After picking my mother up from our relatives’ in Sacramento last week, she and I settled into my car for the hour-long drive home. After the usual impatient verbal tussles (“Why is the seatbelt always messed up in your passenger seat?” “It’s because you always twist it the wrong way whenever you use it, Ummy.” “I don’t twist it. I just pull it in the direction I need to fasten it.” “Ummy, you’re pulling it too much.”), I glanced out the window and noticed the moon, hanging unusually low in the sky like a large orange-red globe.

“Look at the moon, Ummy!” We both ducked our heads and peered at the moon through the side windows.

Long after I had pulled away from the curb in front of my relatives’ house and we continued home along the freeways, I would periodically glance at the moon out of the corner of my eye and exclaim, “Look at the moon, Ummy!”

“Very pretty,” she would agree with a smile. “It looks like it’s traveling right along with us.”

If my father were there, he would have predictably followed my mother’s comment with a reference to “hamsafar,” an Urdu word meaning “fellow traveler” or “traveling companion.” I was reminded of the PIA (Pakistan Internation Airlines) inflight magazine entitled Humsafar, which I had first noticed on our trip to Pakistan when I was eight and which had resulted in my father’s etymological explanations.

Appropriately enough, my mother and I spent the drive home listening to songs by a woman named Mahjabeen (literally: moon-face moon-forehead, beautiful forehead; basically: having a face as beautiful as the moon), a name that strikes a deeply personal, emotional chord with this family. The songs were performed in what seemed to be a mixture of both Pukhtu and Hindku, helpfully translated line-by-line by my mother, who would repeat each line after the singer, then turn to me and translate. My initial exasperation soon gave way to amusement at hearing my mother continually translate the Hindku lines into…Hindku, the dialect I speak fluently and use to communicate with her.

In a gorgeously fitting end to the day, I received, just a few minutes after arriving home, a text message from a friend exhorting me to “Look at da moon tonight it looks hella beautiful.”

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