I’m trying to find a piece of paper with the dates of Ramadan on it. The Muslim religious festival. For those of you that know me, you’d be right on thinking I wasn’t Muslim and haven’t read much more than a few translated lines of the Quran. I’m Catholic, although not very good at that either. I’m not sure, for example, there’s a God (god therefore should be lower-care – god), but I have read bits of the Bible. I don’t plan what I’m reading or writing, but do have vague notions, a bit like the Holy Ghost blowing through me. I thought I’d write about fasting, which interests me, and its relationship to religion (Christian, Judaism, Muslim and Buddhist). I’d a title, ‘Holy Hunger’ and not much else. This was last year, 2019, or even the year before, 2018, not this year, 2020. Like many of my inspirations nothing much happens for a very long time. Then nothing much happens.
I’d mentioned to my partner Mary that I’d be thinking about fasting during Ramadan. She asked some questions and thought I was mad, and that was it. I had to do it. Even then I might not have done it, or continued with it, but then she blabber-mouthed to all the neighbours.
Francis, who lives across the way and is always talking about her weight and how fat she’s getting, was always looking over her fence and asking the same question. ‘How’s your dieting going?’
I’d no real interest in the weight I’d gained or lost. If it was up to me all weighing machines, outside of hospitals, should be dropped into the deepest part of the oceans for the fish to play with.
But my stock answer was more conciliatory, ‘The not eating bit was OK, but the not drinking bit was fuckin murder’.
That satisfied her. When your dieting, even in theory, people want you to suffer. It comes with the mark-up.
This was during the hottest days of the years and was more than theoretical. I was working outside and the temperature in our back garden when I came home—but it is a suntrap—was hitting over 100-degrees Celsius.
My next door neighbour, Anne, had a different outlook. Her granddaughter’s other granny was Muslim and she fasted during Ramadan. ‘It meant to be great for the body,’ she said. ‘Getting rid of all that bad stuff.’
I admitted I cheated a bit, gargled with cold water and spat it out. But I’d have killed for a cool glass of beer, which is also a toxin. I told her about soldiers that became dehydrated and were made to drink bottle after bottle of water until they peed clear. My pee was the colour of swamp water, not healthy, but I did something counter-intuitive instead. I went jogging and came back and had a cold shower.
As soon as it was 8.41 pm…8.43pm…8.47pm…until the last day on the 23rd of May, 2020 at 9.37pm I drank and drank and drank and stuffed myself. This is called ‘Iftar’ or after I was dying for a drink. After the famine, feasting. It’s funny how quickly your body adapts. You become childlike and quickly forget how thirsty and hungry you were only minutes or seconds before.
Those of you that have a rudimentary understanding of the Ramadan Calendar (Sehir-O-Iftar Time) will have noticed something a bit off. I mucked it up. Basically, you can’t eat or drink during the hours of daylight, which gets longer as we get nearer to the longest day (which had passed). Hence Sehir, began on that first day at 3.05am and concluded on the last day at 2.40 am. The last day is the longest day, Sehir 2.40 am to Iftar time 9.37pm. But when I checked this online I noticed something that could have made me weep. The Ramadan calendar for Scotland is not the same as for other countries. I’d downloaded Morocco or some other nation with more sunshine.
I was interested in the cheats. The ways of stretching the rules. I usually got up at 2.15am and had cornflakes and a cup of tea. By the time I’d finished that it was daylight. I wrote for a while about all the people I knew that were now dead. Bodies started piling up on the pages. One name would be added to another and I was haunted. I slept in twice and missed Sehir, the day was shorter. I guessed that was one way of cheating.
In the book I was planning to write, but never did I’d have read up on the history of these other religions and would be able to ask others that were fasting, at the same time, questions about their religion.
I’d another vague idea about writing about the Irish potato famine and twinning it with the story of a girl with anorexia. Sometimes when I’m reading stuff online someone posts about not being able to tell you what they’re going to write about in case somebody steals their idea, which makes me snort. I admit the stupid part of me sometimes wades in and answers that’ll never happen. You know what happens next? They say it happened to them. (All novels about the Irish potato famine and girls with anorexia are mine – if you write about them I’m suing for breach of fanny-fuss). I’ll never get around to it anyway.
I’ve written three obituaries of people I know that have died in the last month. The worrying thing is I’m getting better at it. Mary said I should write hers. I said I’d need to kill her first for her money.
There’s a character in Preti Taneja’s novel, We That Are Young, who said he doesn’t fast during Ramadan because he did enough of starving when he was young. I get that. What’s the point?
I think of Max, Mary’s son’s dog, bit of a collie in his once shiny coat and bright eyes. It used to turn up on the doorstep, and just wait until morning, until you opened the door, waggy tail. Bob had stopped feeding the dog. Stopped feeding himself. Only drink in the house, booze. Max could drink from a puddle. Go hungry. Ramadan every day. Max would pitter-patter inside, glad to get something to eat, get the head down. But he knew who his master was, where he was needed. He’d be ready to go again.
And Bobby boy, poor Bobby boy, people kept giving him things to eat and wear and second chances – Ramadan
I catch the skew-whiff of fading fag smoke through the gap at the bottom of his bedroom window. A bluebottle buzzes against the glass. On tiptoes, I try to reach and push or pull the lever up or down and tilt the window so I can climb through. My wrist and hand fit through the slot, but no matter which way I twist my arm I can’t wangle it. I give his back garden the once-over. A trowel buried in a plant pot. A spring rake sliding down the corner wall catches my attention, but I’d need to smash the window or break the lock and that meant hassle.
I step into the shadowed gable end. A familiar dirt path, between perennials, where I wheeled my lawnmower, beneath terraced grass slope and privet hedge separating his garden from the street above. I gawk through the side window. Dirty dishes in the sink, pots grey-scale and burnt on the cooker ring, but no Bobby-boy and no sign of life.
Ramadan: After the feast, the famine.