The Kitchen by Rain Chu­dori

The Jakarta Post - JPlus - - Between The Lines - WORDS RAIN CHU­DORI IL­LUS­TRA­TION BUDHI BUT­TON

There is a mo­ment in which a woman will be­gin to dis­ap­pear. We can­not say for sure when this mo­ment will hap­pen, but it is as pre­cise as death it­self. Th­ese women, th­ese phan­toms, move like ap­pari­tions be­neath the sun­light and you could al­most see through them. They never let you touch them for they hold the kind of warmth that will only wound you. They speak with­out con­sid­er­a­tions and they love with­out ex­pec­ta­tions. Per­haps it comes from within, a life­time of dis­ap­point­ment, which fi­nally blooms into a clear re­lief. Per­haps, they could no longer fix them­selves upon a world that will not stop mov­ing. Per­haps, they felt that they weren’t enough.

Lately, my mother ap­pears in her kitchen. I hear her early in the morn­ing, the sweep­ing of her foot­steps on the hard­wood floor, the cup­boards open­ing and clos­ing, the ket­tle fill­ing up with tap wa­ter, the whis­tle of the ket­tle, the clink of the tea­spoon on the rim of the cup, and fi­nally, the teacup placed on the round kitchen ta­ble. When­ever I would at­tempt to wake up, I would de­scend into a deep sleep, as if my mother had weaved some kind of magic that would let me hear but not see her. When she has fin­ished her task, only then I would slowly wake up, and I would find a cup of tea wait­ing for me in the kitchen.

“What hap­pens to our heart when we die?” I ask my fi­ance. I was wash­ing the dishes af­ter din­ner, and he was drink­ing a cup of cof­fee as he sat on the kitchen ta­ble. I placed the last dish in the cup­board, and turned to face him. “It dies with our body,” he says. “But where would our love go when we dis­ap­pear?” I ask him.

“It dies, like every­thing else in the world,” he says. “Is this about your mother?”

“Yes,” I say. “I hear her in the kitchen ev­ery morn­ing. Her foot­steps, go­ing through our cup­board, boil­ing wa­ter, pour­ing tea in the teacup.” “And then?” “And then I find a cup of tea wait­ing for me.”

“My sweet­heart,” he says. He places his hand on my waist gen­tly. He could feel the tremor in my heart and knew that the best re­course for my ques­tions was sleep.

So we go to bed. Like every­thing else he does, he falls asleep with ease and will not wake up un­til he’s heard the alarm. This is when I love him most, I thought. He never makes a sound, never talks in his sleep, never makes abrupt move­ments. He merely holds me from be­hind with his arms around my waist. When I wake up, he will still be there, and that is enough for me. THE DAY MY mother dis­ap­peared, my fa­ther ex­plored the house, as if re­trac­ing her foot­steps would some­how bring her back. I held my fa­ther’s hand and fol­lowed af­ter him, be­liev­ing that she was watch­ing us and that our demon­stra­tion of love would fi­nally ap­peal to her. When we ar­rived in the kitchen, we found that there was a cup of tea wait­ing for us. Only one. There was steam hov­er­ing above it, and for a mo­ment, I won­dered whether my mother her­self had be­come the steam.

We looked at each other and sat on the kitchen ta­ble as we al­ways did ev­ery morn­ing. The only thing that was miss­ing was my mother mov­ing in the back­ground. We never touched the tea. We merely sat there for what felt like hours and watched my mother’s spirit hover above the cup of tea.

Af­ter that, I de­cided to live a quiet and undis­turbed life. I fol­lowed my late fa­ther’s foot­steps, stud­ied lin­guis­tics and soon be­came a trans­la­tor. At a friend’s birth­day din­ner, I was in­tro­duced to a pair of broth­ers, both in­ter­preters. The older one, Alex, was quiet and dis­tant, only in­ter­act­ing with those he was al­ready ac­quainted with, and had even, quite coldly, crit­i­cized a poem re­cently trans­lated by one of the guests. I re­mem­ber watch­ing him drink his wine qui­etly, while the trans­la­tor spoke to him about the po­etry in ques­tion, and how he reached for a knife and held it silently. I won­der what his ges­ture had meant, and more im­por­tantly, why no one had no­ticed it. The ar­gu­ment con­tin­ued un­til his younger brother, Adam, be­gan talk­ing about his re­cent trip to Venice to dis­tract ev­ery­one else. At the end of din­ner, Adam ap­proached me and asked me how he could reach me. Two years later, he moved in with me into the colo­nial house I had in­her­ited from my par­ents. Alex fol­lowed shortly af­ter, be­cause we had a spare bed­room, and his work fre­quently took him out of the coun­try. The three of us lived qui­etly and were re­spect­ful of each other’s space. WHEN I WAKE up this morn­ing, there is a teacup wait­ing for me on the kitchen ta­ble. The sun is gen­tly mov­ing across the room and ca­resses the sur­face of the teacup. I hold it and feel its warmth. I sit down on the ta­ble and drink the tea. Alex goes into the kitchen and we smile at each other. He be­gins mak­ing a cup of tea and sits be­fore me. “I didn’t hear you come in last night,” I say.

“I landed past mid­night. Has Adam left?” “Yes, at dawn, I think.” “Ah.” We drink our tea. A news­pa­per lays on the ta­ble and I watch as he be­gins to read the front page with­out un­fold­ing it.

“I’m sign­ing the pa­pers to­day,” he says, his at­ten­tion still on the news­pa­per. See­ing that Adam and I are get­ting mar­ried soon, Alex has spent the last few months look­ing for an apart­ment to move into.

“Con­grat­u­la­tions. You like the apart­ment, don’t you?” I asked. “Yes, of course.” “How was Madrid?” “You know. Work, ho­tel, work. I only had one day off.” “What did you do?” “Mostly, walked around. I found a sec­ond­hand book­shop and bought a book for Adam.” “What was it?” “Lorca.” “Adam dreams in the fever of the clay, of a child who comes leap­ing, through the dou­ble pulse of his cheek,” I say. This grabs his at­ten­tion. “That was the poem I re­cited when I first met him.” “Where did you first meet him?” “At your cousin’s birth­day din­ner. That was where we first met too,” I say.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he says re­gret­fully and looks at his teacup. Some­times he shows rare mo­ments of ten­der­ness, of which not many have wit­nessed.

“That’s okay, it prob­a­bly wasn’t too mem­o­rable for you.” “No, not re­ally,” he says, laugh­ing. “That poem. Per­haps that’s how he fell in love with you,” he says.

“Maybe. To be hon­est, I didn’t re­ally re­mem­ber much of him from that night,” I say. “What did you re­mem­ber?” he asks. “You,” I say. “Re­ally?” he says. He sits back and gazes at the teacup.

“You had an ar­gu­ment with one of the guests.”

“Ah, yes,” he says, laugh­ing again. “I was an­gry at him be­cause I felt his trans­la­tion was not faith­ful enough. It doesn’t mat­ter, re­ally. It was a long time ago.” “It is dif­fi­cult to be faith­ful,” I say. “Yes,” he says. We stay quiet for a while. We al­ways fall into long stretches of si­lence. We pre­fer the si­lence to hav­ing to fill the mo­ment with in­sin­cere words. Then, as if he is the sun­light it­self, he slowly rises from his seat and leaves the kitchen. My mother al­ways told me that her

love lies in a cup of tea. Ev­ery morn­ing, she would make two cups of tea, one for my fa­ther and one for me, which would al­ways be wait­ing on the kitchen ta­ble, and some­how al­ways per­fectly warm. She would spend the en­tire day at home, wash­ing our clothes, sweep­ing the floor, mak­ing our meals and at­tend­ing to our ev­ery need.

Al­though every­thing seemed per­fect, there was some­thing about my mother that was mys­ti­cal. When you talked to her, she would barely re­spond, ex­cept with a smile. When you touched her, she would not re­act, as if she was in­ca­pable of feel­ing any sen­sa­tion upon her skin. She was not quite present, as if she had al­ready stepped into the other world that she would one day leave for. For years, I would al­ways think of this re­mark when­ever she had fin­ished a cup of tea. I would look at the base of the teacup, stir­ring the tea leaves with my in­dex fin­ger, and won­dered how love could be re­duced to th­ese re­mains.

The day my mother dis­ap­peared, the house was cov­ered in dust. The cur­tains, the walls, the floor, the light switches, the ta­bles, the chairs were coated with a fine layer of dust. We too were cov­ered in dust, so gen­tle that in our sleep we had mis­taken it for a blan­ket, so del­i­cate that we did not stir. When we woke up, we could no longer feel her pres­ence. Her faded dresses, which she had never let me wear, still hung in her dresses. Her jar of per­fume, which she had ac­ci­den­tally knocked over and now had a crack on the side, still lay on her van­ity ta­ble. Her silk slip­pers, which usu­ally en­veloped her supine feet and ab­sorbed the sound of her foot­steps, were still wait­ing by her bed. She did not bring any of her be­long­ings be­cause she did not need them where she was go­ing. She fi­nally felt that she was enough.

Some­where, deep in my sleep, I hear my mother again. The sweep­ing of her foot­steps on the hard­wood floor, the cup­boards open­ing and clos­ing, the ket­tle fill­ing up with tap wa­ter, the whis­tle of the ket­tle, the clink of the tea­spoon on the rim of the cup, and fi­nally, the teacup placed on the round kitchen ta­ble. This time, I find enough strength, enough courage, enough love, to wake my­self up. I walk qui­etly through the house, my bare feet on the wooden floor, so that I will not sur­prise my mother and drive her to dis­ap­pear once more. Sud­denly, I feel that I am a child again.

“Our love lies in a cup of tea,” she told me the day be­fore she dis­ap­peared. “What do you mean?” I asked her. “It is in the man­ner of mak­ing tea that you can tell how a per­son will love you. Will he be warm or cold? Will he be ten­der or rest­less? Will he give him­self fully?”

“What does fa­ther’s tea tell you?” I had asked.

“He has never made me a cup of tea,” she said.

In the kitchen, I found the sun­light mov­ing gen­tly across the floor, the cup­boards open, the ket­tle on the stove, and Alex gen­tly plac­ing a teacup on the ta­ble. There is steam hov­er­ing above it, and for a mo­ment, I won­der whether my mother her­self has be­come the steam. We look at each other and sit on the kitchen ta­ble as we al­ways do ev­ery morn­ing. The only thing that is miss­ing is Adam mov­ing in the back­ground. We never touch the cup of tea. We merely sit there, for what feels like hours, and watch my mother’s spirit hover above the cup of tea.

There is a mo­ment in which a woman will be­gin to dis­ap­pear. We can­not say for sure when this mo­ment will hap­pen, but it is as pre­cise as death it­self. Th­ese women, th­ese phan­toms, move like ap­pari­tions be­neath the sun­light and you can al­most see through them. They never let you touch them for they hold the kind of warmth that will only wound you. They speak with­out con­sid­er­a­tions and they love with­out ex­pec­ta­tions. Per­haps it comes from within, a life­time of dis­ap­point­ments, which fi­nally bloom into a clear re­lief. Per­haps, they can no longer fix them­selves upon a world that will not stop mov­ing. Per­haps, they fi­nally feel that they are enough.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Indonesia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.