No really, WTF?!!
pour the milk,
frothy and warm.
whiteness bubble to
hug the sides of the cup.
Scatter strands of saffron, red
flotillas of poetry, they seep
into verses by Rumi and Hafez.
Slip in the almonds, soft, blanched,
they descend to the bottom and
strengthen the brew.
sprinkle sugar, top it off with
cardamom, a splash of
vanilla, then gently stir.
Let sit the
quietness, the comfort, the
it awaits its
eager to serve.
I awoke on Monday morning to the blinking light on my phone, telling me an email had arrived. Groggily, I reached out, half-knowing what to expect. “She’s dead,” I said to the Boy, and buried my face in his chest.
It was another email that had arrived the previous Wednesday that started it all. Noorjehan, said the subject, and I wondered what Mum had to say about our maid of a few years. “You remember her, don’t you,” she asked rather unnecessarily, for Noor had shared the story of her young life with me while she swept the floors of my parents’ home. In the blur of lines that followed, Mum wrote that Noor had been set on fire and was in a trauma ward with 92% burns. She had visited her and Noor acknowledged her presence by moving her lips, though no sound emerged. The prognosis was poor and her fastest relief, according to the doctor (whom we know personally) would be through death.
What followed was an interminable week of communication, police statements, counter allegations, accusations of murder vs. self-immolation, testimonies supporting both sides, and a veritable he said-she said circus as a charred woman lay in agony, waiting for death to claim her. I will not go into the details of the case here. They have made headlines in the Times of India, the Mumbai Mirror , the Indian Express, the DNA, and the Hindustan Times already. What I will state is how wretched and helpless and horrified I felt and still feel that a woman no older than 27, a mother of four children who was married when she was a mere child herself, lived a life of subjugation and want that ended in this ghastly fashion.
I prayed with a doggedness I am surprised to discover I possess. I resented my comfortable Californian existence that has me so far away from being any use. I sobbed at the memory of that frail, dark woman in the burkha she was forced to wear, even as I waltzed out of my home showing bare legs and open tresses. I am startled at how gutted I feel. How shaken to the core. Most of all, I am angry at myself for making this about me. And I ask you to turn your attention to her and think of her kindly—Noorjehan: self-immolator/burns victim, tired mother, unhappy wife, polite domestic, half-hearted duster of furniture, occupant of a small life few will notice has evanesced.
Rest in peace now, Noor.
Your death has brought me one degree closer to life as it can be.
She climbs into my lap and reaches for my under-chin. Chubby fingers, sticky from unknowns, prod the softness, demand all of me. My arm winds around her waist, chubbiness stacked on chubbiness, firm, plump, with all the resilience of the Fearsome Fours. Our heads meet, mine crowned with sleekness, hers buoyant with curls, and we breathe the breath we once shared, tucked away in primal spaces, in a bubble that was fiercely ours. “I laau you, Mamma,” she murmurs into my folds, “and Mamma loves Baby,” I croon back. And all around us, the universe echoes, the rocking, the touching, the exhaling of need, for surely no mother and child, and every single one, mirror these crannies between us.