Notes on Bibi: Death and all that follows
Death takes all that is full and renders it empty. We are comforted by what those we lost have left behind for us to keep. Kebabs and shops and art and salad sauces and books and jokes and strange habits we carry. Death is the indiscriminate execution of an inheritance to both the worthy and the unworthy. We are all heirs of great and mediocre heritage. Bibi, as Iraqis call their grandmother, died after battling too many illnesses to comprehend let alone explain. She died on the morning of a storm. Sand came early to take her away. Sand we walked on together. Sand I rarely glanced at while spending weekends at her house. Sand I buried her with on Saturday. We were both above sand and together for so long and now sand is between us.
Bibi was a strong woman. She survived too much. War, migration, death of a child and a husband. She watched her brothers and sisters stay in Iraq and fall on times so hard that every bit helped. She watched her nephews called to a fruitless war for eight years. Some didn’t return. She lost her home and left overnight because my grandfather was rumoured to be pro-monarchy at a time of socialist democracy. In 2003, my mother and I took her to Ahwaz to meet her sister - she had been accused by Saddam of being Iranian and had their assets confiscated and banished there - after many years. My great aunt was younger than Bibi but she looked so much older. I remember Bibi almost scolding her - in that hardened tone that streams of love that only Iraqi women can do - “What’s wrong you?! What happened to you??!” But she knew: Saddam happened. One of my great aunt’s daughters had green spots on her arms. I asked her what they were and she said ‘Kemawi’. During that trip I met my great aunt’s only son. He told me that time had stopped since they were forced to leave Iraq. That he now intentionally lives in the past. Before the war. When things were good.
I do not digress and I do not live in the past but I left a part of me with Bibi in that grave. I don’t know what it is but I know it’s old. I know it’s from the days of her salad and spicy bamya stew in her house in Sharjah by the green belt park in the blue living room where I slept too many times trying to stay up to watch Thursday night movies. Where I saw Enter the Dragon for the first time one afternoon after Akil dozed off.
Maybe that’s what life is about… a life-long attempt to build a collection of memories that can be curated into a final exhibition moments before we die. And then we exhale.