By Riham Adly
Middle Eastern Sahlab drink
March 9th, 2020
They still haunt me to this day: pistachios and rosewater—Mama’s constant ingredients. Their scents absent from my everyday life yet forever omnipresent. They are particularly strong today like pain in a limb that’s no longer there. Perhaps because Mercury’s gone retrograde? It really makes no difference. I’ve been moving backwards ever since I set foot in this new country, this foreign city, this absent existence.
The whiskey tastes like piss! I curse this bastard lung-sucking covid-19 of a virus as my chest tightens.
Outside the window, the women and men rushing into the subway in spite of the freezing cold no longer exist. The smell of coffee spilling from Nino’s Café is also long gone. No clamor, no car-horns, no busy streets.
It seems absence is quite a thing right now.
I stare at the useless plane ticket and the useless brochures sitting on the antique coffee table I dragged all the way from home, decades ago.
Will they ever take me back?
A long healthy swig of the piss-tasting whiskey warms my throat and numbs the pain that’s been growing slow and huge like the pots of pistachio and rosewater pudding Mama used to make back in the day when Baba came back from his travels.
Will they ever forgive me?
Moth-eaten images I tried so hard to banish from my memory resurface: the ice-cream shop in Aleppo around the corner from our house where I used to slip unseen for the clementine-flavored boza. I try to shoo them away like the pesticide-resistant flies that won’t leave me alone.
The boy serving the ice-cream had eyes the color of Mama’s pistachios and…
I don’t. Want. To remember!
He wasn’t really a boy, rather a young man of nineteen, with firm hands that gripped mine whenever handing me the treats I asked for.
You should’ve seen it coming. The hiss of my indrawn breath startles my ears.
I can still hear the listening silence inside the elevator, and feel the firm grip of those warm hands pushing me into a corner. I had just started bleeding last month, before that I was never really aware of that place between my legs. His thrusts were quick and precise, not one moment wasted on unneeded thrills. Ironically, it happened only hours before my Higab-wearing initiation. On that day, the women of the family made sure I understood that chastity was this family’s most valuable currency.
Years later, after the forced wedding I ran away from to my permanent exile here in New York City, the ice-cream boy sent anonymous letters with weighted words like rape, and regret. My desperate mother had probably given him the address.
I feel sick and throw up all over my passport and the picture of Wadi Kandeel Beach on the travel brochure, but a cold gust escapes the window bringing along with it the dazzle of yellow morning light. At this point, I realize I want some sunshine.
I just want the beach and the sun. Any beach and any sun, Aleppo, New York, it doesn’t really matter.
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