The first memory I have with the concept of fasting, was when I was younger, maybe three or four. During the month of Ramadan, my parents woke to eat sehri at three in the morning and refrained from eating or drinking anything until eight pm. They crept out of their bedroom and into our small kitchen like clumsy thieves in their own home. Drowsily, I would wake to the sound of their quiet, almost non-existent whispers. In a state between awake and asleep, I would follow the sounds of their voices to the end of the carpeted balcony overlooking our uncharacteristically tidy living room. I watched them from the balcony with my head pressed between the old fashioned wooden rails. My sister discovered my parent’s ritual before I did; she would routinely watch them. I would locate her in the dark with her legs dangling off the side of the balcony and her chubby fingers tightly gripping the rails that prevented her from falling. We watched them together: me rubbing my eyes in a struggle to stay awake, and her with an unblinking gaze directed toward the soft light in the kitchen.
On a typical night, my mother would always enter first, turning on only the most necessary light as we heard the pop of the fridge opening. She’d turn on the stove and pause to yawn as it slowly came to life. My father would trudge into the kitchen next, his footsteps dragging on the carpet as he headed directly for the coffee. My mother always made eggs. She prepared them in different ways in hopes of not boring herself into eating nothing. The smell of egg would reach us on the stairs causing my nose to wrinkle and a gagging feeling to go up in my throat. I choked it down not wanting to alert our parents of our eavesdropping on their meal. My mother never toasted herb bread for fear that the toaster “bing” would wake us up, but she stopped when she discovered my sister’s legs peeking out from the end of the balcony. After that she never bothered to keep it quiet as she cooked, casually banging the cupboard drawers and noisily washing her frying pan.
My father preferred one cup of water filled to the brim or a cup of coffee now and then. He would bring it to his perch on our then new couch and sip it quietly. They ate in almost silence, but on occasion, my father would make my mother sputter out in laughter the way he always does. When it came close to sunrise, my mother took her coffee cup and sat beside my father on the couch. They watched the clock and calmly took their last sips. After the time for eating ended, they sat there for awhile. My mother looking off into space; my father with his arm stretched, drumming his fingers on the stain free couch. Slowly they crept back into their room whispering for us to do the same. This meal fascinated me. It seemed so different from what my dining experiences had been. They always ended with me content and eager for the next meal.
It seemed daunting to fast from sunrise to sunset. It wasn’t until I had reached the age of eleven that I realized the power of food. When I fasted my first day, the hunger I felt tore through me, and I took deep breaths to avoid thinking of my favorite food. Walking beside my mother in the grocery store, I felt hungry for the strangest things: lime soda, pastrami on seed buns, grape popsicles, chocolate rice crispy treats. I could feel the texture of them in my mouth, and walking past them was almost impossible.
When it came close to sunset, I sat at the kitchen table watching my mother place steaming plates of food on the table. I sat on my hands, for I didn’t trust them to obey the determination of my mind. Instead, I pictured myself piling up all my mother’s hot dishes and eating helping after helping (she always made the best food when she was fasting). However, when the water hit my throat, I knew I wouldn’t need it. I drank that first glass of water within seconds, my only goal being to quench my thirst. The second glass of water I took my time to feel the taste of it as it slipped from the cup and into my awaiting mouth.
At the first bite of food, the wave of fatigue floating around me instantly disappeared. I no longer felt like slumping down into my seat. I ate my meal taking in every flavor, the carefully seasoned chicken, the luxuries in the thick crust of bread. The simplest meals were the grandest; spaghetti and meatballs turned from boring to an adventure of silky noodles and chunky, rich meatballs. Never have I ever appreciated marinara sauce more in my life. The delectable treasures of dessert in all its glory. Thick cake that melts in your mouth, the chocolate frosting oozing along the side.
On the evenings we joined my grandmother to break fast, I would eagerly bounce in my seat as she served us. Mountains and mountains of rice mixed with meat and spices and vegetables. Hot garlic bread crowded the table as did several jars of spices, a tomato dish concoction, butter chicken, and as always my mother’s favorite okra cooked indian style with every flavor. The entire meal was nothing short of heaven.
You have never tasted food until you have tasted the food after a hard fast. To realize this is to recognize how the simplest of food tastes to the majority of the world. My parents knew, that’s why they woke at three, and fasted till eight, they knew it was worth their hunger to experience the hardships of other people. That’s why my mother never made a lavish breakfast but rather a simple egg. It’s why my father drank only his cup of water. It’s why I now know that to start my fast I’ll only need a simple egg or a cup of water. The meal before the fast was not the one I was most excited to eat when fasting. But something about it was so fascinating years ago on that carpeted balcony.
Kiran is a fifteen-year-old aspiring writer and self-proclaimed history nerd who enjoys reading, babysitting, and annoying her little sister. She is also passionate about gun control and pursuing her dream of living on the beach.