Scent of a name

She paces the thirty feet available to her in the back of her daughter’s house and smiles at the remembrance of her first reaction to it. After getting settled in the small guest room, her daughter had showed her the backyard with its three rosebushes and a few American pink flowers she still can’t learn the name of.

“Garden?” she had mocked. “Why, back home this would be called a flower bed!”

Now, two years later, she knows this is as much of a garden as she can ever hope for. With no walls between the tiny backyards, she tries to remember Bill’s caution not to cross the border into the neighbor’s lawn. At first, she saw no borders, but now she knows that the petunias and the willow are the neighbor’s. The invisible boundaries give her a claustrophobic feeling.  

Sometimes during the day, when everyone is out, she takes her glass of cardamom tea and sits by the kitchen window, sipping, thinking, watching the neighborhood. Once in a while, a neighbor comes out to pick up the mail or walk the dog, but mostly all she sees are the occasional opening and closing of garage doors as neighbors’ come and go in their cars.  She watches a man two houses down unravel the green hose to water his backyard. With his back to her and his hands grabbing the hose, it looks as if he is standing there urinating on his flowers!

In the morning, right before her daughter and son-in-law go to work and take Jessica to school, the house is filled with warm sounds of life. Speaking words she can’t understand, the mere echo of their voices keeps her company through her first glass of tea. It took some time to adjust to the name, Bill. Beell? What kind of parents would name their son 'Shovel?'  But she no longer makes that association. To her, Bill is now a pair of blue eyes that greets her in the morning, the tall figure that carries her only grandchild on his shoulders and a soft voice with a funny accent, calling her “Madar-joon.” She likes this more than Haj-Khanoom, a title she had earned after her holy pilgrimage. No one here seems to care about a pilgrimage to Mecca. Sometimes she feels guilty as she doubts if even she cares herself! It feels as if she is living a borrowed life and none of her old values matter.

Who could imagine a granddaughter whose name would mean nothing?  Then again, the name now means light, joy and hope all at once. Jessica has her father’s fair complexion and long limbs, but the brown eyes and long eyelashes are definitely her mother’s and she has a personality all her own. With an entire day ahead, Madar-joon goes about her chores. She has re-learned to cook, something that at home she used to leave entirely to the maid. Sharing responsibilities fills her days, makes her feel needed. When early afternoon rolls around, a friend drives Jessica back from nursery school. By then, most of her work is done, leaving her free to give all her attention to her baby.

She sits in a chair and let’s the child climb onto her lap. Curved fingers offer Jessica a fresh baked cookie as she teaches her the word in Persian, “Shirinee,” and laughs at Jessica's lisp in her attempt, “Silleeni.”

Gently, she wraps her arms around the child, inhales the sweet smell of her hair and kisses the top of that tiny head. Yes, Sillinee. That’s her life now; a mispronounced word which holds no significance to the world around her, yet one filled with homemade sweetness.

Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist and a freelance writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is “Sharik-e Gham” (see excerpt). Visit her site

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