She Cooked…. [September 2010]

Ibrahim Waheed “Kalaavehi”

Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, always had a way of bringing out the hidden. Perhaps in more ways than one, if one listened to the sarcastic old man sitting hunched behind the counter in the corner shop. He got a devious kind of pleasure from saying that even the hidden came out for the Friday prayers in Ramadan. However, if one forgave the man his sour wit and looked for the more positive, one almost discovered the truth, even in the simplest of happenings.

Ramadan also brought out the best of what the land had to offer in hidden culinary skills. Recipes that had hibernated during the other eleven lunar months woke up during Ramada, yawned briefly, and attacked kitchens with a vengeance. Uniquely Maldivian dishes and tidbits with names that sounded just as traditional as their methods of preparation, would suddenly find themselves competing with, and often winning against, the sandwiches, the pizzas and ersatz European haute cuisine served at the finest eateries in the country.

Ramadan was also a time when hidden traits of old-time island charity would emerge from dark pools of nothingness and exhibit themselves in their full glory. And that was why Sheeza made sure that passing sailors who found themselves without friends on her island would have something to eat at her small house when the muezzin called out the sunset maghrib prayers, thus announcing the time for the breaking of the fast. After all, her house was right on the waterfront where passing vessels would sometimes anchor to ride out the night when the seas were rough.

On this particular Ramadan evening, a half-hour before sunset, there was just the one man who jumped off a semi-rigid, tied it up at the jetty and stepped onto the firm white sand of Sheeza’s island. In his old sailor’s hat, blue jeans and faded red shirt, the man could have been a foreigner. However, his bearing, body language and easy confidence betrayed his local origins. And that was all the more reason, perhaps, why Sheeza invited him to break fast at her house.

Courteous to a fault, the man graciously accepted the invitation and sat down where indicated. He did not offer conversation but chose to look down at his leather half-shoes and contemplate on whatever jeans-clad sailors did close to sunset on a Ramadan evening. Even though Sheeza would usually respect such a man’s privacy, her curiosity was aroused, perhaps by the foreign dress code, perhaps by the aura of loneliness he carried around with him, or perhaps by a certain feeling of the surreal about him. Whatever the reason was, Sheeza wanted to do something out of the ordinary that evening.

“What shall I cook for you today to break your fast with, honey?” Sheeza heard herself asking. Later on, she wondered where the “honey” slipped out of.

The man did not answer. He looked down at his worn shoes. Perhaps they were more important than this kind, wonderful, charitable woman who was not only offering him a place to rest and a free meal, but friendship as well. Perhaps he did not understand the question. Perhaps he was hard of hearing. Perhaps he was plain old rude!

Then, suddenly, Sheeza noticed his eyes. They were slowly filling up with tears which he had been trying to hide from her by looking down at his shoes. That was when she realized that what she had said must have touched a very sensitive spot somewhere deep inside him. Suddenly feeling very small, she started saying, “I am sorry…”

The man raised a dignified palm as if to stop her speaking. Then, wiping his eyes with the other hand, he smiled at her and said something she would remember for the rest of her life. “I am sorry if I appear to be rude. But you see, you asked me a question that I had forgotten ever existed. I apologize. If you are so inclined, please make for me something that is simple and easy to prepare. I shall be grateful to you for your kindest hospitality.”

Looking deep into the man’s eyes that tried to avoid her probing question but made her want even more to reach out to him to stop the unknown hurt, she tried frivolity as a crutch, “Anything? Even some boiled fish and last night’s rice?”

“Anything. And if it is flavored with just a light dash of home-cooked love, I shall indeed savor it for a long time!” There were shades of unknown meaning in his smile.

She bought the best she could afford that evening: Her cooking never tasted that good ever before! Ramadan or otherwise.

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  • silentfingers  On September 5, 2010 at 8:52 am

    Beautifully told. The simple truth about a facet of humans are revealed wonderfully here, in just one persuasive word ‘honey’. For some reason my mind has breathed life back into the words of a gazal which almost got murdered by my rational thoughts.

    “Aarzoo hai ke kisi aankh mein aansoo na rahe; Mere haathon mein koi aisa khilona de de.
    Sabr de ya mere zakhmon ko masiha de de; Varna phir mujh ko tadapne ka salika de de.”

    I believe, Sheeza found her ‘masiha’ in the intriguing sailor. And he, a ‘thadapne ka ‘salika’. I shall let the word ‘kilona’ play a more subtle role on my thoughts; like his words with shades of unknown meanings.

    Thank you for your insightful works. Bless you.

    • ldive  On September 6, 2010 at 2:51 am

      Silentfingers, if only you knew why and thru whose inspiration I wrote this, you will see how uncannily close to the real story you are! Reading your comment gave me goose pimples. It took me three tries to read the verse of the ghazal you quoted. For some strange reason, my eyes kept going out of focus….
      All I can say to you is this: These people could be real. If you feel they are, please pray for them!
      Silentfingers, may God bless you over and over again!

  • jaa  On September 5, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Liked it.

    • ldive  On September 6, 2010 at 3:00 am

      Ja, my friend, partner in crime, and fellow seeker of the ultimate truth! Thank you!

  • shifa  On September 6, 2010 at 12:19 am

    wow! touched deeply ……’any food made in home will have little bit of ‘loabi’ in it which makes the food so tasty and delicious. specially if it is offerd with a pure heart and kind words ….. masha allah it must be a blessing …..

    • ldive  On September 6, 2010 at 2:58 am

      Thank you! You are absolutely right about the little bit of ‘loabi’. And do you know any human beings who stand on a street corner at midnight, silently praying for just that, perhaps alone, perhaps separated from the source of his salvation?
      Please do read the comment by Silentfingers here. Amazingly, she sees the pearl in the oyster. She sees the gem in the stone. Perhaps the silent fingers of fate could pick up both and set them in a wedding ring?

      • ldive  On September 6, 2010 at 3:16 am

        P.S: I see that your reply was made at 1219 am on the 6th September, just past midnight. At 1233 that same evening (also the eve of the 27th Ramadan), something happened that could, Inshallah with the Grace of God, be a prayer answered and a longer, more beautiful story! I guess we will have to wait some time before I could write that story down!

  • mysterystar  On September 13, 2010 at 4:13 am

    This story magnificently written! And the magic in your writing that I admire had revealed. This really had touched my soul. To Sheeza I pray that she found the man she loved. And food cooked with those hands will be so divinity. Cause they are nothing but pure love. Thank you sharing your stories.

  • josethomas  On September 14, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    Anything ‘flavoured with the light dash of home-cooked love’ can stand ahead any recipe ever made by the best of cheffs.The story simply pours the sweetness of honey into reader’s minds. “heard melodies are sweet….”
    We are waiting for the unheard melodies…….from YOU!”

    • ldive  On September 19, 2010 at 2:28 pm

      Thank you, dear friend whom I have never met (a situation that needs to be rectified, sooner rather than later)!

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