My Fictional Grandparents

Laila Lalami in the New York Times:

28lives-articleInlineMy mother was abandoned in a French orphanage in Fez in 1941. That year in Morocco, hundreds of people died in an outbreak of the plague; her parents were among the victims. Actually, no, they died in a horrific car crash on the newly built road from Marrakesh to Fez. No, no, no, my grandmother died in childbirth, and my grandfather, mad with grief, gave the baby away. The truth is: I don’t know how my mother ended up in a French orphanage in 1941. The nuns in black habits never told.

Growing up in Rabat, I felt lopsided, like a seesaw no one ever played with. On my father’s side: a large number of uncles, cousins, second cousins, grandaunts, all claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad. On my mother’s side: nothing. No one. Often I imagined my mother’s parents, the man and woman whose blood pulsed in my veins but whom I had never seen.

I would have called them Ba-sidi and Mi-lalla. Like my paternal grandfather, Ba-sidi would have been old but active. He would have retired from a career in the police and spent his days performing El Melhun, Moroccan sung poetry, with his friends. Like my paternal grandmother, Mi-lalla would have worn long, rustling caftans, in which I would have sought refuge every time I got into trouble. She would have taught me all her herbal cures and hennaed my hands before each Eid.

More here.