time, to my surprise, he decided to be the bigger dog, and did not pander to their mocking. It was only a few minutes later, as I struggled to hold him back from capturing a flapping chicken, that I realised he had juicier things in mind.

Lesson: There are times in life when hunger trumps vanity

  • Tension will stop to pee at every bush, tree, pole and inanimate object. He must measure out his urine, calculate how many more occasions he will have to lift his leg, before he doles out the appropriate amount of piss, because he never runs out of urine. It truly amazes me. As we stopped for the 674th time, I had a personal epiphany.

Lesson: Don’t miss out on any opportunity to practice your craft

  • And as we stopped for the 675th time

Lesson: If things don’t turn out the way you want them to, don’t freak out, there is always any other opportunity around the corner

  • When Tension does pee, he doesn’t do it just anyhowly! He has a particular technique he uses. He lifts his leg, pees, then scrapes his hind legs back and forth in a flurry, kicking up a storm of dust, before finishing off with a definite gruff, as if to show that bush who is boss. Every time. It is his trademark.

Lesson: Flaunt your style and don’t be afraid to add your own flourish to everything you do

  • After a while, the clouds started getting darker and heavier, and it looked like it as going to dump buckets. I had not carried an umbrella, and so did the sensible thing; I asked Tension if we should turn back. He looked at me, and then tugged at the leash to keep going. Minutes later, it started pouring, and he gleefully bounded around, taking every opportunity to jump in every single puddle, by the time we got back, we looked (and smelled) like two wet dogs.

Lesson: When asking for advice, consider that the other person’s agenda may be completely different from yours.

OR

Lesson: It is unreasonable to expect sensible advice from a dog (particularly one named Tension)

OR

Lesson: Stop talking to dogs.