Nostalgia by Lujain AlMulla

It’s Friday noon and I’m half asleep, laying in bed, listening to the drone of the air conditioning. I don’t remember the covers and pillow feeling this warm and fluffy last night. I smother myself in snugness, soaking it all up into my every limb as I stretch and yawn, brushing my legs over every last cool spot, then finally recoil back into a comfy muddle of lazy flesh. Laying still there for a while, I notice my mobile blinking red at me, trying to get my attention, going “wake up lazy bones; you’ve got messages”. It takes me a few seconds to conjure up the energy to lift my hand and grab that magical sprite of technology that I’ve grown so dependent on: the object I see last before falling asleep, and wake up to first thing in the morning.

With only one eye open still, I check the updates in my social networking life, and those of others. Twitter, Blackberry Messenger, Facebook: retweet that, reply to her, like that photo.

I’m up. I’m up and ready to get on with this predictably unremarkable day: the life of a 20 year old in plain old, capital of nowhere, Kuwait. It’s the weekend, so at least there’s that.

I get on with the usual deal: wash the face, brush the teeth, get the hiccoughs, tie the hair, get rid of the hiccoughs and hop downstairs to where my mother and grandmother are clearing the kitchen table of afternoon date cake, rusk and a pot of what my sense of smell picks up as tea—now cold tea, as I learn to my disappointment.

My grandmother quietly disappears out of the kitchen and into her room, probably to get her daily dose of radio—listening to the Kuwait News station, then turning the dial to wavelengths carrying Gulf folk music—reclining that way in bed until lunchtime, and such was her every afternoon. My mother follows suit, out the kitchen and back up the stairs to her room, I’d imagine, getting into a comfortable posture, in the direction of Mecca, with a copy of the Qur’an in her lap, picking up from where she left off reading. I take my exit cue as the third generation down this line of women, finding that I’ve no real appetite for food after just having woke up.

Out the hall and into the living room, I find my grandfather, sat on his usual spot watching nothing useful on the tele: a cooking show of sorts, making a summer fruit smoothy. Cooking is not exactly a pastime my grandfather is known to engage in; he’s most likely brewing over a concoction of his own in his head—the news he received two nights ago being the main ingredient in his pot of thoughts, I’m sure. I wipe off the nostalgic glimmer in his eyes:

“Grandad!” I say with a big smile, interrupting the perky fruit juice lady on screen. I walk up to give him a peck on his forehead, but he pulls my head down before I get the chance to, giving me a wet kiss on mine instead.

“sit down” he tells me. I do, right next to him, taking in the mild scent of sandalwood he has always smelt of.

“How about a hand massage, grandad?”

“you what?”

“a hand massage” I repeat louder, “like the one I gave you last week. Rub your hands?”

“Right. Well, if you’d like to” he mumbles back.

“I would. I’ll go get the lotion”

I walk into his bedroom and look for the bottle of lotion on his dresser. There it is. Before I leave I stay for a minute, looking around at all the family photos he has framed on the walls and displayed on dusty shelves. Old photos of my mother, aunts, uncles. Baby photos of cousins upon cousins. I know he has a few up there of me, so I look around, scanning face after face, and there! A three/four year old me sat on my grandmother’s lap, pulling her glasses off her face. An opaque orange tint is smeared across half the photo from when the film may have caught some light or some other photographic glitch I’m unfamiliar with. It hides a third subject in the frame and I can’t quite make out who it is. A cousin? A brother? A shame. Or perhaps not. A selfish little granddaughter inside me is glad I have my nan all to myself in this photo.

Another image grabs my attention, right under the one of me and nan. It hangs at an angle so I fix it; in a chipped wooden frame, it’s a black and white still of a young man dressed in a sharp suit, riding in the compartment of a train. Behind him, out the window, is a blurry, swept pastoral scene, rushing to keep up with the snap-shot. The man strongly resembles my brother, Ahmed, but also my cousin, Yousef. I see my mother in his eyes. My uncle Jassim has those wavy locks of hair. If I squint, I can almost see, well, I’m not quite sure: a morphed image of every member of my extended family.

It’s grandad, on a train to what someone has labeled as Switzerland at the bottom corner with a felt-tip. He looks like an Egyptian film star of the 30s or 40s—a notion that makes me smile.

I take two steps back. My shoulder hits the corner of a shelf, knocking over a frame that triggers a domino effect down a row of photos. I yelp in pain and panic, rushing to set them back in their places. I’m such a klutz. The shelf, I notice as I fix the frames back up, is exclusive to family graduation photos. Lined up across it is a dermatologist, a graphic designer, a computer engineer, two dentists, two accountants and three architects, all posing with their degrees. I make a mental note of a vacant spot where I can squeeze my own graduation photo by the end of this semester. I could always knock off one of the architects—we’ve plenty of those already. It’s about time we make room for a graduate of English lit.

I feel I could spend the rest of the day staring at every photo in the room. I almost forget why I came in here to begin with. I take one last inclusive look at all the pictures and walk back out the bedroom. I sit on the carpet, leaning on grandad’s chair, taking his hand. I hold it in mine. I study the back of it for a few seconds. It’s a leathery canvas depicting a blossom tree, painted with green veins and flowered with age spots. I could swear a few more buds have blossomed since I last rubbed his hand. I feel a sharp urge to cover it with kisses. But I don’t. I dab on the lotion instead, and begin the amateur massage session. I think I get more therapy out of it than he does. I don’t usually sit down for chats with him. Any conversation we engage in lasts for 20 seconds, tops, including the extra time I take to repeat what I’m saying a good three times for him to hear. I wish we did have longer ones where I could share things that were deeper than my uni schedule this semester or what’s cooking for lunch that day, but he’s a reserved man. I just can’t help but have a fancy to get access to his mind, to be let in where his memory is. It’s a saturated compartment, I’d imagine: too full to let short term intrusions settle in since we’ve been noticing that, recently, he forgets the small things more and more. But I’m sure that only means that the significant memories are still stored in there: lucid and in abundance. I look into his smokey gray eyes for a second, trying to penetrate through to them, to get a glimpse of his past, his childhood, his teenage years, to perhaps find out what he was doing on a train to Switzerland at such an adolescent age, and who had been there with him to take that shot. [End of Excerpt]

One thought on “Nostalgia by Lujain AlMulla

Leave a Reply