It was a Monday morning.
Hadiya’s mother, Maria, walked past her room with a face full of glee as she asked her,
“Are you ready for your big day tomorrow?”
“Yeah, I guess so…” Hadiya murmured.
Sat quietly staring out of her bedroom window, she listened to the birds chirp as they sat on the tree branches outside. With her back to the door and her face tucked into her oversized jumper, she felt overwhelmed by the thought of what was yet to come.
Hadiya was always known to be the bright, popular, bubbly girl at school however when it came to her future her vision remained blurred. Throughout her college years she had always been focused, achieving some of the highest grades in all of her subjects. But with no guidance on which field she wanted to conquer in the world of university, she felt stuck and hopeless. Feeling pressured by the application deadline looming around the corner, she had finally settled on the field of science, applying for biomedical sciences at six of the top Universities in London. It was no surprise to her loved ones that she breezed through every interview. She had secured offers from all six places that she applied for, one of which was Imperial College of London, a place that she happily accepted.
Hadiya and her parents were so thrilled at the news that they all cried tears of joy as they celebrated their one and only child’s acceptance into university. She was truly their pride and joy, a fact that they made sure to remind her of every day. Yet despite this, she couldn’t help but feel emotions of regret. As she continued to stare out of the window she would ask herself, ‘Have I made the right choice?’.
But before she could fall deeper into her thoughts, she heard a tiny voice in her head whisper to her,
‘It’s too late now, it’s not only your first day of uni tomorrow but it’s also your 18th birthday…so snap out of it!’
Hadiya suddenly blinked. She then stood up and started to make her way towards the kitchen for the daily ‘Roberts’ family breakfast gathering.
Dragging her feet along each step as she made her way downstairs, a sniff of the fresh smell of breakfast got her taste buds watering . Once she reached the bottom of the stairs, she turned the corner to enter the kitchen and much to her delight she was greeted with the most beautiful sight.
A table filled with a traditional Moroccan breakfast layout.
Each dish served in handmade ceramic plates painted with the most vibrant shades of blue and green, a talent that Maria’s village in Morocco was legendary for. A wide selection of foods and beverages lovingly decorated the table with dishes that included cumin seasoned fried eggs, cinnamon semolina pancakes and freshly baked Moroccan bread. The spread was complete with a choice of freshly squeezed orange juice and Moroccan mint tea, or both, an option that Hadiya would often choose.
It was delicious to say the least! …
So delicious in fact, the Roberts household became a local cafe in the area of Ladbroke Grove, London. Occasionally, they would host early morning visits from neighbours, a presence that was always welcomed. It was due to this very scene that breakfast always made her feel joy in the mornings, Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to lift her spirits on that particular day.
Sitting on the table across from her mother and father, she had tried her hardest to smile but it required too much effort, effort that she didn’t have to offer.
Staring down at her plate as her parents watched her push food from left to right with her fork, Maria finally broke the silence.
“Look Diya, I’ve made your favourite, semolina pancakes …and I’ve even added a sprinkle of cinnamon, just the way you and your Papa used to make them.”
Suddenly she felt warmth within her heart and without realising it a smile started to form on her face, much to Maria’s delight.
“There’s that pretty smile that we love to see!” her mother said
“You look so beautiful when you smile sweetheart”, her father added.
Although cinnamon pancakes were indeed Hadiya’s favourite, it wasn’t the reason for her smile. It was the mention of her grandfather that filled her heart with happiness and eased her with comfort.
Her childhood memories called for blissful times as she and her mother would visit Casablanca, Morocco every year. It was there that she was able to learn and indulge into her Moroccan heritage as she mingled with her maternal family and the kids from around the neighbourhood. Her mother was named after her grandmother, Haja Maria, a prefix that they would often attach to the name of a person who had performed the Islamic pilgrimage, Hajj.
Unfortunately Hadiya had never been blessed with the opportunity of meeting her grandmother, as she sadly passed away shortly after giving birth, leaving her grandfather Adam and her Aunty Karima with the responsibility of raising Maria. Hadiya would often refer to them as Papa and Aunty Kimmy and while she loved them both very much, it was no secret that she shared a special bond with her one and only, Papa.
Every summer Papa would be so excited to see his little ‘Diya’, a nickname that he gave her on the day that he received news of her birth in London. As she grew older and more summers were spent together, their connection grew stronger. Whenever she was happy he would smile and when she was sad, he would feel pain.
One day during the summer, whilst on holiday in Casablanca, a six year old Hadiya ran into her Papa’s house crying.
“What’s wrong Diya, why are you crying?” Papa asked her.
“Ali and Nassim are picking on me…” she said as she sobbed uncontrollably.
“They said my face was dirty because of my freckles” she continued.
He put his arm around her tiny shoulders and held her closer as he said,
“Diya, you are the most beautiful princess in the whole wide world! Your freckles sparkle like stars lighting up the dark sky. Those neighbourhood boys aren’t used to such a pretty sight.”
And once she heard her Papa’s words she slowly stopped crying. He then cupped her little chin into his wrinkled hand and raised her face upwards. He stared into her eyes, smiled and said,
“Your face is like a semolina pancake with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Your sweet little face is the pancake and your cute little freckles are the cinnamon sprinkles , giving you that hereditary Moroccan kick!”
And while Hadiya was left asking herself “what does ‘hereditary’ mean?”, instead they both let out a loud cry of laughter, so hard that their stomachs started to ache. With uplifted spirits, she wrapped her short arms around her grandfather’s neck and hugged him as tight as she could. It was at that precise moment that the decision was made to introduce Papa and Hadiya’s breakfast tradition to their daily morning routine. Every day Hadiya’s mother and her Aunty Kimmy would wake up to the sound of music. As they entered the kitchen, they would see her and her Papa standing side by side facing the stove making semolina pancakes with Cinnamon sprinkles on top. It was done in celebration of her natural beauty, with an extra helping of laughter as they reminisced about that day, a day that she will always remember.
As the years passed each visit to Morocco felt shorter, she started to miss her Papa terribly throughout the rest of the year that she spent in London, so much so that she would phone him at least once a week to see how he was. But each year as he got older, his health started to deteriorate. As he would speak to Hadiya, he would try his hardest to hide his suffering but she could hear the struggle in his voice. With the fear of upsetting him, she always chose to spend her limited time making him laugh rather than dwell on his sickness. At the end of every phone call she would let out a small cry but tried to remain hopeful and would always pray for his recovery.
However, in the spring of the year 2000, the day would come when her world would come crashing down and her life would change forever.