On Eid, everybody smells like lipstick. Lipstick on their own lips, lipstick on their cheeks, or the ghost of it now wiped over the tips of their fingers.
And expensive lipstick too. Always some shade of dark brown on the older women and pinks and nudes on the younger. But never red.
I wake early, but always half an hour later than I would’ve liked.
While the feeling has dimmed somewhat over the years, it’s the same one I felt when I was 11, or even five years old. It’s like a biannual birthday, like I imagine Christian kids feel on Christmas.
I can hear my brother and father in their respective showers, getting ready for mosque. The women in my family don’t usually go to the morning Eidgha prayer, but we could if we wanted to.
I never forget on those mornings how many women in South Africa are fighting for the right to attend these prayers and I spare a moment of anger for them.
Time to prepare
The house smells of sweet milk, from the large pot of shirkhurma — milk, almonds, pistachios and vermicelli — that my mother has had boiling through the night.
My mother knocks on my door and I hear her voice at my sister’s getting louder with irritation.
I have been back home for only a few days but I am again my mother’s child, her first born. Wake up! There are things to do, people to see, pretty clothes to be donned.
I finally make my way through the procession of waking, showering and dressing. My brother and father have long left and my mother is in her gown putting pies in the oven.
Finally, all three of the women in my house are presentable. Now it’s time to do The Table. The Table is every home’s pride on Eid, it’s the presentation equivalent of wrapping your best friend’s 21st birthday gift.
I lay the table out in the TV room, on the large wooden coffee table, on a floral tablecloth. Our table has been pretty standard over the past few years: my special foolproof chocolate brownies from the Australian Women’s Weekly cake and biscuit recipes of 1995, my mom’s famous orange cake with chocolate icing, four types of homemade biscuits, including my grandmother’s recipe of nankhatai, the popular Indian cookie with an almond stuck to the top.
There’s also fruitcake, little bowls of pink and white sweets and bowls of chevra and nuts. There are cheese breadsticks and a bowl of crudités and crackers with spring onion cream cheese.
And, of course, a jug of warm shirkhurma, with our best crystal glasses. It’s important to get the table right. While not many people will touch it, they will all see it, and it is a silent indicator of the state of things in a household.
Eat and be merry
A bad table could well tell the world that things are falling apart. My brother and father come home, both in long prayer tops, and officially greet us with a hug and a kiss and an Eid Mubarak, the mantra for the rest of the day.
We sit down to a family breakfast, traditionally my mother’s perfect steak pie fresh out of the oven, with tomato sauce and a glass of hot shirkhurma.
Then it’s visiting time. In our family the men visit other family members, usually older members, while the women stay home to receive. Little girls, usually younger than 16, tag along with the boys.
And so, the visitors come, in groups ranging from two to 10. Unless I am close to them, I make myself invisible in the kitchen. Once or twice, there is mention of the prodigal daughter having returned home. It’s a bit embarrassing.
It’s lunchtime. The table is decked with roast leg of lamb, roast chicken and potatoes, chicken curry and rice, butternut squash with sweetcorn and my specialty, a green salad. Eight of us sit around chatting about the news, with a small addition about what was said during the sermon at mosque in the morning.
By this time my make-up has faded and I have a permanent dry mouth from the cakes I’ve eaten.
A few friends come over for tea. The guys are in suits, or smart shirts and pants, while the girls are dressed up to the metaphorical nines. We catch up, I force them to eat my brownies, the television stays on the whole time.
One of my friends arrives in jeans and a T-shirt — he has just been to a farm to slaughter sheep. His family does it every year. My family pays somebody else to do it.
As the sun sets, people start leaving and my mother and I reapply our make-up for dinner. We don’t have much of an appetite after a day of feasting, but it’s more about the principle of dinner than the actual eating.
We head off to my cousin’s house, where a buffet is laid out. The children shout from the garden and the men want to be done with dinner in time to watch the football.
Who wants tea? Me, please. The women gather round a table, free of most of their children, with a cup of tea in hand and a slice of cake on a sideplate. As the chatting wears on, some start to mention the fact that it’s school tomorrow.
It’s been a long day. Ten hours by now of rushing, fixing up, sorting out and making pretty. We head home. I remove my gold bangles that we brought from Mecca, my grandmother’s earrings from India and my necklace from Dubai. Another Eid has passed.
My mouth is still dry. I am older, but Eid still makes me feel like a little girl — and I am a little sad that it’s over. Till next year.