Soul Food Mates – Fiction

by Anita Menon

Some stories get written on their own and some don’t like this one.

Soul -foodmates  – For Femina Fast Fiction submission 

21st July

Ira’s To-do list

  1. Cardio and weight training – 1 hour
  2.  Drop-off clothes for dry cleaning
  3. Office – finish the slides for the sucky client( 4 hours)
  4. Lunch with Andrea
  5. Fix nail appointment..

She paused and thought to herself. ‘Why do I have the compulsive need to start everything with my name? Ira’s this, Ira’s that. I am so full of myself.’

Ira put her phone, which contained her to-do list, back into her purse and grinned to herself. She remembered how Abhay would roll his eyes every time she said. “Ira wants that purse on her next birthday. “ Abhay would smile and say, “Ira will get whatever Ira wants!”

Ira stopped her train of thoughts and felt her heart get heavy. She hadn’t seen Abhay in more than 2 weeks now. He was travelling to Turkey for business and wouldn’t be back until tomorrow afternoon. It was their 15th wedding anniversary in a week’s time. They hadn’t celebrated their anniversary in the last 5 or 6 years. Last year he was travelling and so was she. It was not going to be any different this year too. She sighed deeply thinking about the daunting day before her and mentally checked her ‘to-do’ list again.

Meanwhile, somewhere outside of Istanbul, Abhay sat forlornly in the backseat of his taxi cab. The rural side of Turkey was simply marvelous. This business trip of his did not leave him any time to enjoy the sights of this beautiful country. His client was so pleased with him that he signed the contract within the very first meeting. This put him a good spot for the rest of the year as far his sales target was concerned. But he was disappointed about leaving the country without exploring it. The Turkish food, especially the different kinds of breads and the cold mezzes were out of this world. Ira would have definitely enjoyed the local cuisine, he pondered. When was the last time they went out on a vacation? Only memories remained of a shared vada pav and snatches of conversations about which cuisine was a better. She had her own career and her own set of friends. And oh, how can he forget, her ‘Ira’s to-do’ lists! With so many years of marriage behind them, he had become one of the items in the list that was to be crossed off. Their wedding anniversary was upon them and like always they would spend it doing different things with others.

 ’It was better this way rather than getting on each other’s nerves.’ thought Abhay

When Ira and Abhay had met, they did not have many things in common and perhaps that was what attracted them to each other. He was laid back while Ira was forever planning and surging ahead. On a weekend, while he would ideally love to read or listen to some music, Ira would want to meet friends and arrange for parties. Occasionally Ira put up her feet to rest with a nice glass wine while Abhay read to her. Their differences worked magically and love was always the most important person in the room. But they shared a passion for food and cooking. Ira loved to cook and was trained chef but followed a recipe religiously while Abhay used his intuition and whipped up a mean five course meal in no time. When they had friends at home for dinner or luncheons, they would create magic with their combined superpowers of instincts and skills.

Years rolled on and it was their tenth year into their marriage and they realized they couldn’t have a baby. Many treatments and medication lifetimes later, Ira gave up as she realized all the chemicals were raising havoc in her body. Abhay understood and together they decided that it was not meant to be it. But something snapped between them and they drifted like two streams from the same river that followed their own course. Their jobs took over their lives and kept them apart for long periods. Success and money sat at their dinner table on those occasional meals that they chose to have together for the sake of catching up with each other. They had nothing to talk about so they cut the pretense and found their temporary joys with friends and activities.

After his Turkey trip when Abhay reached home he found it locked. He swore under his breath when he realized he had forgotten to take his key on his trip. He dialed Ira’s number and found it busy. He sat outside the house on his suitcase and rummaged his pockets to double check. With no keys and no answer from Ira, he wandered in the porch collecting all the advert leaflets strewn all over. He scanned them with little interest and tore them up one by one. At that moment, his eyes fell upon a Thailand advert and he read it with a wavering interest. His thoughts were interrupted by Ira’s call who informed him that she had left a key for him with the neighbors. Abhay was relieved and appreciated Ira for being Ira. That night they missed each other for dinner and met only when it was time to sleep. As they slept with their backs to each other, both wondered how long they were going to continue with this farce. They were dragging a dead marriage between them and were growing weary by the minute.

One morning, a week before the wedding anniversary, Ira and Abhay happened to meet at the breakfast table. An awkward silence ensued with the crunching of the toast and the clinking sounds of the cutlery making the discomfort more apparent.

“Ira, I was thinking about taking a vacation.” spoke Abhay, unable to bear the awkwardness. Ira looked at Abhay skeptically and asked, “Where you off to?”

“I was thinking Thailand. I didn’t think you would be interested since your planner is always booked for months.”

“That’s wonderful. I hope you have a good vacation.” said Ira

Abhay was taken aback by her cold response and wished her good day before heading off to work.

In his car he thought about the conversation at breakfast and decided that a vacation with Ira was due for a long time. Perhaps Thailand might change things for them or it may make things clearer for the future. When he reached office he called Ira and invited her to join him on his trip to Thailand. To his surprise, Ira agreed.

Days passed quickly like someone had pushed the fast-forward button on the DVD player and then came the moment when Ira and Abhay were at the Bangkok airport waiting for their visas to be stamped on arrival. As always Ira had planned everything from the hotel to the transport and marked out all the touristy places to visit. Abhay felt bogged down at the prospect of trudging all over like a typical tourist. He thought of himself as a traveler and not a tourist. He longed to be spontaneous and take the road less travelled to explore the unexplored but with Ira around, nothing was left to chance.

They reached the hotel room, unpacked and rested for a bit. Abhay felt beaten down even before the vacation had started. Unable to control his frustration, he spoke crossly, “Can’t we for once not plan something and take things as they come?”

Ira looked at him with confusion in her eyes.

 “That is because I always plan for both of us. That is how it has always been.”, she responded, hurt by the accusation.

“Well, I don’t appreciate you planning every detail of my life. I want life to happen to me sometimes the way I don’t expect it. I love surprises and you spoil everything for me by planning it.” Abhay said, avoiding looking into Ira’s eyes.

“Alright then! You go ahead and plan this vacation and let’s see what you do. As it is I am exhausted looking after the details.”

She flopped into her bed and closed her eyes.

When she woke up, Abhay was gone.

The next day both Ira and Abhay headed out to explore Bangkok on their own. Ira came back in the evening to find Abhay in the room fiddling with his phone. On an impulse, instigated by the conversations of the night before she said, “I am going to Phuket tomorrow. I leave you here to enjoy your vacation.”

Abhay looked shocked and replied slowly, “I think this is for the best. I hope you enjoy your stay.”

“So this is it. Isn’t it? This is how it ends. You go your way, I go mine. It is futile to carry on with this pretense.” Ira responded with tears choking her voice.

Sensing the emotion in her voice, Abhay melted and said softly, “Bangkok seems boring. Let’s both go to Phuket.”

The essence of an old friendship doesn’t fade that quickly. There are always remnants like the specks of wet sand that stick to your feet even when the waves have receded. In Phuket, Ira and Abhay bonded over meal times and conversations sprouted around ingredients and flavours. Smiles replaced silences and food talk accompanied their bellies warm with a hearty meal.  Once at a restaurant they found a leaflet that advertised a cooking class. Both Abhay and Ira looked at each other and instantly knew what the other was thinking. They enrolled for the class which meant they spent the first half of the day exploring the regional cuisine and the other half exploring the by lanes of Phuket.

At the cookery class, Ira and Abhay met many couples mostly on their honeymoon and there were others who were attending for their love of cooking. Abhay and Ira absorbed every aspect of the course and bonded over simmering sauces and melting desserts. Days passed and they celebrated their wedding anniversary making banana fritters. They complimented each other by building on their strengths and making up for each other’s weaknesses. The last day of the cookery class was a cook-off challenge where the winners would be given shopping vouchers for faux electronics and leather goods. They had to attempt a 3 course meal in 60 minutes. Ira planned the recipes the previous night and Abhay drank to steady his nerves.

The next morning, Ira and Abhay reached the venue and prepped up. When the competition began, Ira found to her dismay that they were allowed only certain ingredients that the instructor would give them to make desserts. She was at her wits end because she hadn’t prepared for this contingency.

“Don’t worry, we will work something out.”, assured Abhay. “Focus on the starter and the main course for now. “

Disheartened that she had already lost before the competition had begun, Ira concentrated on the task at hand. With a splendid starter and main course out of the way, they had 20 minutes to spare. In the 20 minutes they looked at the purple yam, sugar, cream and eggs in front of them. Purple yam was such an unsettling prospect for a dessert. The other contestants had bananas and more dessert-friendly ingredients. Just when it seemed hopeless, Abhay started peeling and chopping the purple yam. Within minutes he steamed it and simultaneously asked Ira to whip the egg whites and fold in the cream and sugar into it. Ira watched Abhay puree the yam and cool it in the deep freezer for a few minutes. The he took the egg white mixture from Ira and mixed the pureed yam to make a purple yam mousse. He arranged the violet mass in glasses and garnished it with black olives. They had 5 minutes to spare when he pushed it in the deep freezer to chill the mousse.

At the judging hour, Ira and Abhay presented their dish to the judges who seemed impressed by their starter and main course. They noticed the purple yam mousse and shook their heads before dipping their spoons into the glasses for a taste. As soon as the judges tasted the mousse, their eyes sparkled and they shook Ira’s and Abhay’s hands congratulating them on creating a splendid dessert. Although untraditional, it was a clear winner. Abhay and Ira had won the contest and while receiving their certificate, one of the judges suggested, “Both of you did well. You should think about opening a restaurant in Phuket.”

Ira and Abhay beamed at each other and said, “Thank you! Maybe we will.”