Azar on Fire
- Pages: 368 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: Nancy Paulsen Books
- ISBN: 9780593109458
An Excerpt From
Azar on Fire
You're probably wondering why the book you’re holding in your hands is full of such underwhelming garbage. I know. I feel the same way. When Dad gave me this fancy notebook for Christmas and said it was to share my lyrics with the world, I thought he was joking. Why would I share my lyrics? There’s already enough pain and suffering on this planet.
“Azar, I see you writing down songs on all these little scraps of paper. It’s time your words had a home. Even if you can’t sing them out loud, you should still keep them.” And then he pretended to strum his air guitar, and Nonna smacked him upside the head with a wooden spoon and told him to serve dessert, even though we were all stuffed and could barely eat a sesame seed. But you don’t mess with Italian grandmothers from Jersey, especially during the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
I’m back with Mom in Virginia now, but I still have this stupid book. It’s bound in leather, and it has a ribbon to keep track of where you are in your miserable ramblings. It’s even in my favorite color: lime green. Aha! Did you see that? This book is trying to seduce me. Shut up, stupid book. Even your lime-green ways can’t bewitch me now.
Little Green Book
Wants to open me up
Swallow me whole
Make me feel like a chump
Little Green Book
Trying to lull me to sleep
Take a peek at my dreams
Steal them out from under me
Little Green Book
Trying to crack my spine
Share my songs with the world
But these songs are mine.
Nice try, Moleskine.
BACK 2 SKEWL
Another semester. Another five months of talking to nobody, hiding in the band room for lunch, and never raising my hand in class. I am in a prison of my body’s own making.
Worse: I am out of Pop-Tarts.
Just then, Mom sticks her head into my room, her brown curls a ball of positive energy and argan oil. “Azar, I made kale chips for your lunch today!” She pronounces it Aw-zár, the traditional Iranian way of saying it.
Did I mention I’m in hell?
As if spending Xmas talking to no one but my family wasn’t humbling enough, I now have to be reintroduced to the public, where people can tell I have no friends, much less a life.
“Azar? I made some tahini dipping sauce, too!”
I am going to die alone.
The kitchen reeks of the yerba mate Mom always preps for her drive to DC. It tastes like oregano gone bad. Mom says it is an indigenous plant grown in the north of Argentina, where her dad, my abuelo, is from. I think she secretly just likes it because it requires being sipped from a traditional gourd.
“Good morning, Azar,” she says formally. I give her a look like, Do I have to? and she nods gravely. I clear my throat.
“Good morning, Mother.” The words come out scratchy and warbly, like I tried to step on each note with a roller skate and they just slid out from under me. They’re the first words I’ve spoken today, and Mom does not look impressed.
“Did you stay up late again? Your voice sounds worse than yesterday!” She says this accusingly, as if I have committed homicide—or worse, stayed up past my bedtime. Which is nine p.m. Which of course I blew right past, throwing a towel under my door so she couldn’t see the light from my laptop as I uploaded more stuff to SoundCloud.
“Mom,” I begin to lie, my voice even, just the way Ms. Davolio, my speech pathologist, taught me. “I went to bed at nine p.m., after we watched Up in the Air.”
Because we have no lives, I almost add. But don’t.
She shakes her head, gold hoops swinging. “Maybe we need to start quiet time earlier, like eight p.m., just to be safe.”
I sigh. Sure. Add it to my tab of misery.
“You’re right,” Mom says, even though I didn’t say anything. We’ve got our nonverbal cues down to a science at this point. “One thing at a time. Get dressed and shower—I’ll give you a ride to school.”
I wordlessly trudge back to my lair.
“And don’t forget to gargle!” she calls out.
The second I close my door, I grab my acoustic guitar, the one Dad got me a couple years ago when my throat infections started ramping up. Instruments are about the only thing Mom lets Dad buy for me, besides making deposits to my college fund. She’s too proud to ask for anything else. I’ve also got an electric drum kit with pads that connect to my computer, a keyboard, a ukulele, plus I can borrow instruments from school during lunch break. The guitar needs to be tuned, but I strum the chords anyway, singing lyrics in my head.
Azar, gargle with salt water
And wear something that has color.
I’ll give you a ride to school
If you become a better daughter.
Don’t burn the toast.
You had one job!
To not burn the toast!
And now I’m late for wooOoorrrrrk.
“Azar, are you getting dressed?” Mom demands through my thin bedroom wall. I can hear her blasting reggaeton through her tinny phone speakers in the kitchen, singing along to every word. I switch to a minor chord, the song going from light and fun to dark and dreary.
“AZAR!” Mom shouts. “Did you hear me?”
I get out my phone.
Azar Rossi 6:28 a.m.: yes, mother. i heard you.
Mom 6:28 a.m.: Then why aren’t you in the shower!
Azar Rossi 6:29 a.m.: yes sir captain sir.
Mom 6:29 a.m.: And don’t call me Mother!
The saltwater gargle tastes disgusting, but the steam from the shower feels good on my throat. It’s way more soothing than the humidifier I run on my nightstand. I feel like one of those beached whales that people keep dumping water over to keep them moist.
The hot water runs out in three minutes, which is normal for our crummy apartment building. A sullen girl stares back at me in the bathroom mirror, her mouth a flat line with freckles spilled randomly across her face. She really, really does not want to return to school after winter break.
I don my jeans, T-shirt, and a bright orange sweater Mom got me for Xmas that she says “makes me more approachable.” It feels weird not wearing black.
“You’re killing me, Z. We’re gonna be late,” Mom says, popping her head into my room. There is no such thing as privacy in this apartment.
I reach for a black sweater, threatening to put it on instead. “I’ll do it. I’ll even put on black lipstick.”
Mom groans in frustration (which is really bad for your throat) and heads back to the kitchen, where she is no doubt making me hummus from scratch and grilling tofu for my lunch sandwich.
We don’t have a real dining room or kitchen table. I plop into a chair under the counter that serves as our eating space. But when I reach for the orange juice, Mom slides it away from me.
“You know what Dr. Talbot said. Orange juice and acidic foods make your vocal nodules worse.”
“Dr. Talbot buys sushi from the gas station. Should we really be trusting his judgment?” I growl. My voice sounds like the lowest gear on a bicycle, unable to switch up to something faster and more fluid.
Mom just stares me down.
“Fine.” I grit my teeth.
She slides a cup of tea over instead, and I shiver like someone has cracked an egg on my head, already dreading my breakfast. The tea is called Throat Soothe, and it tastes like marshmallows made from dirt. I take a sip, the hot drink comforting my esophagus despite filling my nose with notes of licorice, mud, and something called slippery elm.
“Can I have some pancakes? With extra whipped cream?” I whine, wishing my voice didn’t sound so husky. Without my secret stash of Pop-Tarts, I’m at my mom’s organic, free-range mercy. I’m a growing teen. Teens need gluten and preservatives, and that fake maple syrup stuff. It’s our birthright.
She just gives me another look and slams a bowl of yogurt with strawberries and honey in front of me instead. Every week, she makes yogurt from scratch in a big metal pot and covers it with a towel, like my maman bozorg taught her. I stare at the yogurt miserably. Yogurt’s supposed to be really good for your throat health. But it tastes the opposite of pancakes.
“I bet Adele eats the same thing for breakfast,” she says, scrambling to get ready. “She had to cancel a couple concerts last year because she was losing her voice, so you two are in the same boat.”
Yes, because Adele being on “vocal rest” from selling out arenas and me having vocal nodules on my throat since I was a baby are the same thing. Mom is the type of person to call a paper cut “a deep exfoliation!” and a debilitating vocal condition “an opportunity for different communication!”
“Her strawberries are served to her individually as models fan her with palm fronds,” I point out, my throat slowly warming up. “On a private jet.”
Mom sniffs, straightening her button-down business-casual shirt. Even in a plain outfit, she looks beautiful, with bright brown eyes and glowing skin. Her left hand threatens me with a spoonful of raw clover honey. “This is homemade yogurt, thank you very much.”
“What a thrilling life you lead.”
“Less talking. More eating,” she barks, now looking in our small kitchen mirror and lining her eyes with the thick kohl she uses on her gargantuan Persian eyelids. I try not to gag as she circles her entire eyeball, even the part of the eye that’s on the bottom, right by the waterline.
After taking two bites, I moan, “Can we go now?” Not that I’m super eager to get to school. But being around Mom in this cramped kitchen reminds me that my throat’s messed up, while my classmates just think I’m quiet.
There’s a difference.