Jareen Imam

© Copyright 2021 by Jareen Imam


Photo of old man's hands.
I 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.

The 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.

She was draped in a gossamer, white sari as she shuffled through the freshly cut grass, herding a cluster of sheep back to their pen.

I rubbed my eyes of sleep as I stumbled out of bed.

Ouch!” I yelped as I groggily stubbed my toe against the chunky bed frame.

Like 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.

I 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 mirror.

Is 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.

I 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 tea leaves.

The 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.

Thank 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 table.

Grandmother’s 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.

I’ve been looking forward to this,” she said as she dropped two lumps of sugar into her cup.

I 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.

It’s a joy to rise,” she always said whenever mother complained that I should take over the morning farm chores.

But 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.

Through 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.

I took a large bite out of the toast, crumbs sprinkling onto the table. The crunch echoing through my ears.

The bread is quite delicious today,” I said between chews. “Can I cut you a slice?”

Grandmother set her teacup down and smiled at me. Her gray eyes were full like clouds teasing they might rain.

Isn’t the bread always delicious?” she said.

Moments 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.

But despite shrinking back to the earth, she seemed springy this morning, I thought as she bounced onto the balls of her feet.

I think I’ll take a rest,” she said in her typical sing-song voice.

OK,” I replied in between bites.

As 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.

You should make some food, my dear. I imagine you’ll have some company later today.”

Confused, 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.

Old people,” I thought as I sliced another piece of bread for myself.

After 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 sweetness.

I 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.

As 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.

This must be one of grandmother’s meatless days, I thought as I scooped up a cold fish filet and plopped it into my mouth.

Lunch was generally grandmother’s favorite meal. She always said a hearty lunch and a light dinner made her feel thinner.

Curious, I walked to her door and knocked. After a moment of silence, I entered.

Grandmother?” I said in a low whisper.

And there I saw her, lying on her back, in the middle of her bed, perfectly still. Her nostrils, unmoving.

Jareen 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.

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