The death of a blue silk dress

Sunday, November 8, 2020 - 11:37pm

NOSELL

Graphic by Meghana Tummala

Noor Al-Fikhri was buried in a shallow grave under a fig tree ten minutes before noon, after her left ankle gave out in an attempt to hang her blue silk dress to dry while climbing the rusty, half-removed ladder that led to the roof. My 12 year old grandmother found her sister half-splayed, cats and flies lapping at what little remained of the dried blood, her knees disjointed and contorted in the special sort of way that could only be found on a dead woman. The women in their building wailed and cried for three nights and three days, her body on their kitchen floor as they partook in the Islamic ritual of ghusul every Muslim body must go through after death. My grandmother said their grief was so heavy and viscous that it crept across every hallway and corridor, trapping, toes and the balls of feet, so that even climbing one flight of stairs became the most arduous task. Noor was buried in an expert fashion, a ritual the three men of the graveyard had perfected over the years and years they had held the job, plowing into the thick and hardened dirt, angling the shovel up, and down, and everywhere in between. My grandmother tells me that the earth would not accept her that day, that the men got down on their hands and knees and scraped and clawed at the ground with their own hands, dousing it with water, and forcing the land to open its bowels with pieces of rusted metal, in a furious and haphazard fashion, for there were five more women and men and children expected to be buried that day and they were expected at the mosque soon afterwards for late afternoon prayers. 

 

Noor’s death became the sort of story only told as a cautionary tale to misbehaving boys, a sad anecdote so frequently told over a meal, that the mere mention of her name caused the tea to sour and the fruit to bloat. My grandmother tells me the landlord ordered the most expensive and sophisticated of cleaning supplies from France, squatting down on all fours in a pressed suit and  the finest of leather shoes from Istanbul, to scrape and scour the splatter of blood that remained as the final indicator of Noor’s existence. The inhabitants of the building gathered around him in a big, unmoving mass, the men yelling that he must scrape the ground harder and the women reminding him that he had missed a spot. Over the years my grandmother among many tried her hand at lifting the stain from the tile. Scrubbing and scraping, dabbing and praying and smoothing, and yet the stain never ceased to exist.