There is a specific sound that comes from an egg frying in a pan. Precisely, it’s a pan that’s been in commission for quite some time, possibly an immigrant pan from India that was smuggled in a suitcase so overflowing with handspun silks and cottons and gold and tears from my grandmother that the non-stick never really stood a chance — or maybe my mother just bought a crappy pan. I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. How many of my breakfasts have been made in that pan, how much revenue I’ve supplied Trader Joe’s simply by way of my love of eggs, how many short minutes spanning the years 1993 through 2014 my mom spent providing more than just food for her son and her daughter: these are questions I won’t know the answers to, but will always want.
There is a specific sound that my mouth made every time I made my way to the door for school and yelled back at my father: “’Slamlaikm.” It was supposed to be “Assalam-u-Alaikum,” but I managed to make a habit of abusing the Arabic words for “peace be upon you.” My father didn’t care, though. He just wanted to hear it. He would get mad if I forgot. He wanted to hear his son acknowledge a mutual respect. He wanted his children to know that he loves them, that he does everything for them, but that this was what he asked for in return: peace.
There is a specific sound that my sister’s incredibly full lanyard of keys makes as it rotates around the gears and mechanisms that unlock our house door. She’s home from work. My time at home alone is over, but time spent with my sister is just as vital, just as important. “PMT?” she asks. Of course, I say. It’s a short drive, not more than the six minutes and forty-two seconds I once timed. Sometimes we have a lot to say, most times we don’t. She talks more than I do, more than I ever will, but that’s not a problem. I like hearing her talk. I like doing this with her.
There is a specific sound that emanates from a spoon clanging around the sides of a mug full of tea. It’s the sound of nostalgia. It’s the sound of maternal love, of a bridge between cultures, of ten minutes spent so casually and so trivially yet so full of life that these days, my apartment in Ann Arbor at 4:30 p.m. feels as if five 20-year-old guys are crucially lacking one middle-aged Indian woman who has worked more than she has to and deserves a nap but can’t because of a family of four that never gave her a break from cooking. I can stir that spoon all I want, but that sound is gone forever, tainted by one too many 4:30’s spent alone.
There is a specific sound that comes when my father turns off his car in the driveway, and the headlights that had just shone through the curtains fade away, the NPR that was on his radio at a volume way too high turns off mid-Ira Glass sentence. He opens the door, looks at me sprawled on our red sofa, and utters a clear, “Assalamu-Alaikum.” I respond just as poorly as I did in the morning. He takes off his shoes and asks about my day, about how my classes were, about how his son is doing in his formative years in a different country than his own, and next he’ll move on to my sister, asking the same questions and securing the same peace of mind.
The sound of daily routine, gone.