Between my first meal and my last

A Poem

By Ibtisaam Ahmed


I cannot recall my first meal and I have no way of knowing which meal will be my last.
But between these two moments lies a space that is full –

Hot chips and cheap tomato sauce from Wimpy when I visited farms with my father on childhood summer days,

Popcorn and tea made by my friend as we memorized principles of law,

Food bought at bougie markets
and in a Styrofoam container from a woman whose husband lost his job,

My mother’s dhal and rice (which no one gets tired of) and dekhs of wedding food,

The date from a stranger at the Nabawi mosque
and drinking zamzam in front of the Kaaba,

Meals prepared by my grandmother – I haven’t had food like that in years,

Seafood from Hout Bay, that I’m never in the mood for, but somehow end up enjoying,

Roast chicken at my apartment for my Henry VIII themed dinner party, after I gave up the idea of cooking actual medieval food,

Nandos is always a safe bet

and everyone loves watermelon,

Orange blossom biscuits served with mint tea, dustings of icing sugar falling into my Diwan,

Surprisingly, the best soji I ever ate was served at a funeral,

Apple tea in the back alleys of Istanbul with my older sister, surrounded by shisha and cigarette smoke,

Junior cheeseburgers with my younger sister – we’ve been eating those for almost two decades now and it definitely isn’t good for our health,

My friend’s soup in Ramadan that warms you from the inside out, one bowl leaves you satisfied,

Baklava in a tiny shop where we overstayed our welcome to the annoyance of other customers,

The French cuisine served at the table of a Scottish aristocrat and Siamese cats brushing past my feet,

Slices of pizza in Tribeca and Brooklyn, lamenting wearing the wrong shoes and figuring out the best route home on the subway,

Jumu’a lunch and feasts on Eid,

Toasted sandwiches and instant coffee made by the woman who worked for my grandmother for 50 years,

High teas and low carb, organic and deep fried,

Disappointing choices and wonderful surprises
The familiar and the new.

Food I ate too quickly or
not fast enough.
Food prepared by loved ones
and the anonymity of the airplane tray.
Food that is
Unremembered – so many blanks and gaps.
Food at regular intervals
or snacking all day long.
Food that genuinely sustained and nourished me
or times when I was simply being greedy.
Food shared
in love
in good company.
attaching itself
to places
to people.
Tasting life in these moments
between my first meal and my last.