The Kitchen by Rain Chudori
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.