Zahirra Dayal

The feast

A wave of warmth billows across your body as the robes of velvety rose syrup, fragrant cardamon, cubes of multi-coloured jelly and milk glide down to join the chicken, yellow sweet rice, steak pies, samosas and lime pickle. They jostle for a comfortable space in your crowded belly . The same belly which gurgled with hunger all day. A hunger you tried hard to distract yourself from by reading, and when that didn't work ,you drowned it with an afternoon nap. You heard your name being called repeatedly from the vicinity of the kitchen where your aunts and grandmother were busy preparing the iftar meal. It's the end of the first fast of Ramadan and you are on holiday from university. At your age you are expected to take your place in the kitchen and help with the food preparations, but you pretended you didn't hear and ignored the calls. You knew the enticing smells would make the gurgling louder and it still feels strange to be back. Now that you've broken your fast, you are satiated with a warm contentment and your eyes feel like tiny weights are pressing them down and drawing you into a long dream.

You don't think you'll be able to squeeze anything else in, but when the tray of shiny metallic wrappers is offered, you don't refuse. You take a handful of hazelnut chocolates for your palms and more to fill your pockets. The congregation of overfed relatives with re- energised limbs have moved from the long rectangular dining room table where you had your iftar feast into the large living room at your grandmother's house. The curtains are still open and the glaring summer sun which made your throat rough and dry with an unquenchable thirst, is now emitting a soft orange glow as it sinks slowly down beyond the horizon. A miasma of satisfaction settles like dust on the green sofas, glass coffee table and wooden mantlepiece above the fireplace. It's Saturday and the family business will be shut tomorrow. Time to fill stretches out lazily like a sleeping cat. The urgency that characterises the motions of your father and uncle during the weekdays dissipates as they spread out on the sofas and put their feet up on the pouffes.

You can't remember a time when everyone got on so well. You've been away for six months and your life on campus feels more and more distant. The extreme hunger of the fast followed by the abundance of the iftar feast paints everything with harmonious rose- coloured hues. Old rivalries and simmering resentments have been doused for now. Your aunts have forgotten they hate each other. They spent hours trying to outdo each other with the presentation and taste of their culinary offerings but are now congratulating each other on how glorious the chicken was, how tasty the pies were and how divine the rose milk tasted. Even your mother, who is usually very quiet on these occasions because she generally dreads any interactions with her in-laws is being magnanimous with her words, the lilt in her laugh makes you smile from the inside out. The conversation becomes more and more animated and you close your eyes and visualise the shapes of the words rising higher and higher into the air where they meet briefly and then tumble back down.

Your uncle tells all your younger cousins who fasted half and full days to line up behind him and he doles out crisp green $5 notes to each waving hand. You remember a time when you lined up wide-eyed with open palms. Now you are in that in-between place of young adulthood still holding onto your escaping childhood. Your cousin brings out the Monopoly game and you are appointed the banker. You start distributing the paper money and setting up the board on the floor while the corn kernels explode loudly in the kitchen. Your grandmother hands you a bowl overflowing with buttery popcorn seasoned with salt and hands dive in as you buy and sell get out of jail cards, houses and hotels on the yellow board.

Once the popcorn is devoured, platters of cold watermelon wedges and slices of fresh mango appear from the kitchen. The sweet red juice tickles you as it drips down your chin and the yellow mango strings get trapped between your teeth. After the monopoly game, your grandmother gathers her 15 grandchildren around her like cubs. She tells a story of devils being chained up in cages for thirty days during Ramadan which makes it easier to be good. She says now there's no excuse for not being good. Her storytelling lulls you to sleep and it feels like home again.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Zahirra is a writer and English language teacher with a Masters in Education. She has done short courses in creative writing with the Open University and her work can be found in various literary magazines including Ayaskala, Fahmidan Journal and in upcoming issues of Opia and Small Leaf Press. She has lived in Zimbabwe, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom and draws from her diverse life experiences. Zahirra can be found on Twitter @ZahirraD.