My aunt Yasmina was a hoarder of things, especially dolls. On the afternoon she made her
death announcement, we were all crammed into her ground floor flat competing for space with
her vast collection of porcelain dolls. That was just before my eleventh birthday. It was a family
ritual for as far back as my memory could stretch to have a Sunday feast of roast chicken,
coleslaw salad and home-made bread rolls with ice-cream and fruit salad for dessert at her
'It will be Friday next week, in the afternoon,' announced Yasmina matter-of-factly to her sisters who were engrossed in their assigned tasks in the kitchen. Yasmina ran her Sunday kitchen with militant efficiency. My mother was shredding the red cabbage, Sabeena was rewashing the cutlery that would be used for the meal; her fingertips shrivelled from the scalding hot water that Yasmina insisted she use. 'I want to see my face in those plates!' were her sharp instructions to her youngest sister.
'Did you hear me girls? Friday,' Yasmina continued calmly, wiping her flour dusted hands
across her turmeric stained apron before she resumed pressing and pulling the doughy mass
which yielded dutifully to her firm hold.
'What's so important about Friday Yas?' snapped Sabeena, her voice laced with thick
'That's when I'm going' was Yasmina's response.
'Going where for God's sake?!'
'To my creator,' she replied unperturbed. 'You girls need to decide who's going to look after my babies?' she informed them, studying her sister's faces for the first sign of any emotion. By babies she meant Rani and Raja, her two mischievous but affectionate Siberian cats she had rescued from the SPCA.
While we ate, Yasmina proceeded to shout the details of her death including the precise time it would take place, across the room. Every available space was occupied by an adult or child with a plate precariously balanced on their laps and a drumstick or thigh in their right hand. I was squeezed in at the edge of the couch next to Rani who was enjoying her third afternoon nap; her dense shimmering coat splayed across the velvet couch. None of us were surprised by her grand revelation. In fact my mother, aunt and uncles were already preoccupied with thoughts of the necessary arrangements for the following week. Yasmina always made things easy and she was so organised, she had the decency to tell people in advance of her impending death.
The following Sunday, we were gathered in her flat again but not for Sunday roast, it was to sort out all her things that were destined for either the charity collection box, poor relatives pile or the garage sale for the more valuable items like her jewellery, antique grandfather clock and Persian rugs. She passed away in her sleep on the Friday afternoon sandwiched between Rania and Raja just as she had said she would. She had even remembered to wash and iron the laundry before she fell asleep because she was not one to leave unfinished business to inconvenience others, self-sufficient even in death she was.
Yasmina had taken care of her sisters like a surrogate mother since she was 14; my grandmother had died while giving birth to Aunt Sabeena. I had collected only whispered fragments of my grandfather from the conversations I overheard. As a lonely only-child, I was so skilled at hiding in the shadows and eavesdropping through half-open doorways and paper- thin walls that my family nickname was 'Big Ears'.
'Oooh here comes Big Ears, better shush because she picks up everything with those ears of hers,' my aunt Sabeena would say.
I gathered that my grandfather Omar had been a very stern man who disapproved of all his daughter's suitors, terrorising them until they left with downcast eyes. He also believed that long hair was a mark of femininity and forbade them to cut their hair. There were no photographs of him so when I thought of him I imagined a stern man who spent his time hiding scissors and other sharp instruments that might be used for cutting hair. Days after his death from a sudden heart attack, the three sisters went to the hairdresser down the street for the first time. Yasmina who had the longest hair, cut hers the shortest. They left behind a carpet of long silky black locks on the shop floor. Yasmina was also the oldest and most beautiful of my grandmother's children. She had hazel eyes framed by long thick eyelashes with high cheekbones and was so tall she towered over the men in the family. Everyone joked about how God had given her so much beauty there was very little left for her sisters. When relatives said I looked just like my aunt Yasmina, I felt like the luckiest girl.
'You're going to be a bombshell, just like Yasmina hey,' commented one uncle whose hand lingered for too long on my waist once, when I greeted him with the traditional hug and kiss reserved for male elders.
Yasmina's gifts didn't end with her distinguished beauty, she could see things that we couldn't: ghosts and unrested spirits. When my mother complained about hearing banging pots and pans from our kitchen, Yasmina visited and declared that a very unhappily married woman had died in that house. Her words had enough gravity to persuade my parents to sell the place.
While my aunts, uncles and cousins packed the porcelain dolls, folded bamboo fans, cat toys, fur coats, Persian rugs, cutlery and silk scarves into separate cardboard boxes marked, 'For Charity', 'Poor Relatives,' and 'Garage sale', I sneaked unseen into my aunt's bedroom. That's when I found the diary and letters imprisoned in rubber bands and released them. Yasmina had been in love with a man named Ali who her father vehemently disapproved of. She had a child out of wedlock and my grandfather had forced her to give the baby girl to her married sister, my mother.
Zahirra is mama to a strong willed 11 year old, Miss to her international students who she teaches conditionals, participle clauses and cohesive devices. She lives to write and is currently honing her skills by reading widely, carefully selecting her synonyms and then crossing her fingers after pressing submit. She is new to The Twittersphere and deeply grateful for all the writing opportunities it has presented. She can be found at @ZahirraD on Twitter.