Uncle Fida had reached that grim age where food is the chief pleasure but most of one’s teeth are gone. He’d been a fiery young man; his reputation as a terrifying old one had been vanquished by his own frailty. The minor satisfactions that came from disapproving everything anyone else did evaporated when his hearing went.
His only joy these days was a good marrowbone.
He came from a poorer branch of the family — the ones who gladly piled into those rickety buses and wagons that seem cobbled together from tin foil and chewing gum, in order to attend celebrations at the homes of their richer cousins. It was a fair enough bargain, they felt, to travel for ten hours, in dust or mud, to be able to share in three days of feasting.
This year, to everyone’s relief, Bara Eid came in October, when the brutal heat of the plains was tempering. Uncle Fida’s family — sons, daughters and two generations after — packed him up and got to the bus station two nights before Eid, to pile cheerfully into one of those exuberantly-painted vehicles that rattle up and down the Grand Trunk Road. Uncle Fida folded himself up like a dead spider and slept the whole way.
Everyone especially loved going to Cousin Iftikhar’s house. It sat in a massive compound in the Frontier’s most awful city, where the pain and meanness of the outside streets never reached the family inside. Their lawn glowed emerald while the trees along Airport Road looked like blasted survivors of some forgotten cataclysm. Only the yard behind the servants’ quarters had reverted back to sand.
Uncle Fida’s family always arrived in good time for any festivity, so they could bathe and change and sleep and put their best faces forward. Those who have little must use their smiles and and their compliments as currency.
Charpoys were set in the shade of Iftikhar’s guesthouse, where his grandfather’s youngest brother was cheerfully enthroned with an ancient hubble-bubble. That was one of the few social activities Uncle Fida actually still enjoyed. His children and grandchildren dutifully propped him up with pillows and bolsters and fled for an hour or so of unencumbered fun.
The first fruits of the sacrifice were only a torment to Uncle Fida. Sizzling platters of roasted liver bring only water and frustration to the mouths of those who now must gum their food.
But when the dastarkhan was set for the great midday meal, Uncle Fida regained the vigor of a living man. He abandoned Iftikhar’s grandfather’s youngest brother, and the hubble-bubble, and hobbled purposefully towards paradise.
Pullao is served on Eid.
The plate was finally in front of him, dished out by his granddaughter, since his antique wrists could never have balanced its weight. And there in the middle of the fragrant pile of rice was the treasure, the darling of his life — a chunk of tender meat clothing a succulent bone.
Everyone was laughing, gossiping, passing bread and chutney and achar; empty platters were taken away and filled ones put down.
Uncle Fida sucked at his marrowbone. Its core, fatter than a baby’s thumb, glistened like a viscous jewel. He sucked, and nibbled, and shook it with a practiced hand, and tapped, tapped tapped it against his plate. And finally, out the marrow flew.
Flew straight to the plate of Uncle Fida’s cousin’s daughter, who was talking to another cousin’s wife while she scooped mouthfuls of rice into her small son’s mouth. And he saw that wonderful little morsel land like an answered prayer, and put it in his mouth and ate it.
Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable — the best of all possible worlds.