By Iman Ali
Alya’s head was throbbing as she walked to the kitchen. She didn’t regret staying up until dawn with her aunts as she barely saw them as it was but getting only three hours of sleep wasn’t conductive to her health, either. But her grandmother had promised she’d make her famous stuffed vine leaves and stuffed vine leaves were not a one-woman affair. Their maid was on her annual vacation and Alya had promised to be up at ten to assist her grandmother.
When she entered the kitchen she was astounded to see her grandmother already sitting at the kitchen table rolling vine leaves expertly with rice and minced meat.
“Yadouh, you’re already awake?” Alya exclaimed.
“There’s mint tea in that pot. The bread is behind the water boiler and there’s zaatar in the cupboard and cheese in the fridge behind the milk.”
She said all this while her hands kept busy, never faltering. In the minute since she’d arrived in the kitchen her grandmother had already finished rolling and putting away three vine leaves.
“Just let me wash my hands and I’ll—”
Her grandmother shook her head. “Have your breakfast first and then you can help me.”
Feeling guilty Alya rushed to make her cheese sandwich and poured herself a cup of tea to settle next to her grandmother.
“You started early,” Alya said. “Since when have you been awake?”
“Since the morning prayer,” her grandmother divulged, her glasses sitting low on her nose, her fingers expertly cutting the stem of a vine leave before eyeballing the right amount of filling and tucking it tightly to then arrange it in the nearby pot. “I can’t fall asleep after the prayer so I’ve been keeping busy. I thought I’d start early with the vine leaves and keep the pot in the fridge until it’s time to cook it. Good for the flavors.”
Alya smiled as she sipped her tea. “Me and the girls only slept after praying.”
“I know,” her grandmother replied. “I heard you lot.”
“We tried to keep quiet,” Alya murmured feeling her face heat up. “Is that why you couldn’t go back to sleep?”
“No,” her grandmother sighed slightly before getting up. She washed her hands at the sink before she grabbed a pair of metal tongs and removed a glowing coal from atop a gas burner to dump it into her incense holder. From a small pot tucked into the corner she crumbled a little oud and watched as plumes of aromatic smoke rose up into the air.
“I’m done.” Alya got up and quickly washed her teacup and plate. “How about I move around the house with the incense burner and I’ll be right back?”
Her grandmother smiled at her enthusiasm. “Did I tell you, Alya, that you’re my favorite granddaughter?”
“You never let me forget,” Alya grinned while she carefully took the incense burner from her grandmother and started to move around the ground floor distributing the oud smoke throughout the rooms and feeling thankful that her grandparents’ house seldom changed. That was part of her culture that she especially loved.