One day I waited for my tutor at her home. I sat on the low stone wall along her garden — one eye alert for the angry rooster — and watched her mother threshing wheat.
Um Asad stood there, improbably sturdy for her frail frame, gnarled hands grasping a flat, shallow basket full of wheat. She threw the grain up into the air.
Shush, the wheat said, falling tidily back, as wispy flakes of chaff blew hither and yon on the olive-scented breeze.
Shush, the wheat said again, and with each shush I thought idly of my ancient foremothers who had, I knew, done exactly this thing. Shush, my foremothers said.
After some time glancing at me uncomfortably out of the side of her eye, Um Asad assured me that I was welcome to her finest visitor-room inside, were I bored.
“Oh no,” I said, in my child’s vocabulary. “I love to watch… this thing you are doing.”
She clicked her tongue disapprovingly.
“Bismillah!” I exclaimed. “I do love to watch! I’ve never seen anybody do this thing before.”
At this, her eyebrow cocked, her henna-dyed hands pausing between shushes to wipe her brow.
“Really?” she asked. “So how do you thresh wheat in America?”