Upon Al-Salt Hills

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Aunt Wafaa’s Beautiful House

By Alanoud AlBukhari

The weather is hot, scorching even. It’s mid-July after all. As the rays of the bright, glowing sun strike the dashboard of my mother’s car, I find myself staring at the prism lying on it, wondering about the last time I sat in the backseat. My mom drives, and next to her is my brother, a little too enthusiastic for his age.

“Been so long since we came here,” says my other brother as he sits next to me, sharing the same stoic expression that we’ve inherited from our father.

“I know, right?” says the one in the passenger’s seat, looking through the rear-view mirror. “I missed great aunt’s cooking!”

“Even though you get to eat the food I make every day?” says my mother, joining their rather uninteresting conversation.

“That’s not—”

“I suggest we leave him here forever since he likes it so much,” suggests the other one.

“Just say that you want the room all to yourself, will you?” I decided to put my two cents in, as well.

“Oops, I got caught,” he jokes, mimicking my dialect. I just snort before turning to the side glass and the views of the city beyond it, which are frankly, a lot more interesting.

The city hasn’t changed much, compared to when I last visited two years back. I have been meaning to but the travel bans amid the COVID pandemic didn’t allow me to. The houses are still the same, even if some have a new layer of paint on them. The shops and stores are still the same too, although some may have closed down.

My eyes catch sight of this one particular dukaan that I’ve been fond of since childhood. I can still picture all the times my cousins and I would come running here, buy candies and drinks, and then run off to the fields close by to play basketball, pretending to be on the Olympics with our fatally foul plays.

This place has never once failed to make me feel at home. Al-salt, my unofficial homeland.

Soon, upon the hills, we reach our mother’s aunt’s house. It’s among the many beautiful ones situated atop. Aunt Wafaa’s daughter receives us at the door with welcoming arms and after her, I find aunt Wafaa seated in the living room. Upon the expected sight, she comes up to me and embraces me. “You’ve grown so much, sweetheart,” she whispers, although I stop to wonder how exactly since I’ve looked exactly the same for at least half a decade now.

“I’ve missed you,” I tell her. She’s one of my favourite people on Earth.

Her extraordinary mansion, despite its enormity, is cramped with all our relatives. It’s a traditional meet-up she started years ago, and despite her age, still continues to host. Something that never fails to impress me, considering how seldom things do.

All of us gather around the table after the never-ending sessions of greetings end. Amid our chattering, my gaze falls upon the glistening, green, pickled olives that my aunt prepares and I’m painfully fond of.

“I’m especially happy that you’ve made them this year too,” I say, holding one with a fork and devouring its luscious texture.

“Why, you flatter me!” She says, smiling widely.

“These are my favorite thing in the whole world— actually, do you think you could teach me how to make them?”

“Sure, why not? I’ve been meaning to teach my own kids, only that they are never interested,” she chuckles. “I got this recipe from my mother and she got it from hers. It’s almost like a tradition in our family!”

I smile, wondering how this place and these people put me at ease. And mind you, not many things do. Sometimes, not even my home.

When evening arrives, we find ourselves on the vast terrace, lighting up some fireworks. I watch the gold of the flickers contrasting against the changing blues of the sky, slowly drifting into the world of wonder. It’s almost like a dream to finally be here after the past difficult years, watching the beautiful view before me. The old beautiful houses, the many shades of the sky, and the happy faces of my brethren.