My Mother’s Interests

"Azza Kamel El-Maqhour"

We often tugged at my mother’s chin to pull her towards us, and when we nearly asphyxiated her, she shook her head loose and stood up, laughing. She had a beautiful voice; she often sang verses by Oum Kulthoum, Abdelwahab, and Shadia. We listened to her attentively, until she suddenly stopped singing and started laughing. As a child, I never went to sleep before she sang to me.

She went out only when she was with us, and passionately attended to our interests. She wanted everything that sprouted in her to thrive in us; from an early age, she insisted that we stick to our piano lessons–but some of us eventually refused to keep them up. 

She jumped rope and played volleyball, basketball and table tennis with us. We tossed frisbees around together. She took us for a hike in Qarqarash, bought us modern bikes, and let us ride them home. 

She loved the sea; she had witnessed the light in Alexandria, and licked the salt of her body like a cat, before moving back to her homeland, Tripoli, where the sea inhales and exhales. Since she married my father, she always lived by the sea; she spent the summers on the beach with us, swimming like a swan with her cygnets in the early morning.  

One winter, she decided that we would practice fishing, with gear my father bought us on her request. The rods were taller than we were, sturdy plastic threads dangling from their edges. On the beach, she pointed to the fishermen and instructed us to learn from them. We gave them the bread she had prepared, which the fishermen dipped in water and kneaded with their fingers, before fixing it on the rod’s metal fork. They showed us how to cast the fishing line into the water and wait. Every time, the piece of bread would disappear, and we yielded no fish. One time, when the fork stabbed my brother's index finger, yielding a stream of blood, my mother came running towards him like a gazelle over the rocks. 

We didn't go fishing again, but we spent our summer submerged in water and delighting in the peeling of our sunburnt skin. In winter, she roamed among the rocks with us, looking for shells and crabs, which scurry from the rocks with every wave, and disappear when it recedes. She even taught us how to eat sea oysters; we wipe off the sand with water, lift its lid, and swallow its salty insides.

She was most passionate about painting. She gave us pens and colors, sat us below the trees, and urged us to paint. She took art supplies to every country we visited, and took us to gardens and museum halls to paint, always pointing out their architectural beauty. She took us to the most famous museums (the Louvre, the Metropolitan, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and others), where we rubbed shoulders with paintings by Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso and others. She told us about the different art movements, and she made us stop in front of the Mona Lisa while she explained the secret behind Da Vinci's smile. After our museum tours, she took us to the gift shop, and asked us to buy a reproduction of the painting we liked best, which she then hung on our bedroom walls.

 

One day, my father decided to paint the walls of our seaside house. My mother gathered us together, her face overcome with a mischievous joy, and whispered: "We will paint the walls of the biggest room in the house." 

She brought the paint and asked us to choose the walls we wanted, and she chose hers. It was unbelievable; we felt utterly free! That day, my mother painted the most beautiful portrait–of a woman embracing a child. I don't remember what I drew but I do remember it wasn’t very successful.

When the painters came by a few days later, they couldn’t believe what they saw. My youngest brother pointed to my mother's mural and said: "That's my mom's!". They couldn't believe it. 

My mother's passions showed me what it means to be free, stirred our imaginations, and wove a web of love between us. It was like we were living on a riveting island with her. We never realized we had left her no space of her own; but she somehow exercised her passions vicariously through us.

Born in Tripoli. She studied law at Benghazi University, then obtained a master’s degree in international law from Sorbonne. She is a lawyer and a member of the Libyan National Council for Human Rights. She has published several collections of short stories.

Azza Kamel El-Maqhour
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