I Could Taste the Cherries from Home

There is something I want you to know. It is about the way I live my life since your embrace. It is the way you live in my life even after you pass, and until we meet again.

In the Spring, I sit with my windows open so I can feel a connection to the world. It’s not like Kayfoun here. There is no direct connection to the land. No one lives in a flat above me. No laundry hangs outside. But I’ve come up with a way to counteract all that this American city doesn’t have.

I open the windows, brew some tea, and eat small bits of dried apricot. I pretend that the window is the door to your balcony. I pretend the tea is green instead of black. I pretend the apricots are fresh instead of dried, that I’ve just picked them off the trees in your orchard and that when I wash them, their skins peel off under my caress and the meat of the fruit is so sweet my hands shake as I twist one half away from its core and set it on my tongue. You see? I remember everything you taught me. I know you are wondering why black tea? America has green tea. And I have an answer for that: I never liked green tea. I only drank it because it’s what you gave to me.

"green tea" by Martin Phox

You have given me other things that I enjoy. Among them are my nose and ears, my love of laughter and singing, Lebanon as my home. I treasure all of these gifts and I use them whenever I can. Let me tell you how.

In Winter, I let my dark skin fade, but my nose remains small and round. I place my fingertips around it, thumb and pinky on opposite nostrils and breathe. Immediately, you are vivid in my mind, laughing and shaking your head. I remember it all. You showed me the peaches on the tree, told me not yet, they’re not ripe. But I couldn’t wait. They looked good to me. I picked one. I ate it with a puckered face. The sourness bit my tongue. You stood and watched, shaking your head slowly from side to side. You put a hand on your hip and leaned back, letting your laughter erupt with a breeze that stole the peach from my hands and plunged it into the dirt, another tree to grow.

In Autumn, I dream of you. I cover myself in two thick blankets, always cold. You remember, don’t you? I had a coat on in the living room. It was July and the heat had reached even the cool top of the mountain. We were watching a woman read horoscopes and you were concerned. Are you sick? No. I’m fine. What do you need a coat for? I’m cold. If you’re cold you must be sick. It went on that way every time. Finally, I sat out on the balcony with the mosquitoes and shivered only at night. On the balcony we rolled grape leaves and watched the car lights blink on and off as they traveled around Beirut at night.

In Summer, I imagine myself with you, on the side of the road collecting that weed I can never remember the name of, but it tastes so good with olives. You also showed me which grape leaves to pluck from the vines, how to cook rice, how to sort the ants from the sugar. All of this lives on in me, though I sink into my couch when I sit down and I have no visitors to serve coffee and tea. I have no pastries to bring out on the silver trays you gave me on my wedding day. But does it matter when I can remember so much so well?

And there’s more. There are memories I don’t equate with any season. Sometimes I drift away while folding laundry. I remember you ironing t-shirts and underwear. I never let you see me smile. You wouldn’t have understood what I found so funny. Also, I remember the cherries you brought for me the day after I left. The ones with the white stripe down the middle. You didn’t know I was gone, so you found a vendor on the street, bought one kilo, and hailed a taxi to take you up the mountain. They say you rode in with the man who delivered me away. By the way, thank you. I could taste the cherries from home.

When I walk along a road, I breathe in the smell of exhaust. I remember the stores we went to on either side of street and the cars that drove in between them. I remember how the street was barely wide enough for one car, but traffic went both ways. There was a small shop among the small shops. We almost missed it. But the brightness of fresh oranges drew us in. A teenaged boy juiced them for us, handed me a cup and smiled. We drank through straws, returned the glasses and went on our way. But not before you tsked to me about how forward Lebanese boys are. You chased that worry with the hope of finding me a husband so that I might stay forever. I will not live in Lebanon, but it will live forever in me.

"Roasting by an Open Fire 1" by Jan Faborsky

There is so much to forget but I have stored it all inside myself. Every bit of my body is packed. There is an association for every inch. Pine needles. Pine nuts. I can clearly see the tree that grew past the first balcony all the way up to the fourth. When I visited you upstairs, we roasted the pinecones in your fireplace until they opened up. We feasted on the nuts; little hidden treasures. Do you believe me when I tell you I roast pinecones in Winter? We have them here on trees out back, but the taste is not the same. I don’t eat the nuts. I only roast the cone for the warmth it gives me. I sit by the fire and remember the way you used just the tips of your fingers to pop the sweet fruits into your mouth.

When it rains, I play the CDs you bought for me on repeat. I move my hips to the tinny pop rhythms and sing along with the words I know. I close my eyes and see the lifts and dips of your arms and hips. I allow myself to feel the joy on your face. I move around the living room, imagine that I am more than me, more than beautiful. I am you.

The days between when I leave and when I return always pass so slowly. When we are apart, my body aches and my heart convulses. If I allowed myself, I could shut down. I could simply stop living. But I hold on, hoping, hoping, hoping I will see you again.

If we meet again, let it be by the water. The blue-green waves that lap at the shore. Remember the beach where my skin burned? The sun was so hot that day, like every other summer day, and I grew as red as the watermelon we broke open. Let’s meet there. I’ll be in the pool. When you arrive I’ll come out and we can walk along the sand and wet our feet in the sea. The water will be separated by land the way our lands are separated by water.

I am waiting for you. I have already arrived. I am waiting and you are elsewhere. When this happens, I am prepared. You are always late. So now I close my eyes and sink inside myself to find the place where we can be together until we are, once again, together.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

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  1. […] Spring where life recovers. Fall is the season of my creativity, when my heart aches the most for the family I am separated from, when I set everything down that is not mine and travel inward to undertake the most daunting […]

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