Narrative Essay: A Late Apology
June 30, 2016
"AL ALAH AIKERBIR..." the melodious sound was spreading from Masjid. " I should be back now." Forgetting her cake in my oven, Nana hurried up for her prayers.
Nana was my downstairs neighbor. She was a devout Muslim and prayed five times a day－ never interrupted. She told me she was seventy-five years old, but she seemed much older. My son, Hassan, went to her house every morning for a cup of mint tea and a piece of bread. Then they had a talk for a while. "Nana" means grandma in the Berber language. I also called her "Nana" like Hassan. Sometimes, I didn't know what they were saying, which mixed oral words neither Arabic nor Berber between a senior woman and a three-year-old child.
"Hassan's mom, is my cake ready?"
After two minutes, Nana appeared at my doorway, moved her stooped body slowly to the couch, then plopped on it. I always wondered how she could pull a large carpet in the back yard and wash it with water, then drag it back to the balcony railings, drying it in the sun. Her room was always kept very clean and tidy. She did all chores by herself, even though I saw her son pass by many times but never help her.
Nana was a typical Berber woman. There were some tattoos —massed and strange—on her wrinkled face. When I saw her the first time, I was almost shocked. But Hassan liked her very much. She always wore a stainless white cotton robe. Long time house work made her back hunched like a hook, but it didn't bind her to do everything. Her living room was large, covered with spotless carpet and decorated with some simple Arabian cushions scattered around.
On a sunny afternoon, our new couches were delivered. My husband arranged the workers to assemble them while a loud voice came to my ear, “Hassan’s mom, these are so amazing!"
She touched the smooth fabric with her rough fingers, and whispered, “It is so amazing."
Then she turned to the old one.
"What a shame to throw it out!"
"Yes, but . . ."
"If you don't mind," she interrupted me immediately, "Leave it to me."
"Okay, Okay," my husband replied. But he and I had discussed a good price in a second hand store the day before!
The next day, I saw my couches were set up in her living room; several days later, I found our used gas tank and some other homewares in her house. Of course, that was with my husband's permission.
She came to me for cake baking every Monday afternoon since ever she had tasted my cake for the first time. I had to bake one more for her, but I was pleased to do it for her praise. Several times later, she began to bring a cake mold with some flour, eggs and sugar. Although it was often not enough, I was still happy to help her because I was satisfied to see her blended shadow carrying the cake as she disappeared from the doorway.
All this changed on a winter Monday afternoon. I can still remember that it was a stormy day with massed dark clouds since it barely happened in that arid desert region, so I have hardly forgotten it for fifteen years.
My husband had handed me an envelope filled with three thousand dollars before he left for work while I was busy with dishwashing, and put it on the tea table.
"Are you here? Hassan’s mom?"
I placed the last bowl in the cupboard, then opened the door.
Nana moved her heavy body slowly to the couch near the doorway, and gave me her cake mold. I took it over and did routine work as usual.
When the cake smell filled the living room, Nana was still napping, softly snoring on the couch.
"Mom, is the cake ready?" Hassan shouted.
“Be quiet, Hassan.” I hushed him with my index finger against my mouth.
Nana awakened and stood. I gave her my perfect hot fresh cake, then she smiled, saying, “Thank you so much."
I was always satisfied to see her going downstairs, one hand holding the mold, the other one trailing along the banister.
When Hassan was sleeping, the world became so quiet. I tidied the living room.
Suddenly, I was shocked. Where was the envelope? It should have been on the tea table, but now it had gone! It was lost!
I looked for it everywhere, but failed. When my husband was back, he comforted me, “It might be somewhere."
It must be somewhere! There were only Nana with me at that moment. I couldn't help imagining anymore.
Everything was going on the same in the following days, but I became a bit strange: I found Nana had changed her curtains, and her son bought a new Hyundai vehicle. All those seemed to be lost tracks in my eyes.
My husband said I was so sensitive, but I couldn't help suspecting. I began to avoid meeting Nana unless greeting her, and tried to leave home on Monday afternoon for various reasons. From that time on, I didn't bake cake for her, although I gave her my cake sometimes as a present, and Nana came to my house as well, but just for a short time.
I felt we were in an awkward situation.
Six months later, we moved from Nana's house. I left some kitchen wares and a washing machine to her. She was very happy. “Come to see me again, Hassan’s mom."
“I promise, Nana.”
In the new house, I decided to throw out some of Hassan's damaged toys. Suddenly, I saw a thick envelope was at the bottom of his toy box. It was the one I had sought for a long time.
It was there!
I couldn't be happy anyway. I just wanted to hit myself. Although I didn't say anything to Nana, I had still suspected her. I thought I must say sorry to her someday, but how could I do it? She might not know I have lost something. Finally, I gave up.
Two years later, my husband finished his work in Libya. We would go back to China. I went to Nana's house to say farewell before leaving.
Everything was the same as two years before. When Nana's son told me his mother had passed away three months before, I bit my lip while tears filled my eyes.
I have said a thousand times sorry to Nana since then, but she could never hear it. (It was too late!) I'd rather be here early no matter how she might treat me.
"AL ALAH AIKERBIR..." the sound came from Masjid was still melodious as if I had seen Nana would hurry for her prayer.
I wish she could receive my late apology in heaven.