Saturday, 6 June 2020

'Tableya' by Sara Magdy Amin

She is stooped over the burner. The kitchen swelters with a heat that scorches, but intensifies the aromas.  Sweat bulbs form on her forehead, dried by the futile turn of a fan. A laborious Friday morning is once again revived. All her senses are working at their maximum capacity. Breakfast must be ready before the congregational prayer. Her ears perceive the call to prayer rising in the distance. Ali, wailing, clings to her soaking cotton nightshirt, articulating his disinterest of the cheap plastic sieves she handed him earlier. Her lips sing of a butterfly wearing a spotted top in her Arabic tongue and her eyes focus on the pot that is spilling over.

Breakfast is served on the tableya. Buttered fava beans and tahina, dashed with a squeeze of lime, eggs scrambled with cured and spiced basterma meat, deep fried ta’ameya balls and, what would serve as the vessel for all these little joys, fresh, hot aish baladi.

The aish was courtesy of Aisha and Fatima, the two Bedouin ladies who worked at the local bakery downstairs. They sat criss-crossed by the tableya when they made the bread. Their children, Reda and Khalil, mirrored their mothers and the way they rolled out the dough.

Here, in their little breakfast arrangement they sat criss-crossed by the tableya. Ali mirrors his mother as she rips a morsel of bread and curls it into the shape of a cat’s ear to pocket the beans. She smiles as he licks his messy fingers. Her morning labour was rewarded.  She knew why she winced that time his father had given him a spoon to eat, but had ultimately said nothing.

She plops Ali in front of the television and turns it on.  A cartoon bunny chants the phonics of the Arabic alphabet: Alif ah ah Arnab, Ba’a, buh buh Baba, Ta’a ta ta Tofaah. Her husband took an audible swig of his tea and changed the channel. The reporter announced that the death toll of the migrant boat that had capsized near the coast of Rosetta rose to 42.  Shameful muttered her husband, shaking his head in disbelief.

Her chest tightens. She grabs Ali without a word and forces him to her breast. Their immigration papers had been accepted last month, sums of money had been paid, their backgrounds had been scrutinised and their permanent visas issued. Her eyes roll back to the news. Images flashed, of the victims, their wailing mothers, Aishas and Fatimas, their children Redas and Khalils, some others estranged, traumatized and shivering, all for a chance at some better life.

*

She is stooped over the burner. A laborious Friday morning is once again revived. All her senses are working at their maximum capacity. Breakfast must be ready before work. Ali and Adam are plopped in front of the television. A cartoon bunny chants the phonics of the English alphabet:  A Ah, Ah, Apple. B Buh, Buh, Ball, C Kuh Kuh Cat. Breakfast is served on the table.

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