Sorry guys, I know you're expecting a YotL post, but I had to clear my head. This post is a *very* special dedication to my uncle, Bu A7mad, who'd won a tough fight with cancer. It is a joy to have you back home, healthy and safe, and you make my heart swell with pride. Allah yisalmik oo ya7meek min kil shar inshallah. We all love you :*
Her rich boisterous laughter filled the air of our dim dining room, and I watched from the doorway as her grandeur captivated every single guest sitting at the table. The flickering candlelight skittered from stone to stone of her giant crystal peacock brooch – the one I had brought her for Christmas. Today, it is her birthday; my big, beautiful Etta is turning 48.
Holding a bottle of Pinot Grigio in my brown leathery hands, I took in the sight of her radiant mahogany skin, with her cheeks so round and full of joy, and her almond shaped eyes that twinkled, outshining the glow of the candles. My Etta is turning 48, but she doesn’t look a day over 29. She says it’s because of the cocoa butter she applies so delicately onto her face every night before we go to sleep, but I say it’s because of the laughter that never ceases to escape her raspberry-stained lips.
I love the way her bosom heaved up and down with every sweet breath she took. I love the way she daintily dabbed at the moisture that accumulated on her neck every Sunday at church, when the churchgoers would heat up the pews with every “Amen!” and “Praise the Lord!”. I love the way she hovered over pots and pans everyday at noon; I’d find her sashaying in the kitchen as if it were a model’s catwalk, slicing the bright orange carrots and stirring the thick brown gravy. Even today, her birthday, she’d managed to wake up at 7 AM without hitting the snooze button on our rickety alarm clock. I’d watched from bed, pretending to be asleep as she slipped into her favorite maroon dress; the one with the satin ribbon at the hem. She applied her make-up ever so carefully, and I fought the urge to spring up from bed and yell at her to stop – she didn’t need all that chemically infested make-up; she was beautiful just the way the Lord had created her. She spoke out loud, even though she knew I probably wouldn’t have heard her – she told me she was going to the beauty salon. Again, I had to stop myself from bolting upright and telling her not to go – she didn’t need all of those hot irons and chemical relaxers; I loved every kink in her hair just the way it was.
By the time I’d come back from the liquor store with the bottles of wine for her birthday dinner, I saw that she’d beat me to the cooking. There she was again, craning her neck over the hissing pots and pans, careful not to let the piping hot steam ruin her immaculate hairdo. I’d noticed that her nails were also done; they were pressed with blood red acrylics that I’d normally detest, but today, they looked like candy attached to her fingers. I’d kissed her hands and the nape of her neck, and she flirtatiously shooed me away, telling me that I’d have my share later on tonight.
Etta was, indeed, a one woman show. When our guests had arrived, the dining room lights were dimmed to perfection, making even the ugliest beast look like a fawn. The flame of the long ivory candles swayed from side to side along with the Jazz classics that were playing from our makeshift surround sound system. The table was set with our best china and Etta’s prized silverware. From the scent that was wafting from every steaming plate, I had known that Etta had once again outdone herself; Maple-roasted chicken with Creole spices, a seafood and sausage Jambalaya that would put the French Quarters to shame, and an endless array of sides including my favorite, buttered baby peas. Plates were laden with roasted new potatoes, sweet corn on the cob, succulent butter biscuits, and mouthwatering coleslaw. No, Jane Fonda was not a guest at this dinner, but Etta always told me that if the food doesn’t warm your heart, then it is not food at all.
Marion held up her fluted champagne glass to toast Etta’s 48 years of life, and it was then I realized that I had been standing in the doorway for too long. I quickly walked past the countless heads of glossy curls, tight braids, and nappy cuts until I reached the empty chair that was right beside my Etta’s.
I sat down and raised my glass as well, looking at my shining star with all the endearment my eyes could muster. Forty-eight years of life, my dear Etta, and we’ve only been married for two. Forty-eight years of life, and not a worry in the world has defaced your joyous demeanor. Forty-eight years of life, and you’re still as graceful as a hummingbird flittering in the warm sunshine of the South. You make life seem so effortless; not a single gray hair has sprouted in your lovely mass of curls. Never once have you complained about the Southern heat, and never once have you complained about the fatigue you’d felt after you’d collapsed in the living room.
Today is your birthday, my dear Etta, and tomorrow is your first chemotherapy session. I know you are not afraid to lose all of that beautiful hair, and I know you’re not afraid of losing weight and having your life drained of color and joy. In fact, your battle with life will probably be harder for me than it will be for you, just because I know that’s the way you are.
Today, you are enjoying your birthday to it’s fullest degree, because in your heart of hearts you are aware that this may be your last. Your friends don’t know about your sickness, because you don’t want anyone to worry – I’m lucky you didn’t keep something so serious from me as well. But that’s the way you are, my dear Etta. You’ve never stopped living, never stopped listening, and never stopped loving.
Today, I am by your side, holding your hand and feeding you a spoonful of your heavenly spicy creations. Tomorrow, I’ll be by your side, holding your hand and nourishing you with my love and energy. But always remember that even though I’m gone, the Lord is by our side no matter where we are.
I smile at you, and though I know that deep inside you are petrified, you still smile back. This is how I know that you will overcome. Happy birthday, my dearest Etta. May you live a thousand lives for the next hundred years to come.