The new city brought a new friend in my life, my first, real friend in bone and flesh and not an apparition from the virtual world. I am exhausted after my daily work where I am constantly either writing or talking or doing both. So, I cherish the silence that comes to me outside of work. As much as I enjoyed the silence this new city provided, with no social pressure of congregating during the weekends and making small (or big, or any) talk, my happiness at renewed real human contact knew no bounds.
And then, I got invited for dinner.
Like Anastasia Steele in the terribly written 50-shades-of-whatever, my inner goddess jived in excitement. I asked her if I should bring something too.
"Like what?" she asked.
It was a weekend, and I had made polao and chicken curry for myself. I could share some of that. I think I heard her mumble something incoherent on the phone. Something like, carbohydrate ... umm.. protein.
"Hello?" I asked, unsure.
"So you will bring carbs and proteins? Good. Then I will bring veggies."
Her comment left me a little surprised. Who dehumanizes food this way, reducing it to carbs, proteins and roughage on the same phone conversation where a dinner invitation was being extended? And what was this "I will bring veggies"? The Bengali in me only knows of kosha mangsho, mutton biryani, fish fry, roshogolla and pantua for dinner invitations.
We decided to meet at her place, not too far from mine. Even the prospect of eating roughage for a start did not dampen my excitement, the excitement of the culinary kind I felt every time I received a wedding invitation in Kolkata. It’s been years!
We met. I watched her take out some soup-with-a-funny-name from her Trader Joe's paper bag. There was a yogurt container with sour cream and some chips that looked like wood shavings to go with it. That's all that came out of the bag.
The optimist in me thought that surely, this must be the appetizer bag. A chilled soup with cucumber pieces floating was a rather bone-chilling sight for the unforgiving, wintry December (this happened last December). She heaped a huge tablespoon of cold sour cream as she offered me a bowl, calling it a healthy, summer soup.
"So what is this called again?" I asked.
"Gazpacho soup," she chimed with excitement. I took a spoonful and sampled it, starting to shiver as I did so. It felt like the soup had been sitting in Antarctica for a while.
I was about to take the second spoonful in my mouth when she blurted out another bone-chilling truth with innocence. "You know, I do not enjoy cooking as much as you do. So I cook in bulk and freeze it. This soup that you are having was made in August."
I froze and died a little bit inside. Cryo-preserved soup made in August being thawed and served with love in December? I was not even in this country in August. I was still in Germany, waiting to get a date for my visa interview. Was this soup made on my birthday? My sympathetic nervous system, the part that controls fight-or-flight instincts, had kicked in full on.
There is no way I was going to have this soup. Not that there was anything else to have. What I suspected as the appetizer was her contribution for a non-potluck dinner where she was the host and I had only volunteered to bring in something. What was that name again? I had never heard of it until today. All I could think of was gas and pachu (a term of endearment for the ass, usually in baby language, and by ass, I am not talking of ass-the-animal).
She happened to be quite enjoying the polao and the chicken curry, wiping away tears and her nose in the process. It must have been a tad spicy for the average American taste bud.
"The soup is fantastic," my fight-and-flight inner goddess finally found her voice. "Could I pack it and take it with me to enjoy at home? I'd love to have it with bread tomorrow. You are welcome to keep some of my food for your husband too."
She was thrilled. She even helped me pack the soup, blobs of sour cream and all, profusely thanking me for the food I offered her.
With the dilemma of food behind us now, we started to chat and chatted up for the next few hours. I didn't have any appetite for the rest of the evening though. We spoke of US politics, travel, movies, and a whole lot of nothing. The next day, she told me that the husband loved the polao and the chicken curry. Ever since, we have become good friends. As I get home from work, I see a box or a jar of something at my doorstep once in a while. A jar of turmeric. A set of pyrex bowls. Such random acts of kindness thrill me, to know that someone is thinking of you and offering you something. However, I never had the courage to finish the rest of the "manufactured in August and served with love in December" gas-pachu soup. Forgiving her for that one incident, I forged a new friendship in this new city.