With Ramadan just a few days away, I’m sure you’ve thought about what Ramadan may look like with our new reality: social distancing due to COVID-19. One such writer, Talia Basma, explored this reality with a short story. Check it out below.
The coronavirus was testing your patience. There was no way you could do this anymore. Your mother had been buried in working online; your father coming and going from his office. Despite the danger, he has no choice but to report to his small office every other day. No matter how much you want to believe life is on pause, the world is on pause, it’s a lie. Your life is still going, still draining out of you.
“Go grab the tomatoes from the other fridge in the garage,” mama tells you in a string of Arabic. You wait too long to respond, and she looks up from her cutting board with frustration, “What? You don’t know what tomatoes are in Arabic?”
You sigh. “I’m going, I’m going. Give me a minute.” You walk to the garage door. The knob is broken, so you have to lean against the whole door, push the knob up and pull. Inside the garage, there are piles of both dirty and clean laundry. You should probably make sure none of that is yours. You groan and mumble to yourself as you reach for the tomatoes.
“How many do you want?” You shout into what feels like a void.
She calls back. “What?”
You repeat it a little louder. “How many do you want?”
“One is fine.” She pauses. “No. Bring two, actually.”
You hold them in one hand, and close the fridge with the other.
Your little brother runs into you as you make your way to the kitchen. “I want the iPad.”
“No more iPad, go shower.”
“Nooo,” he whines. “I don’t want to shower.”
“Please. Go shower. I have to help mama make food.”
He frowns, but concedes. Bless the seven heavens.
You offer the tomatoes to your mother, and she nods toward the cutting board. “Go cut them up in cubes. Rinse them properly first.”
Instead of arguing and saying you’d prefer to be in the room napping, you grab all the vegetables and cut. Like riding a bike, you remember to slice the lettuce down its spine and then in half if they are still too large. You dice the tomatoes, avocados, radish, and cucumbers. You toss the pita bread into the toaster. From the kitchen fridge, you grab the glass jar. It used to have strawberry jam, but no jar goes once used in this house. For now, it holds the ten lemons you juiced, a third of olive oil, a tablespoon of sumac, and some salt. Grabbing it at the lid and bottom, you give it a vigorous shake. In the large salad bowl where you’ve dumped all the other ingredients, you gently pour the dressing, just enough to lightly coat everything. Then you mix everything together.
Mama tuts, “You should have waited to put the dressing.”
“Iftar is only ten minutes away,” you point out, with admittedly more sass than necessary.
“Oh, dear. Has time really gone by that fast? I still need to do so much,” she says.
You separate the salads into smaller bowls for Mama, your older brother, younger sister, and littlest brother. The rest stays in the larger bowl for Baba. You take the toasted pita out of the toaster and crumble it over all the bowls. You make sure to make Mama’s a little extra crunchy. She loves toast. You grab the dates, and place two in each bowl except for your youngest brother’s. He always complains that they look like cockroaches. How so very unappetizing. Done with your part, you walk to your room and scroll on your phone. Your feed is full of semi-inspirational Instagrammers telling people to stay home, to find their zen.
The concept of finding your zen while stuck with your family surpassed laughable; it was almost infuriating. You throw the phone onto the bed and decide staring at nothing would be better than reading all that nonsense. Strangers telling you to be positive, random Muslims insisting that the spirit of Ramadan cannot be altered despite the fact that everyone has to maintain the shelter in place. The worst ones are the kids posting verses of duaa and Quran like they’re suddenly learned leaders.
You close your eyes and take a long slow breath as you try to calm yourself. You’re unnecessarily irritated. Alhamdulilah. My life may be stressful; I might not know what I’ll be doing three months from now, but I do love my family, and I do, overall, love my life.
As you fall into a rhythm of visualizing yourself apologizing to all the virtual people you are annoyed with, Baba shouts, “Iftar time!”
You get out of bed, and join your family at the table, and grab a date from your bowl. Under your breath, you say, “A-lah huma laka sumtu a-lah rizkikah aftartu. Fata kabal min ni salatul saumi.” And then bite into the date. Knowing if you don’t do it now, you’ll quite honestly procrastinate prayer, you finish the date and head to the bathroom for wudu. When you’re done praying, you go into the living room where most the family is. Baba is still praying. We eat our soups and salads.
Your oldest brother says, “This is a good soup, Mama.”
She replies, “It’s the nutmeg, I think.”
The youngest of us all declare, “Carrot soup is not good.”
You roll your eyes, “Just eat it, so you can get big and strong.”
He grumbles, “One more bite.” He looks at Mama for permission.
She says, “Three more bites, and then you eat the salad.”
“Okay.” He quickly eats his required amount of soup, and moves onto his salad. You’re eating salad still, so you have nothing to say about the greatness of the soup. When Baba comes into the living room and takes his seat on the couch, he turns on the television and turns on the duaa. You read the translation since your Arabic is trash despite all your belated efforts to fully learn it. Some parts go by too fast so you miss them, but it’s fine because a week into Ramadan, you’ve been reading it over and over. You couldn’t tell anyone exactly what it’s saying, but it does heal some wounds.
You fall in and out of touch with Islam. Some days you’re desperate for some type of escape, not from the religion itself per se, but from this stagnant reality that you must endure on repeat, like in the movie Groundhog Day. Other times you talk to God on your prayer mat. Sometimes those conversations end with cathartic tears; others a relaxed sense of self. Ramadan heightens those feelings, usually, but having been stuck with family for a month was possibly testing that.
The duaa ends, and you go back to your room to watch a show on your laptop. Your sister follows closely behind with the same idea, so instead of hearing your show, you’re mostly reading the subtitles. Will there be no peace? You give up and eat dinner. Chicken and rice. It’s nothing original, but it’s tasty and filling. Chugging water afterwards, you go back to the bedroom, this time with earbuds, to watch the show. After a certain point, Netflix asks you if you’re still there. You’re about to click keep watching when you notice the time. It’s a little past eleven.
You have two options. You can pull an all-nighter, and sleep after fajr. Or you could go to sleep now, and set an alarm for suhur. Deciding you could watch the show tomorrow, you close the laptop. You grab another glass of water, and use the bathroom.
Laying down and snuggling deep under the covers, warmth engulfs you, and you’re on the brink of sleep when your bladder lets out a warble. With a huff, you make your way to the bathroom. When you’re back under the covers, a sense of calm you haven’t felt in a long time finally lulls you to sleep.
For more of Talia’s work, visit her website.