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Teta

BY JANA AMIN


She beckons me, then around five years old, from under the lemon tree. I meander through the garden toward her, grabbing apples and mangoes far too ripe to be eaten in my wake. She puts her palm in my hand, traces her veins, then talks me through her life in Paris, the Czech Republic, and Argentina. I get distracted quickly. I want to visit the pigeon coop, coddle one of her bunnies, and climb the gazebo so I can pick grapes. I say all this and sense she’s upset, but it doesn’t seem to matter to me; I leave anyway.


We come back to her place every Friday, the adhan bellowing through the streets of Cairo as we arrive. My gedo is always gone, off praying at the masjid down the street. She prays too--my teta--at home, a jilbab turning her into an indistinguishable blob of muted color. When she sees him, she wraps my father, three times her size, in a tight hug. She moves on to me, then my mother. Always in that order.


When I think of you, teta, it’s the kahk that I remember. You are pounding, molding, kneading the dough, encouraging me to do the same, with an urgency I’ve never seen and never will see again. It’s been four decades, you say, and I nod in agreement, but I do not understand that you too yearn for regime change and revolution. You’ve mastered five languages, mingled with diplomats in Vienna, and mixed with dictators in Buenos Aires. Why are you so excited? What more do you want?


You make the kahk to feed the women demanding change on television. But the crumbly biscuit covered in powdered sugar turns into dust in my hands. You tell me never to use that metaphor again, but when I ask why, you do not respond. Were you thinking about gedo and his work developing nuclear weapons? Or did you fear we would devolve into destruction like Syria? Why did you not just tell me?


When you beckon me, at 16 years old, there is no lemon tree, no revolution. Just pray, you tell me, for our country, now riddled with corruption, for our family, now separated by seas. I do pray, no jilbab or hijab, on stage with a short dress, talking about the rights of nisaa, women like you and me. I pray, not to Allah but to say sorry, fix what I’ve done, reconstruct our relationship, build back Masr, our nation. Will it ever be enough, I do not know. All I can do is think about how I will never leave you once more.

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