Copyright 2021 by Jareen Imam
had moved down to live with my mother in South Florida at the start
of 2021. I had packed up my New York City apartment, tired of
spending so long in isolation due to the pandemic. Back at home
again, my mother and I were on different schedules. Now that she was
retired, she woke up whenever she wanted to, and ate whenever she
felt like it. Rarely did we sit down together for a meal. But one
night, my work finished early. I found my mother setting a plate of
food for herself at the dining table, and I decided to join her. We
didn’t talk much in general. She has a tendency of getting
upset over little things, so I found it best to avoid deep
conversations with her. But that night, we spoke about the news, the
economy, her gardening, and the food we were eating. After a long
stretch of silence befell us, she told me a short story, no more than
two sentences, about my great-grandmother’s life. Although, at
that moment, I didn’t recognize how important it was because my
mother said it so fast, without inflection in her voice, or
reflection in her eyes. But those few lines inspired me to write a
short story about the last day of my great-grandmother’s life.
chimes from the cattle bell rang through my window, rousing me awake.
Sunlight was starting to peek into my bedroom, heating me up as I
laid buried beneath the sheets. Leaning over the window sill, I could
see grandmother, like a tiny ant, moseying outside.
was draped in a gossamer, white sari as she shuffled through the
freshly cut grass, herding a cluster of sheep back to their pen.
rubbed my eyes of sleep as I stumbled out of bed.
I yelped as I groggily stubbed my toe against the chunky bed frame.
clockwork, the roosters squawked and the birds cried noisily in the
background. I splashed warm water onto my face as the smell of my
citrus cleanser wafted into my freed sinuses.
pulled on a freshly pressed tunic -- black seemed like a good color
to wear, I thought, as I turned to assess myself in front of the
faded mirror hanging above my bathroom sink. I noticed the glint of a
strand of hair along my part. Wincing, I pulled myself closer to the
that gray hair?” I said out loud before plucking it from my
scalp and tossing it into the trash bin. I shuddered for a moment as
I braided my hair back.
ventured down the dimly lit corridor of our ranch house and glided
into the kitchen where I found the kettle already hissing for
attention. I was just in time to pour the boiling water over loose
backdoor moaned as grandmother stepped inside. Her face glistened
with a thin coating of sweat. She slid her slippers off and walked
soundlessly into the kitchen.
you for heating the water,” I said as I delicately carried two
teacups to the table. Warm liquid sloshed just barely over the rim of
the cups as I tried to gently set them down on the worn oak dining
nostrils flared wide open as she took an audibly deep breath into her
lungs, filling her senses with the fragrant steam of masala chai
sitting before her.
been looking forward to this,” she said as she dropped two
lumps of sugar into her cup.
sat down next to her, pulling a napkin over my lap. Since I was a
little girl, it was our ritual to share breakfast together.
Grandmother would wake before dawn to feed the chickens, walk the
sheep, water the garden, as I dozed away in my childhood dreams. Even
as I grew into an adult -- mother pointed out -- grandmother insisted
on waking up early to tend to the animals.
a joy to rise,” she always said whenever mother complained that
I should take over the morning farm chores.
I churned the butter, I thought in rebuke as I took a long knife and
scraped a glop of softened butter onto my toast. I watched the milk
solids melt away inside the pores of the bread, my mouth salivating
as I picked up the toast with both hands.
the corner of my eye, I noticed grandmother did not reach for the
bread. She loved the freshly baked loaves I’d make. Instead,
she slowly sipped her tea, her gaze distant.
took a large bite out of the toast, crumbs sprinkling onto the table.
The crunch echoing through my ears.
bread is quite delicious today,” I said between chews. “Can
I cut you a slice?”
set her teacup down and smiled at me. Her gray eyes were full like
clouds teasing they might rain.
the bread always delicious?” she said.
later, she pushed her chair back from the table and rose to her feet.
Over the years, she’d slowly lost her height due to
osteoporosis. Her once straight back transformed into a hunch that
seemed to grow more pronounced every time I saw her, bringing her
closer to the ground.
despite shrinking back to the earth, she seemed springy this morning,
I thought as she bounced onto the balls of her feet.
think I’ll take a rest,” she said in her typical
I replied in between bites.
grandmother walked to her room, she turned back to me. Her gray eyes
clearer now as she looked right at me. I guess it wasn’t going
to rain, I thought.
should make some food, my dear. I imagine you’ll have some
company later today.”
I looked up at the family calendar hanging over the sink. Today’s
date was empty. No engagements. I wasn’t quite sure what she
was referring to, but my mouth was full of toast, so I didn’t
say anything as grandmother disappeared into her bedroom.
people,” I thought as I sliced another piece of bread for
breakfast, I went outside and gathered the ripened fruit hanging from
the papaya trees. This will make a refreshing dessert, I thought as I
pressed my nose against the fruit’s tender skin, inhaling its
swept the house, washed the dishes, and set up some steaming white
rice and fish for lunch before I escaped to my bedroom to read for a
bit. I wanted to get lost in a story.
the afternoon sun started to glow outside, I went back to the kitchen
for a light snack. I noticed the white rice and fish I’d left
on the table went untouched.
must be one of grandmother’s meatless days, I thought as I
scooped up a cold fish filet and plopped it into my mouth.
was generally grandmother’s favorite meal. She always said a
hearty lunch and a light dinner made her feel thinner.
I walked to her door and knocked. After a moment of silence, I
I said in a low whisper.
there I saw her, lying on her back, in the middle of her bed,
perfectly still. Her nostrils, unmoving.
Imam is an American journalist who reports on breaking news. She is
also an artist and poet. She started writing creatively again in 2020
after taking a decade-long hiatus as a way to find some hope and
solace during the pandemic. She enjoys writing a variety of stories
that are inspired by her life.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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