"Khamsa" by Lane Fisher
My host mother’s hands shape perfectly packed spheres of couscous, rolling the minuscule grains into obedience and they willingly jump to her lips. My own hands are gloved in couscous, the balls mocking me as I struggle to control them, my attempts crumbling on the way to my mouth.
Her hands fly as she cooks, cleans, pours, and sorts. Dexterous and sure, the motions of her hands acting of their own accord. Her hands are ferocious, smacking the skin of a pepper against her plate, the tough pads of her fingers working the spice from its skin, oblivious to the drops that splatter around her. The pile of tagine in the middle of the table is soaked with sauce, steam rises into the air, and her fingers are delicate as they pinch slivers of vegetable and meat in a bread cocoon. Her hands are embodied confidence, her skin a pattern of burns and gestures, a history of creation carved into her skin.
When we run out of sugar for tea her hands bring home a packed, hardened cone as long as her forearm. Her fingers hold a small hammer, and powder flies around her hands as the tip of the hammer hits the edges of the sugar cone once, twice; smashing it into semi-even pieces. Startled and fascinated, my roommate and I are allowed to try. My nervous hands tap timidly with the hammer at unyielding sugar they are reminded of how little they really know.
In the street, mountains of strawberries, oranges, and avocados sit atop carts. Their owner's hands pluck them from their homes. The melody of the vendors’ calls and their flying hands rise in symphony with their colorful wares. It’s a song my own hands stutter to pick up. A pair of hands taps a melon in several places before putting it down, holding another up to their owner's ear. The clementine sellers’ hands juggle my bowl of fruit and various weights, assessing the limits before selecting another two from the pile and adding them to mine. Later, I see a small boy in front of the same cart, his hands already selecting the weights for another passerby. Small hands, learning hands.
Hands are holding each other down a crowded street, the two men are tucked close together, their hands gripping tightly so as not to be pulled apart by the onslaught of passing bodies. Hands as ties to another, formed together, interlocked fingers stronger than any bond.
In the touristy medinas, Khamsas are sold on keychains, necklaces, and in pictures carpeting the stalls. Hands sold as protection, hands that follow us back to our homes all over the world. The Hand of Fatima, The Hand of Miriam, The Hand of the Goddess. Her hand wards off evil, fingers splayed against the dark, guarding. Her hands shape a history of time running between her fingers, ancient formations in her palms. Our bodies’ first line of defense, that catches us when we fall and keeps us upright when we stumble, guiding our dependent bodies. They feel the heat of the tea, the first drops of rain, the sting of the outside world, brave defenders of our flesh. A khamsa dangles from my friend’s bracelet. She will carry it back to her home in Tennessee, a reminder of Morocco, of hands working constantly, unresting, alive.