My grandma used to be a mountain.
I remember that clearly – in a small flat in Warwick Farm, garishly furnished in bright Arabian carpets and tapestries, there was a mountain. She stood tall over us all, her face creased into a smile, and I could barely circle my arms around one of her legs. The kitchen was small, and thinking on it now, I have no idea how she fit in it, how this tiny flat managed to contain her with all her valleys and peaks.
She was my Everest.
I spent endless days with her as a boy, generally bored out of my mind. My grandfather would sit and watch Arabic soap operas, a language I never fully mastered, and my grandma would be in the kitchen, either cooking, praying, or on the phone. Sometimes though, my grandfather would put on Western action films, which he loved, though he didn’t speak or read English. He seemed to enjoy them nonetheless, perhaps in part because we kids obviously had fun watching too.
I regret endlessly now that I never learned Arabic and was never able to have a conversation with my grandma.
She would speak to me, of course, ask me questions and what I understood, I answered. It was usually of the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ variety, and we’d soon lapse into silence. I always hated when she asked a question I couldn’t grasp, and all I could do was look uneasily away and wait for someone to translate for me. I could never look her in the eye and she would simply sit and stare at me sadly.
I hate it even more now.
The days I love most usually fell on Sunday. Every week, the family would gather at grandma’s to pay their respects and, in the tradition of all family get-togethers, feast. The babble of voices, lilting in Arabic, shouted in English, the smell of a dozen different dishes heavy in the air and the roar of us kids running up and down the stairs, in and out of the building. We explored the surrounds, we lived and laughed and loved in summer, winter, autumn and spring, until the day grew fat on our exuberance and became long, tired and dim.
Through it all, Taita loomed. Continue reading