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Not a conversation piece

On the 40th day of your passing, I remember standing by a plate of food with my palms cupped in prayer. The sharp sweetness of incense danced around and snuck in corners, as the men in front let Arabic slip around their tongues in whispers. The second your name was uttered, my heart sunk deeper and I forced myself to take a breather before turning around to face the mob of mourners. That’s when I felt a hand settle on my shoulder as a hot breath tickled my ear and someone muttered “make sure you eat, you’ve become even skinnier!”

It had been forty days since my last full meal. It would be another forty until I asked for a second spoonful of anything. Every bite I swallowed made me instantly heave. Any weight inside my body would mix with the guilt and anxiety, and I’d be instantly pulled down by gravity. The dinner table at home always had a vacant seat, but restaurants were booming reminders of how our reservations changed permanently. The monsters birthed from your death took residence in the depths of my being so every time I considered eating, they’d set my chest aflame and send my tummy spiraling. There was no room to feel anything but grief. There was no room to not be empty.

I waited for the first couple of months, then I waited a few more weeks. I waited for my stomach to grumble and I smoked my lungs into ash waiting for munchies. I couldn’t step out of the house feeling heavy so if I had a social obligation of any kind that night, it made sense all day to not eat. Chocolate no longer felt both warm and sweet, rice felt like grains of truth stuck in my throat so I can’t breathe. Most food was ruled out because you were such a foodie so all our favourite meals now had too many nauseating memories.

At night I would strip down to my feet and trace the edges gently, wondering when I would stop feeling so prickly. We buried you, yet I became the zombie. With arms flailing like twigs and legs that looked like the shortest pair of stilts and eyes that grew bigger against the canvas of a face ready to disappear. I spent a year hiding this body from men because of the monster who left too many imprints, and now I keep it under wraps because this time the monster is my body. I only liked wearing your clothes because they were meant to be baggy, so whether I was thinking of you or not, people just thought I was being sweet. Dwelling in your loss, not drowning in my own misery. I couldn’t tell them apart at least.

In the privacy of my own mind I’d often wonder what kind of people spend their consolation visits looking the daughter up and down. I’d wonder what kind of moral policing let them believe this was allowed. If grief is such a far-off option to them, I’d wonder what they attribute it to? So many of them still look at me casually and instead of seeing a girl who is constantly fighting, they say “Oh so you think it’s fashionable to be so skinny?” As if the worst years of my life were consumed by trying to be trendy. Too many of them scrunch their noses and spit out their disgust as they call me sickly and I smile back and say I’m working on it actively. Almost everyone starts vomiting out diet regimes and healthy physical activity but how am I supposed to explain that I have just started to finish my meal. That almost two years later, I’m celebrating merely feeling hungry. That right now, I am basking in once again having some energy. That my body might still be jarring and too thin but it is my battlefield – scarred and bleeding and diminishing but still fighting, still pushing, still daring to dream. My body may be small but it is not a conversation piece. Grief or no grief, it does not exist for your commentary.

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