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Abjiledmarjipachdamadamadeshqalandar
Bibilailalandar
Dambadambadeshqalandar…

He sings it clear. Nobody knows what it means. Not even Grandma, and she speaks Arabic. He can be heard from as faraway as Bi Mongi's, tick ticking his coin against the metal bowl in the curve of his left arm. The left arm has no hand, only two fingers.
"You must not stare at his hand, beta," Grandma says.

I must not stare at his feet either. They are rolled up like jam rolls, tied with a string to flat pieces of wood, his square shoes.

And nobody knows whether his hair is curly because a large white turban hides it.

"Beware his eyes, beta. There is more power in them than any mwalimu can counter with prayers!" says Grandma.

I do not want to look into his eyes but I always do and I cannot move until his lips part and show whitest teeth. Then I run away and wait in the distance to watch him sing.

"Who is he, Grandma?"

She stops threading beads. "Who is who, beta?"

"maskin Qalandar, Grandma!"

"Why don't you ask your Grandfather?" and returns to her beads. Her words feel hard.

I must not call him beggar. He is maskin, poor, and so are the others. They all come on Friday and on Idd. Each maskin gets a pice coin from Grandfather but Blind Buzzer gets two and nobody knows how much Qalandar gets because Grandfather puts his in an envelope. Sometimes they form a line, silent. Sometimes they come swarming together, hands raised like leafless coconut branches. Then Grandfather has to see he does not put money in the same hand twice.

Blind Buzzer is the first to come. His "Y'Allah Maskeeeen," can be heard from far away as he thook thooks the lane with his thick stick.

"How does he know where to stop, Mama Aya?"

"That Buzzer has an inner eye, something like your Grandma's, which see your thoughts before you even think them!"

He moves his head round and round, like a mustt dervish, and his fez tassel whirls faster and faster as he prays, "Ya Allah…bzzzzzzzzz … prosperity… bzzzzzzzzz… this world… bzzzzzzzzzz.. .your children and grandchildren … bzzzzzzzzz …next world… bzzzzzzzzzzz… blessings..."

Mama Aya says the length of Blind Buzzer's prayers depends on how much he gets. That is why his prayers for Grandfather are five times as long as his regular ones.

Qalandar is the last to come. He lives far away, out of town in a shamba, with his mother and wife and child. Grandfather stands when he sings though Grandma says he does not understand a word of Qalandar's song.

"For all we know, he might be cursing us," she says.

Idd today. The maskins come early but Qalandar does not come. Henevercomesonldd. Father stays in the shop to greet people coming to wish Idd Mubarak. Then Grandfather goes out visiting.

"Why does Qalandar not come on Idd?" I ask Grandfather as he closes his maskin box, only a few coins left now.

"He is not like the others!" looking out the empty lane. He has his out of bounds look on so I must wait.

"Yes, child," he murmurs at last, "the Qalandars are different.. .so different." Turning to me, his voice now strong, "It is Idd, child. It is I who go to see them!"

"Why Grandfather?"

"nkhuuuuu," he clears his throat. "I have known them a long time." "Long, long time?"

"O…many…many years. Since I first came to Zanzibar as a poor immigrant. They looked after me!"

"You mean Qalandar?"

"No, child, this was before Qalandar was born. I stayed with his Grandfather, a widower…and…his daughter who later became Qalandar's mother!"

"Will you take them presents for Idd, Grandfather?"

"Yes. And food too. Food…yes…Go remind your Grandmotherto be sparing with the chilies in biriani. The child finds it too hot."

I stand in the kitchen entrance. Grandma lifts the lid on the lapsi pot. Smells of elchi and strong saffron, special for Idd, all mixed with nutmeg and ghoor and ghee. Mama Aya has spices and yoghurt soaking chicken in the huge pot on the floor. Grandma lifts the bowlful of ground red chilies.

"Not so much chili, Grandma, Qalandar's child he finds it hot!"

She stares at me queer, then thuds the chili into the chicken pot and stirs it in hard with her right hand.

"Your hands! Aren't they on fire?"

"What difference? They have been for a long time!"

She looks at me again, grins toothless. "Flies will get into your open mouth, beta. He, he, he, he, heee…"

"But…"

"I know, beta!" She gives the chicken pot a jerk-stir, this time with the long wooden spoon. "The Qalandars must have everything, they must have chilies of my heart as well!"

"Everything, Grandma?"

"Yes, beta, and yourfavourite sweets are not all yours alone!"

"Both sweets, Grandma, mango kulfi and the floating mountain?"

"Yes, child, both and more. Now leave us or you will get no meal for Idd. Mama Aya, time to empty rice into the pot!"

"But won't kulfi melt before it reaches them?"

"Ya Allah, this child… questions, questions… who are you descended from?"

"But kulfi, Grandma?"

"All right, child, that is your last question. Mama Aya here will wrap kulfi in gunny sack cloth!"

"The way Sodawalla delivers his ice blocks?" "Yesss. And that is final!"

"Where does Qalandar come from, Grandma?"

"Bokhara, Fokhara, how am I to know? Ask your Grandfather"

"He doesn't say much and I have to guess a lot. You know what he is like!"

"Huh. Haven't I lived with this man for a long time? That mtengenezaji."

"You mean he arranges things?"

"He knows what to include in a story and what to leave out, that's your Grandfather!"

"Like Blind Buzzer buzzing out words?"

"That buzzing Grandfather of yours!"

Another Idd. I look out the window from my writing desk. Snow stretches as far as the Rockies. To see beyond I need Blind Buzzer's inner eyes.

"Ready, darling!' Myrna's call from the kitchen.

"It's a Gzowski repeat!" she says as she turns off the radio, her eyes on mine following clusters of ingredients on the working surface. Ghoor, a bowl of cracked wheat, a plate of cardamon and Spanish saffron from Calgary Spiceland and nutmeg grated fresh. "Lapsi, of course!" I say.

I walk to the large open pot and breathe in chicken marinating in yoghurt and spices. Next to it are three bowls, egg whites in one, yokes in another and a moundful of almonds and pistachios in the third. "I don't believe this…even floating mountain?"

"Full marks!" she laughs, "and mango kulfi in the freezer!"

"I…I…It's…"

"I want us to have the best Idd you've ever had outside Zanzibar!"

"In that case!" I say, lifting the steaming kettle high, "pay attention if you want to become a Janjibari chef. First pour a little hot water on saffron, like so. Why I ask?" "Flavour?"

"What I always say, good guru, good disciple. Now you pour it all into the rice, like so… And another thing. Grandma never cooks rice separately from chicken!"

"Don't I know?" as she deliberately cuts the half pound Alpha butter into two, putting one half into the rice pot.

"And none of your miserly quarter pound of butter. She pours gallons of ghee!"

Myrna, knife in hand, "Do you want to start a jihad over it?"

"No way…"

"And why can I not be… what's that Swahili word for editor, mtenge ne zajil"

"Arre, why not?" as we both laugh.

She goes to the fridge, "Weren't you writing to her?"

"Yup. About to do what I should have had the courage to do ages ago, write her about us…"

Most Revered Grandma—May Allah grant her happiness and good health and may He keep her faith firm. Amen.

Idd Mubarak, Ma. And Iddi Baraka to Mama Aya. 0 how I miss you two, but just as well you aren't here else you would have had to celebrate Idd in-18° C.

Where shall I begin? There is so much I want to tell. I ought to start with Idd. What a day? Grandma, you can get everything from Calgary Spiceland here. As near to a Zanzibar Idd as I could hope for. Lapsi was almost as good as yours but biriani fell short of your excellence. And kulfi, Ma, our Canadian kulfi is so rich but then milk here is much creamier compared to the mixture we got from Bwana Maziwa in Zanzibar.

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Frieze and handprint design by Sherazad Jamal.
Redux Handprint
Sadra Jetha
Sadru Jetha lives and writes in Calgary. His fiction has appeared in Vox and blue buffalo.
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