Short Story

Dinner-time Dreaming 

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This piece is part of the On Palestine Collection.

When someone says “dream dinner party,” what usually comes to your mind? I hear people’s descriptions and my mind paints a picture of their imaginary gatherings: lavish dining rooms, luxurious lighting, famous guests, and a carefully curated menu – no expenses spared. So tell me why the closest thing I can imagine to a dream dinner party looks so different? So… ordinary? Open air, family, homemade food, and the earth as our table and chairs. Despite how simple it sounds, to call it a dream dinner party is still quite fitting… 

A table-spread stretched from Lifta, on the outskirts of Al Quds, to Yattah, on the outskirts of Al Khalil, made possible only by a time machine. Not to go back in time – but forwards. Forwards – to a time where sitting on our soft soil and picking our fresh fruits and grazing our lovely livestock isn’t a criminal offense or grounds for military execution. To a time when the homes our grandparents built stand solid and proud, not confiscated and crumbling. To a time when being born and raised on the earth of our origin and in the arms of our ancestors isn’t imaginary or impossible. 

Of course we’d need to bend the rules of space-time to pull this off. What would a family dinner be without my two dear grandfathers who’ve returned to their Lord, one whom I had the blessing of being loved by, fed by his hand, and another whom I haven’t met yet but whose gentle and charismatic reputation precedes. I can’t wait to see him in person. And what about their parents? And siblings? And cousins? And their kids? And their parents? I want to meet them all. 

They can tell us what really happened. They can tell us what it was like before. Before thinking about our land was a bittersweet, intoxicating, and addicting recipe for heartbreak. Before home was something distant, out of reach, a dream, under siege. Before… when our smiles weren’t pigmented with a sorrow so strong it stopped washing out generations ago. Before our tree’s trunks knew the wrath of the occupier’s fire, before their roots knew the taste of our blood. 

Our dinner party. We’d sit on the cloth we laid down from one side of my family tree to the other… we’d bask under the shade of the branches of sweet and sour citruses, rich zeytoun (olives), bells of rummaan (pomegranate), clumps of saber (prickly pear), and clusters of ‘inab (grapes) and tein (figs)… between the fragrant bushes of zaa’tar (wild thyme), sumaa’ (sumac), and meramiyyeh (sage). We’d decorate the spread with the bright blooms of our wildflowers, and pour tart erk sous (licorice drink), sweet ‘aseer ‘amar eldin (apricot juice), and fresh water from our wells for each other, to quench our thirst and soothe our throats. We’d be breathless; unable to stop talking and laughing after being apart for so long. 

Each one of us would make and bring our favorite dish… I would make msakhan – soft fresh bread underneath roast chicken, covered in carmelized onion and sumaa’. Mama would cook her classic eggplant magloubeh, and Baba fattet salata, salad with crisped bread. Tetah Jamilah would prepare a huge sidr (round serving tray) of mansaf, steaming with lamb and dripping with laban jameed, and Tetah Nahil mlukhiyyeh, garlicky green broth poured over white rice. I think Jiddo Bader would bring fattet ‘adas – chunks of toasted bread soaked with warm lentil soup. I wonder what new dishes I’d get to learn about and taste. I’d have my paper and pen ready to take notes for sure.

Or maybe I wouldn’t need to. Have my notebook ready, I mean. Maybe, for the first time, I wouldn’t feel the need to record every little thing – I have a bothersome habit of trying to do that. Maybe I won’t need to because maybe we’d finally be safe. Maybe I won’t scramble to attempt to set every detail in stone because maybe we wouldn’t fear for our futures anymore. Maybe we could stretch these few hours of peace into a permanent forever. That is why I planned this party after all. So we could finally be together. So we could spend an eternity saying good morning to make up for the lives of goodbyes that we’ve all lived. 

“Goodbye, my life and my land. They’ll kill me if I stay. I’ve taken the keys, it’ll be okay – we’ll be back in a few weeks -”

“Goodbye, my precious mother and father, I kiss your hands, press them to my forehead. Forgive me for leaving your side – why does the world have to be so wide? We’ll be back to visit at soon as we can, a few years at most -” 

“Goodbye my dear sister, my brother, hold me a little longer, I’m sorry for crying – don’t cry. We’ll be back, I think… We’ll be back, insha’Allah.” 

That’s why I planned this dinner after all – so we could finally fulfill our pending promises. How many were concluded with returns to our Creator before we could return to each other’s arms? The pact accumulates, gets passed down. We live on in each other’s vows, in each other’s souls. 

‘Amaneh (promise us) – don’t forget us. Don’t forget where we came from, who you’re made of.” 

‘Amaneh – don’t lose your way. Don’t forget to return, to take us home – ‘amaneh.” 

The road is long and winding and the stars rarely reveal themselves through the clouds. We are stumbling with every step and second-guessing every breath. We may not know when we’ll get there, or precisely how… but return we will, insha’Allah. Returning we are. 

Sundus Aladra is a California-born everywhere-raised writer of Palestinian origin. Writing has been one of her most steadfast companions in the face of life's unpredictable ups and downs, and she thinks we all could use a little more of it in our world. Sundus holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations and in her free time can be found trying to juggle her wide expanse of creative hobbies. She is excited to join MYM and can't wait to see where this path will lead.

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