Six and Sixty, by Yasmine Sajid


  1.  My grandfather’s lap shakes as he sings to me. “Yasmunti, Yasmunti. Faynma mchiti tkun benti[1].” He hums this to me over and over, rocking me back and forth from the brown-checkered lounge chair by the door. I am six years old; he is sixty. Somehow, in my eyes, we are still the same age.
  2.  Almost all of his children and grandchildren live in the same apartment building. He built this structure so we could all be close together. The second floor of this apartment is for rent. Technically, my cousin Nisrine and I are not allowed on the second floor, in fear of causing havoc and disturbing the new Palestinian neighbours. Our curiosity gets the best of us. We tiptoe down the stairs and knock on their door. The couple welcomes us in and gives us each a Kit-Kat. We take the chocolate to our rooms and eat them under our beds. Our mothers somehow find out and threaten to spank us with the chenkla[2]. We automatically seek refuge in my grandfather. We rush to the top floor where his office is. He lets us hide under his desk. When our mothers storm up asking for us, he giggles. He tries to keep a straight face, “I haven’t seen them all morning.” Our mothers leave and we crawl out from under the desk and onto his lap. He cradles us and sings, “Yasmunti ou Nisrinti, faynma mchiti tkun benti[3].”
  3.  I trudge up the stairs with a heavy backpack slung over my shoulders. I do not want to see him today. I haven’t wanted to see him in a while. It hurts to see his frail corpse struggling to sit. It hurts to see his eyes flutter beneath his eyelids. It hurts to feel his hand grow limp in mine when I hold it. And what hurts the worst, is his soft voice quivering as he struggles to mumble the song. “Yasmunti, Yasmunti. Faynma mchiti, tkun benti.”
  4. I am six years old; he is sixty. Somehow he is younger than me. I watch my mother and aunts push his hospital bed from the bedroom to the living room. He has no teeth. His skin is worn out paper and he sports nothing but a diaper, a yellow-stained cotton tank top, and a bib. He calls me towards him, wanting to sing to me. I tell myself I love him. I love him, I love him, I love him. I love him while I’m swallowing bile at the sight of his crumbling corpse. I love him while I try to ignore his rotting breath. I love him while his ugly distorted singing pierces my ear drums. I love him. He mumbles through his gums and I excuse myself from his presence.
  5. My grandfather is seated on the floor in the corner of the living room, slobber dripping down his chin and his mouth slightly ajar. His eyes are wide and he is fascinated by everything. The couch his back leans on steadies him. He rocks back and forth to a song he doesn’t recognize anymore. I approach him cautiously and he flinches at my sudden movement.
  6.  He doesn’t remember me.


[1] Arabic for “My Yasmine, My Yasmine. Wherever you go, you will always be my (metaphorical) daughter.”

[2] A rubber flip flop often used by many cultures to discipline children.

[3] Arabic for “My Yasmine and my Nisrine. Wherever you go, you will always be my daughters.