The kitchen was dark, its windows closed and the lights off. Outside, it was raining heavily, with sleets of water splattering on the tin roof, creating a huge din. It sounded like the roar of a monster. The only illumination came from two burning stoves. A pot of daal was simmering on one while the other had a black heated pan. Despite the darkness, she had not lighted the candles yet. There were only two of them and she was conserving them, not knowing when the power will resume.
Her arms itched and her knees ached but she stood there, baking the rotis, making sure –even in the surrounding darkness- that no roti was overbaked. Her feet throbbed with pain as she stood on the cold kitchen floor, beads of sweat forming on her forehead due to the stove’s heat. But even in this darkness, the itching and with the throbbing pains, her face was lit with a beautiful smile, slightly visible in the blueish glow of the stove. Today she was cooking
a perfect meal.
She had thought of him when she was washing the daal, picking out the inevitable pebbles – one or two of them- and putting them in a vessel to boil. She had cut her
finger while chopping onions and laughed how it always happened when she was cooking for him. She had not even noticed the cut until the blood oozed out from her finger and stained the rough cutting board, she had hastily washed and bandaged her finger before moving on to roll the dough for rotis.
She had heard the neighbouring aunty say that using hot water to roll Aata will make the rotis softer and tastier. However, it came with a price of bristled fingers. Still, she had done it.
She had kept the rotis in the hot-dish, to ensure that they remain hot. The daal continued to simmer on a low flame while she stood over it.
Finally, she heard the door open, which was accompanied with the increased roar of wind and rain before the door was snapped shut. She greeted him with a smile and took the umbrella from his hands.
While he went off to dry himself, she carefully arranged the table, wiping its surface with a cloth first and then arranging the candle at the right angle, on top of the sugar jar. She inspected the plates before placing them on the table, both were spotlessly clean. The spoon shone and the bowls glowed in the candlelight.
As he came and sat down at the table, she melted back in shadows. It had been a long time since they had eaten together. She saw him opening the dish, the smell of freshly baked rotis filled the air as her own stomach growled. He took a roti and placed it on his plate before lifting the lid off the dish of Daal. As he filled the ladle and prepared to pour it on his roti, he paused. The smile on her face vanished and was replaced with a tensed look. He still held the ladle above his plate as steam arose from it, mixing the air of roti’s smell with the spicy aroma of daal. He stared at it for a while and then pulled out something – a strand of hair, HER hair- like it was some secretly added poison. He brought the ladle hard on the table and stood up so suddenly that the chair fell to the floor with a loud thud. He cast a disgusted look at the plate and pushed it away. She saw it all, as tears gathered in her eyes, the ladle, him smashing it on the table, the rattling of other dishes as the candle fell, the chair falling on the floor, the look of disgust and anger on his face. The force of his push had sailed the plate off the table slammed it to the wall. It fell on the floor with and shattered into a hundred pieces, scattering bits of daal and roti everywhere.
He was screaming at her but she had turned deaf. Eyes filled with tears, she sifted through the fragments of the shattered plate, trying to salvage something. Something from the best meal she had ever cooked, for him.
#IMAGINATIONS – A collection of Short Stories by AZ Damudi