There was a time in my childhood when my life revolved around rabid bats, they filled our attic with chemicals and ate away at the rotting wood. That was the year we said goodbye to many when our finger count went too high, and our hands grew smaller with grief. The rabid bats would knock on my window, throw rocks like lovers, and call me down when it was time to eat.
In our culture, loved ones live on inside the bodies of golden birds, but my birds were too black, with too many teeth. Bats infested Baba’s funeral, sitting on wires and perching on trees. His body was draped in white silk, and holy texts flooded his coffin, covering his swollen body with pages of red. My mother said they were an omen, so she began to tread lightly and stayed away from sin, swapping cigarettes for gum and her glasses of wine with chai.
When Baba died, I started to lock my windows and filled our attic with the stench of burning rose water. I had learned that trick from my mother. Incense is said to scare away bad spirits and give you enough room to breathe. I locked the bats behind cages of lilac and stayed up all night to keep them out, but everything started to crumble in Baba’s absence, and our offerings lay untouched.
When anyone talked about Baba back then, I could feel the lump in my stomach spin around. Words began to roll off my tongue in an unfamiliar way, and I grew a hatred for the color black. My mother stopped making Barbari in the mornings and let me crawl into bed with her in the middle of the night. I tried to copy her recipe, but my bread would never rise with the sun, so instead, I learned how to use a toaster oven and would stand in the kitchen with one of her books, reading words I didn’t understand.
Birds began to infest our garden, bodies piling up under our only tree. My mother said, ‘When a bird dies, it’s neighbors throw a funeral.’ Like the one we had for Baba,like the one for the rotting corpse. The morning air smelt like decay now, so I collected bird bones to make puzzles when my mother left me alone. I realized that I didn’t feel my pain; I soaked up what was left of hers.
On the 30th day after Baba’s death, we celebrated see-rozeh singing verses from the Avesta until our voices became hoarse. My mother said she was coping, but even my child body knew how she lied. I knew how her teeth would stick out and how her eyebrows would twitch until her forehead creased up like it did in anger. I didn’t understand the process of grief, so I grew angry until my forehead creased up like hers. I was mad she didn’t wake up on time or that her sheets were never clean. I was mad the bats were still in our attic, that it smelt like rot and death up there. Her sadness was scaring the summer away, pushing Baba further into the spirit world.
When winter came, Baba was nowhere to be found; his spirit had left when all the birds had died. It was winter, and their nests froze over in the morning frost, the cold suffocating their tiny lungs until they burst.My mother packed up all Baba’s belongings keeping only a collection of his toy horses. We said goodbye for the final time at a donation box, where I learned how to be patient with grief.