Category Archive: Short Stories

Jun 19

Serendipity

I was in love then.. and the air felt so different.. I used to stay up all night thinking about her, writing down crazy stuff and imagining how things would turn out when I express my feelings to her and she accepts.. but what if she doesn’t? Oh but she will.. didn’t the bunch of random things she did for me (which any human being would have done for one of their acquaintances ) like offering a Band-Aid when I fell from my bicycle or calling back saying sorry after seeing 7 missed calls from me, indicate that I meant something to her? Maybe something special too? And basically, if it didn’t, that could only mean two things.. either I am over-reading into things or.. she isn’t human..

So I forgot there was an activity such as sleeping or maybe even eating… frankly I didn’t even feel like sleeping… and at 4 a.m. in the morning I used to think that its late enough and lied down to rest my back on my bed.

But my mind… and my heart… never rested…

Restlessness is such a profound feeling…you can never truly experience it without falling in love… you might feel restless about your exam results, about your favorite team’s performance in a tournament, or maybe about what you will be holding in your hands after ripping open your Christmas presents… but you aren’t experiencing restlessness per se… because none of the outcomes are in your hands (the exam results might be, but I choose to think otherwise.)

In this case.. everything depends upon how you behave, how you dress in front of her, how you talk to her, how you treat her friends and her dog, how many questions you answer in class, and God knows what else… You keep fine-tuning all these little things, so that, in the one instance she looks at you during class, you aren’t found with your index finger inside your nostrils, poking away with perplexed fascination.

After half an hour of resting my back on my bed, I would give up, and go out for a walk or a jog, and I tell you, the air felt so different at that time of the day… The sun used to come out by the time I was on top of the partially constructed parking garage located right across the street from her house.. I used to sit in the same corner every day, that strategic spot which offered maximum visibility and minimum exposure. When the sun came out, I would start my day by peeking through the window into her sunlit room. She would get up, stretch a little, cuddle her dog, and after about 15 minutes, she would come out to jog. After she would go beyond the horizon of my sight, I went along my own separate way, back to home. I was always in a dilemma about whether or not I should join her on her jog. Wouldn’t that be a fantastic way of getting closer to her? Imagine commencing your day by meeting a person every morning.. How romantic a thought, it’s probably the precursor of being married.. The very thought just thrilled me.. but what kept me from doing so.. was this one question she might ask: why do I come to jog in her neighborhood when I live like 4 miles away. Until the time I came up with a good answer to that, I wasn’t revealing myself.

So I would jog back home, imagining all the while that I am jogging along with her, and kept imagining things that I would have said to her, if she were alongside me. But she was there, maybe not in person, so what? She was with me..

I smiled a lot those days, I sang a lot, and the sun seemed so much brighter then. The road on which I used to jog back was lined with trees on both sides.. I shouldn’t call them trees as theywere more stick figures than dense masses of foliage, but yet they seemed beautiful in their own scantiness.. They reminded me of myself: inadequate creatures always trying to grow taller and taller so that one day they could touch the Sun.. even though they knew they never could, they never stopped trying (as a kid I thought the trees were in love with the Sun.. what else can explain this amazing phenomena of something going against the mighty force of gravity and standing there high and tall for hundreds of years?).

The trees gave me motivation and every time I felt things were hopeless, I would turn to them for inspiration.

So after a lot of time had passed and I had fallen in and out of love with her a considerable number of times, I finally decided to express myself to her. To bare it all. When she came out to jog that morning, I joined her and she recognized me. She asked me how I was in the neighborhood even though I lived on the other side of town. I said I was visiting my grandparents, who lived nearby. We kept jogging, I started talking and I noticed something very odd: for someone who goes out jogging every day, she had pretty bad stamina. She started huffing and puffing in under half a mile and I found that pretty weird. She said she wanted to stop. We sat down on a thin patch of grass and she was noticeably out of breath. I asked her if she’d just started jogging recently, and she said that she went out to jog every morning.

To which I asked if she had any medical problems and she instantaneously spat back “It’s not a problem OK?”

She looked at me and noticed that I was visibly startled and she said (in a much repressed tone) “or at least I don’t think it is..”

“What’s wrong?” I asked

“Can I trust you with something? Please say yes..”

“Yea sure.. with absolutely anything.. I cross my heart and I..”

“It’s… this very weird feeling that I get.. every morning.. ”

.. And then she continued.. and it was the most heart-breaking thing I’ve ever heard in my life.. She said she had feelings for this girl who lived on the other side of her house.. and every morning she woke up and saw her sleeping, she would feel this strange attraction towards her.. and she would run away from her house and come to this deserted place where she would sit and cry and try to convince herself not to think about her..

I stopped paying attention to what she was saying after about 5 minutes.. The only thing going around in my head then, was the amazing irony that the very day I’d decided to reveal myself to her, she had revealed herself to me..

I gave her every inch of superficial concern and apathy I had and consoled her, saying it is very hard to deal with these feelings etc. I never talked to her after that day. I also became an atheist.

Quite amazingly, after many, many years, I met her a few days back on a running track near my house. We talked briefly and then went along our own ways. I noticed she has much better stamina now. Now I know, God exists and he has a wicked sense of humor. That girl she had feelings for is now my wife.

 

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Jun 05

The Butterfly

He sat a few rows in front of her and, periodically, when he was certain that the professor wasn’t looking, he turned back to face her.

And, invariably, she smiled.

That was his cue to look down at his notebook and pretend to be engrossed by his horrible handwriting.

A few moments passed, then the professor resumed his rambling lecture, and Mark summoned his “perfect student” expression – body slightly leaning towards the professor, left hand moving with method so that it looked like he was getting notes, eyes following the professor’s body with the precision of a radar. Inside, he was gloating. He knew he had it all: thick eyebrows that gave him an aura of mystery, deep-set black eyes which seemed to burrow under your skull, all neatly packaged in a Burberry jacket and endless, almost palpable confidence.

As the lesson continued, Mark’s eyes took care to remain glued to the professor’s every movement while his mind concentrated on his foolproof “plan of conquest.”

At the end of the lesson, he would go to the girl, and very casually ask her “Would you care for a cup of chai?” And she, who seemed shy, would whisper in her hesitant voice: “Mmm … okay.” After that he would return home, watch the Simpsons, prepare himself a hot bath, while she would be home, pretending to read but secretly waiting for him to call. A few hours would go by and he, fully rested and still hot from this bath, would invite her over for dinner…

Mark’s serious faced morphed into a grin. He rubbed his hands on his Calvin Klein jeans and stood up. The lesson was over, and the show was on.

“Pleased to meet you: I’m Mark.” he introduced himself. The girl offered him a faint smile but, instead of taking his hand into hers, she braced her body with her arms and held onto her sweater tightly, as if she were afraid that his words could tear it off her.

“Chiara” she said, her soft voice barely audible in the crowded classroom.

“Well, Chiara. I know it may sound like I’m .., uhm… rushing it.. a bit” said Mark as he scratched the back of his head with what he hoped could be interpreted as insecurity.

She took the bait, and egged him on with a nod and a faint smile. “Would you care for a cup of chai?” continued Mark. He took care of looking at the floor. Again, he couldn’t help mentally high-fiving himself for his acting ability. Mark was an expert: he changed attitude according to the girl he wanted to go to bed with. And he never failed.

Chiara, as was expected, tenderly laid her hand on his shoulder. “All right, let’s go” She said.

“Perfect!”

“… But not to a Café’.”

Mark’s smile died as quickly as it had been born. “What do you mean …don’t you like chai?”

“No.”

This was completely unacceptable. No girl had ever dared contradict him! Mark inhaled deeply, hoping the fresh air would cool down his temper.

He was very tempted to tell Chiara that he had just remembered he had a thing… some urgent business he had to attend to. But giving up on a woman was simply not in his style.

“Fair enough,” he conceded, forcing on a fake shrug and even a smile to go along with. “But I warn you: I do not have a helmet for you, and I’m risking a fine by carrying you around.”

“Oh, don’t worry. We’ll walk,” said Chiara.

“What…? walk?!” Mark blurted out, stopping a few inches from the exit.

He could not walk and leave his beloved CPR all alone on the sidewalk! Not to mention that all of this went against his principles of proverbial couch potato! He opened his mouth to protest, but Chiara was quicker: “Hush! It’s not that far.” she said, taking him by the arm and leading him outside the classroom.

The weather was uncertain, and Mark look at the gray clouds with concern. “If it rains, however, I’m getting my chai.”

“Don’t worry: it will not rain.”  she reassured him.

And, surely enough, as time passed the sun managed to sneak through the clouds, which were becoming more sparse.

“See? What did I tell you?” said Chiara, a light smile forming on her lips. That smile, the only uncontained expression she had offered him until that moment, surprised him. For an instant, he was almost taken aback. He hadn’t seen a sensuous body to satisfy his lust, but the soul inside it. For a second, he almost thought she was beautiful.

But then he remembered that The Simpson’s would be on soon. Chiara said something, but Mark was no longer listening. Instead, he looked at his Rolex. They had already been walking for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes. Hadn’t she told him that it wasn’t far?

“When do we get there?” He asked. “I cannot walk anymore.”

“We will arrive n due time. Trust me.” Chiara’s voice remained soft and poised, but her pace quickened, and she was soon a few steps in front of him.

As Chiara became smaller and smaller, Mark thought about the powerful smell of coffee, its bitter taste, and everything that had always come after: a dinner at a nice restaurant, a bottle of vodka and strawberry syrup. It was always the same comfortable, reassuring routine. The only thing that changed was the woman. And now … How had he ended up in this mess, headed God knows where with a teenage girl who, as if all of that wasn’t already bad enough, had begun to hum, attracting the eyes of indignant passer-bys?

“How long ‘till we get there?” He whined. He had lost his composure and was actually acting like himself now, so annoyed was he about not being able to have his way.

“We are almost there. Hush!” said Chiara.

Hush … Hush my foot! He thought.

Mark checked the time on his Rolex and gave a start: they had walked for over an hour now. He looked up from his watch and, for the first time, paid attention to his surroundings. He saw grass, just grass. A huge expanse of grass that seemed to never end. But where the Hell was he? Where the Hell was the city? A bar? And, most importantly, where was the nearest taxi stand?

“Is something wrong?” She asked. ” He opened his mouth, looking for an angry retort which never came. Everything was wrong! He didn’t even know where to begin …

“ Look,” he said, stepping in her way and putting his hands in front of her, so that she wouldn’t be able to keep on walking. “The fact is that I must be back soon and, right now, I don’t have the faintest idea where we are!”

A flicker of amusement passed through Chiara’s eyes, catching Mark off guard. Maybe, he had underestimated her? She seemed to be less naïve than he had initially thought.

“At home…To do what?” She probed him. “Is it something so important that you can’t postpone it?

Mark’s thoughts went to the Simpsons, to the half-empty bottle of Martini on the kitchen table and the warm water for his bath which, in his mind, was already becoming cold. “Yes, definitely.” He replied.

“All right, then” She shrugged. “ I’ll take you home. But first I want to show you something: we are very close to it now!”

“But ..” He protested.

He was not used to walking and his elegant Hogans had been the perfect breeding ground for huge blisters that were now exploding like volcanoes

“No buts! You will like it. Trust me”

He didn’t trust her, but he decided to keep going. After all, he had never walked so much in his life, and could not bear to have struggled that much for nothing. Mark took the hand that Chiara had stretched toward him, and he let himself be guided by her.

To his horror, they stepped onto the grass, where his shoes would get irremediably ruined. He wanted to let go of Chiara’s hands, but it seemed too rude, even for him.

And so they walked on, through a sea of grass, across a dirt path that wound through the bushes, and into a dense forest crowded by tall sequoia trees which were blocking the sunlight.

Why did I let myself get dragged into this? He thought as he leaned against the rough bark of a fir tree and tried to remove a pebble from his left shoe. He looked at the girl, who smiled. He grunted.

At least, someone was happy. But it was the wrong someone.

“ We are almost there. I promise. Just a few steps left.” Chiara egged him on. Mark said nothing, afraid that, if he opened his mouth, he would start cursing.

But he kept going, telling himself that it was too late anyway: the Simpsons’episode had already ended.

They entered the forest, Chiara making her way with ease, Mark stumbling over rocks and the thick tree roots winding through the earth like a maze. The annoying rustle of leaves stirred by the wind echoed in Mark’s head, along with the chirping of cicadas, which loomed above them from every side. “Look, I’m almost afraid to ask, but this place is creepy. Are we almost there?” He insisted.

“Actually… We made it.”

Mark looked straight ahead and saw the trees open to reveal a small, grass-filled valley.

“Is that all?” He asked, the disappointment of the banality of it all making his body tremble.

“Come,” Chiara tugged at his shirt, then threw herself on the thick bed of grass.

Mark’s eyes widened and his nose contorted in disgust.”You’re kidding me, right?” Chiara shook  her head, sending ripples of waves across her oversized blue sweater.

“You. Must. Be. Kidding. Me.” He repeated, incredulous. “I cannot believe you brought me down here to ask me to lie down on dull, boring, common grass!”

The girl stood silent, staring at him. “Well, anyway, if you brought me here for that you’ll be disappointed: I’m not going to lie down on soggy, smelly grass for no good reason and wreck my 200$ pants.” Chiara stood silent, apparently lost in her thoughts. She seemed engrossed in her own world, and Mark felt hurt. He hated the feeling of not being necessary. Mark shifted his weight from one leg to another.

“This is too much.” He said, finally. “I’m going home” He turned on his heels but continued to falter. Meanwhile, Chiara had closed her eyes. She had let herself surrender to the bed of grass and the sun filtering through the leaves drew mysterious figures on her body. Mark looked at his Rolex one last time. It was five o’clock.

At this point, he should have been lying in his bath, immersed in boiling water up to his neck, fantasizing about the evening that he would spend with the woman of the day. Mark’s eyes rested again on the girl, who was now sitting and holding something in her hand. “Come and see!” She called him, her voice suddenly strong and clear. Mark looked at his watch again,. It seemed to reprimand him with his obnoxious ticking.

“All right, I’m coming! just give me a sec.”

Slowly, Mark took his watch off and threw it in a bush of hawthorns. He then slid on the grass next to the girl, feeling a rush of adrenaline as his body came in contact with hers. Chiara looked at him knowingly, and her face seemed to glow with a secret happiness. It was the type of joy that makes your whole body fill up with energy. The type of joy that you can’t understand unless you have felt it before.

She offered her closed hands to Mark and opened them a sliver, to let him see what she was holding.

A butterfly.

It was turquoise, with streaks of yellow and purple on the edges. The butterfly flapped its wings once, twice, then landed on Mark’s knee. And all Mark could do was look at it, holding his breath.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” The girl asked.

“It’s amazing… “

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Jun 03

Don’t Be Such a Cry Baby

The slimy, wet floor emanates a strong smell of sweat and chlorine. It rises up Ria’s nose and seems to settle inside her brain, making her feel dizzy. Thirty or forty six year olds like her have been running in circles on that wet floor for what feels like an eternity, and Ria finds herself insistently looking at the whistle the coach  wears around her neck. It’s green, like the floor.

When is she going to blow it?

Suddenly, what feels like a block of wood crashes into Ria’s ankles. She looks down and catches a glimpse of pink. Someone has tripped her! She frantically waves her hands in the air,  but can’t prevent gravity from hurling her down. The floor hits her like a slap, leaving the left side of her body numb.

Ria feels the vibration of someone’s feet hustling away – the culprit – as the rest gingerly crowd around her. The smell of sweat intensifies as the other children get so close they are practically breathing on her. Ria can hardly breathe, suffocated by the pain, the smell and the heat of the other bodies. Then Helaine, their coach, forces the children to disperse, and the poignant smell is replaced by a fruity scent as she sits beside Ria. Helaine’s eyes are grey and inexpressive, they remind Ria of cement.

Helaine’s monotone voice is is slightly aggressive. She wants to look concerned, but you can tell from the mechanical way in which her lips move that she couldn’t care less. She puts on a smile but it’s all teeth. Ria’s pain seems to intensify.

It’s like her arm is on fire.

The heat begins at her elbow, and propagates to the rest of the body, like an earthquake. Ria mumbles that she thinks her arm must be broken, but Helaine isn’t listening to her. She grabs Ria’s arm, which is awkwardly bent at the elbow,  and yanks it. Ria closes her eyes, trying not to scream. By now she knows the arm must be broken. The coach, however, is of a different mind, and insists that  the arm can’t be broken, because it moved and when a limb is broken…it doesn’t move.She says it very matter-of-factly, in that metallic voice that is so machine-like that it can’t be wrong, a human can’t contradict it.

Defeated, Ria lets her arm hang at her side. She wonders whether the coach might be right. After all, she doesn’t know how much pain people feel when their arms are broken. Her arm throbs so hard she thinks her heart might have decided to settle there. But does it hurt enough to be broken?

Ria follows Helaine towards a long, winding pipe, which is also green. Its hollow end stares at her, like a snake ready to attack.  The coach turns the handle on the pipe, and icy water gushes out of it and onto Ria’s feet.  Ria can’t help it. She squirms and hides her arm behind her back.

“Come on, don’t be a whimp” says Helaine, in a mildly frustrated tone. “Give me your arm.”

I would rather walk home in my bathing suit! Is what Ria would like to say.

Instead, she extends her arm towards the coach and turns her head away from the pipe, hoping that, because she can’t see what is going to happen, it won’t hurt as much. The other children are huddled together in a corner, gaping at her with a mixture of awe, pity and fear. Then the icy water hits Ria’s  arm, and her friend’s faces fuse into a blur.

 

***

Curled inside her bathrobe, Ria watches the other children pretending to swim, their curious eyes burrowing into hers. She can’t stop crying. From time to time, Helaine coach tries to persuade her to get in. The coach is clearly disappointed now, and even though Ria hopes she won’t say it out loud, she knows what the coach is thinking: what a cry baby.

Her mother always used to say that. What a cry baby. What a cry baby. Ria can hear her mom’s voice chanting inside her head. Cry baby. Cry baby. Cry baby!

Unexpectedly, Ria notices the pain in her arm seems to have subsided. Maybe she wants to prove her mother wrong, or maybe the pain is so persistent she has become inured to it. Relieved, she realizes that there is no more reason to cry. She begs the coach to let her swim, raising both arms to prove that all is well again.

Helaine smiles. For a moment, she almost seems human. And, most importantly, she seems proud of her.

Of course that doesn’t last long, however. As soon as Ria tries to move her arm into the water, the stinging pain is so strong and immediate it makes her want to puke. She can’t swim anymore, and as she struggles to keep her head afloat her memory brings her back to the day in which she had been the last person to have the courage to go from one end of the pool to the other. Feeling the familiar fear of being a failure overtake her, Ria’s eyes swell with tears. Maybe, she thinks, I am a cry baby.

Then one of Ria’s friends offers her a rubber ring. Yes! What a great idea! Incredible how that small gesture of kindness filled her with hope so quickly. The coach helps Ria into it, and there she is, swimming away with her good arm. Occasionally, she also tries to move the other one, convinced that with enough will-power she will eventually learn not to notice the pain.

For what seems like an interminable hour, Ria stomps her feet and good arm to reach the other side of the pool in a succession of pain, moments of relief and then more pain. Until she hears the whistle.

It’s finally over.

Everybody storms out of the pool and rushes to their bathrobes, eager to be free from the coach’s rule. Ria slowly follows suit, first struggling to climb out of the pool, then to keep up with the others. The floor is her enemy now, and she can’t help  but anxiously look around her for dangerous glimpses of pink. She is so caught up with avoiding legs or anything that might trip her, that she walks straight into a massive glass door, hitting her bad arm again. But it doesn’t matter anymore. Ria’s babysitter is observing her from the other side of the glass, and the apprehensive look in her eyes, the first one Ria has received up to that moment, is all that she needs to smile.

***

During dinner, Ria’s mom tries to take the heat out of the situation. “Of course it’s not broken,” she reassures her husband. “Ria is such a cry baby!” Ria’s mom playfully pinches Rias’s cheek, and the poor child turns to her plate for comfort. Incredible, how that single pinch could hurt more than her swollen arm.

I knew it. She thinks. Of course my arm isn’t broken. If it had been, the pain would have certainly been unbearable.  I probably won’t even get a bruise from this thing. As she tries to ignore the pain to use her knife, she tells herself that next time she won’t cry, no matter how much it hurts. Ria’s younger brother, who is only three and, therefore, still maintains the healthy curiosity of someone who doesn’t have to worry about work all say, notices something.

“Dad, don’t you think that Ria’s left arm is growing?”

By the time Ria finshes eating desert, one of her arms is double the size of the other, and her shirt is braced around it so tightly that it almost feels like it will suffocate.

Without even finishing his food, Ria’s dad swiftly cleans up the table and leaves.

“Honey, where are you going?” asks Ria’s mother.

“To get the car keys. Ria’s arm is clearly.”

I knew it! Thinks Ria. She has never felt so relieved in her life.

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Jun 01

Perhaps: Story of the Luckiest, Least Fortunate Man on Earth

Fortunato checks his mailbox every morning, anxiously waiting for that package to arrive. But day after day he finds his mailbox empty, aside from the usual bills or the occasional postcard from his sister, a hardcore globetrotter.

Days, weeks go by, Fortunato’s hopes shrinking into nothingness. Finally, he stops checking. He doesn’t care anymore. Or, at least, he pretends he doesn’t.

One day, his mother knocks at his door and peeks in, hesitantly. The muscles of her face are tense and she is fidgeting with the doorknob. At first, he doesn’t realize what has happened, his mind still clouded by sleep. But his mother keeps staring at him until he notices she is holding something.

It came.

The package is heavy and filled with countless papers, a brochure with course descriptions, and a map of the university. He made it. He will go to Grad School! For Fortunato, who has always lived nestled in the small Italian village of Spoleto, the United States of America will be a drastic change. In Spoleto, life seems to have stopped at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s as though somebody took a picture and froze the moment and no one but Fortunato is aware that the world outside is changing, leaving them behind. The rest, the “Spoletini,,” regard television as the devil. Their “Facebooks” are unwieldy albums with yellowing pages and, if you asked them to guess what Wikipedia was, they would probably say that it’s a board game or something.

Luckily, Fortuato won’t have to put up with them anymore: he’s going to study Business… at Stanford!  His head feels dizzy. It’s probably the excitement. He walks across the room towards the phone. He MUST share the good news. But the room suddenly becomes so long and his legs so heavy, his eyesight blurs as he falls to the floor.

The carpet is the last thing he sees.

Fortunato wakes up feeling refreshed. He smiles, images of Stanford’s majestic campus crowding his mind. He doesn’t notice the white walls, the smell of disinfectants, the gown someone has gently slid over his body. It will be only later, when a stern doctor’s monotonous voice will tell him that he has brain cancer, that Fortunato will become acquainted to the merciless, unforgiving irony of it all. One moment his dream had been laid out in front of his open palms, the next it was gone, evaporated into thin air as if it had been merely a vision. Continue reading “Perhaps: Story of the Luckiest, Least Fortunate Man on Earth” »

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May 30

The Importance of Being Patient

The thin sheets of nori algae have a pungent, salty smell which reminds me of the little dry fish we give our turtles. I wave it in front of my eyes, as if it were a fan. It feels coarse, like fabric, but has the consistency of paper, and I soon notice that it breaks as easily. “Stop playing with your food!” says my mother.

“Food?” I ask. I look at the algae, its dark green color reminds me of the grime that collects on the sides of my turtle’s cage at the end of the week. “There’s no way I’m going to put that into my mouth!” I protest.

“It’s good, I promise! You just don’t know because you haven’t tried it yet,” she says. I look again at the algae, then put it close to my nose and smell it. It’s salty and fishy, like my turtle’s cage. My nose wrinkles in disgust. However, I try to remind myself that I am almost four now, so I have to be brave and try everything, even if it smells bad!

I look up from the algae and notice that my mom is taking a box which has the same shape and size of a pasta container. As soon as she pours it on the scale, however, I notice that it’s not pasta, but white pellets that look like miniature confetti. They clatter against the sleek surface of the scale as my mom brings it closer to the boiling water. She then pours all of them in, and the water swallows them, making some sort of foam. I try to look beyond the foam and into the pan, wondering if they are melting.

“What is this?” I ask my mom.

“It’s rice. It tastes a little bit like pasta, but better.” I try to imagine what flavor could taste like pasta, but better. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem possible that such a food really exists.

My mom keeps stirring the rice. Periodically, she picks some of it up with her spoon, observes it intently and then places it back into the pot. When I ask her why she moves the spoon from side to side, she explains to me that she needs to see when the rice becomes of a certain color and consistency, indicating that its cooked. When that happens, she motions for me to look at it. “See? It’s almost transparent, and swollen.” I look at the rice and, sure enough, it is a lot larger, more shaped like a pearl than confetti. My mom gives me permission to touch it. It is wet, soft and mushy. I reach into the box and take the other rice, to see if its different. The uncooked rice is hard and dry like confetti. Cooked rice instead feels more like candies. I wonder if rice also tastes like candy, maybe that’s why it’s better than pasta? I reach into the pan and get a handful of mushy rice, but my mom gently slaps my hand with the spoon.

“Be patient! The hasty cat had blind kittens,” she says. My mom really likes proverbs, especially this one. I never understood the connection between being hasty and having blind kittens, but I do know one thing: I’m hungry, and I want to eat now. However, my mom explains that she is making sushi, a dish that needs to be prepared slowly and carefully. I tell her that I would rather have the rice now than the sushi later, but she refuses, assuring me that the sushi will taste a lot better than rice. I am getting wary. To distract me, mom talks to me about the origins of this food, which comes from the faraway country of Japan.   She says that the Japanese consider food an art, and rice to them is like gold, a material that cannot be wasted. Suddenly, I feel guilty of having eaten such a precious food, and imagine how it would feel like to pay with rice instead of dollars. I guess the only problem would be that they rice is so small and slippery it would be very easy to lose it…

While I’m daydreaming about a world in which rice is the only currency, my mother lies a wooden mat made of bamboo sticks that look like tiny straws,. She then covers the mat with a thin sheet of transparent plastic paper, the one you use when you don’t want food to stick to the pan. On top of it, she puts the green nori. Then she takes a flat, plastic spatula and dips it into a cup of water. Steam is curling up from it, making me realize how hot the water inside it must be. My mom explains that you need to dip the spatula into the water several times so as not to have the rice stick to it. She then dips the spatula into the rice, scoops a spoonful of it and shows me how to lay it on the nori so that it forms a perfectly rectangular surface about half a centimeter thick. We then peel a cucumber and cut it into tiny strips. We do the same with a thick omelet and some avocado. After, we carefully position the three ingredients in three neat lines. It’s a painstaking task, and the end product reminds me of those mosaics that I see when I go rollerblading in Rome’s Foro Italico. There is a neat, yellow line of omelet, followed by a line of avocado, followed by a line of cucumbers. It looks perfect to me, but my mom decides we need to add more color to this sushi, so she goes into the kitchen and reaches for some tuna. She puts tuna inside the pan and starts cooking it with oil, soy and salt.

I am extremely bored and even hungrier, so my eyes keep drifting towards pieces of cucumbers, omelet and avocado. However, they are cut so precisely that I don’t dare touch them. I begin to realize that sushi is like a puzzle. For it to be worthy of the name “sushi”, all of its condiments have to fit together perfectly, and for this reason each piece has to be prepared with the utmost care.

My reflection is interrupted by my mom, who takes the sugar container and starts pouring it onto the tuna.

“Mom, that’s sugar!” I blurt. She replies that she knows, and then adds some soy to the concoction, puts a generous spoonful of it into her mouth and makes a satisfied smile.

When she hands me a spoonful of the reddish tuna I refuse to try it. It looks like a mixture of dog food and blood. However, the smell is delicious, a little sweet, like dried fruits, and a little sour, like lemons. I help my mother to place the red mixture in a neat line beside the cucumbers. She then shows me how to roll the mat slowly from one side to the other so that the rice forms a cylindrical shape which wraps around the other ingredients like a blanket. Then, slowly and carefully, we begin the arduous task of removing the mat without ruining our creation. We are left with a compact, white cylinder of rice with pieces of cucumber and omelet poking out of it like whiskers. I look at my mom in awe as she takes a knife, dips it into the now barely warm water and then starts carefully cutting the cylinder into tiny slices. Her shoulders are hunched and her brows corrugated into a concentrated expression, much like the one of the surgeons on the television show E.R. The room is so silent I can hear myself breathing. Then my mom suddenly breaks the silence. “This is the most crucial part of the preparation. You see, if the rice breaks off and the cylinder loses its shape you can’t eat it anymore.”

“Why?” I ask, bewildered.

“Because it wouldn’t be beautiful. And sushi has to be beautiful!”

I had never thought that food had to be beautiful. As my mom hands me the piece of sushi, I look at it in amazement. It is a perfect circle with four squares of different colors. It’s closer to a painting than to something a person would eat. My stomach grumbles, reminding me how hungry I am. I bite into the sushi and a myriad of tastes fill my mouth. The tuna’s sweetness is balanced by the acrid taste of cucumber and the softness of the omelet is enhanced by the avocado, which melts in my mouth. I take another bite, and another, and another. My mom looks pleased.

“Wasn’t it worthwhile to wait a little?” She asks. I nod, and take my second piece of sushi.

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May 27

Enjoy The Silence

It’s Sunday, I’m at home watching Arrested Development with a slice of Pizza in my hand. It would be our monthly-versary, but I have forgotten about it and, at the moment, I’m transfixed by the computer screen. Someone knocks at my door.

I assume it’s Georgia. I lazily sit up, without even stopping the show, and open the door to find a guy in a blue jacket, pajamas and slippers.

It takes me a second to realize that there’s only one person who could wear a jacket over his pajamas in the middle of the night, in winter.

Your hands are braced close to you, your eyes look at everything around you but me. It is clear that you don’t really know what to do. I, still both feet inside my room, just stare at you, unable to let you in or keep you out.

Can I come in? You ask. I don’t answer, and simply slip into your arms in silence. You are surprised by my smell. So familiar, even though you thought you had forgotten it. Your body tenses. You want to run away now. You shouldn’t have come. Suddenly, you are not sure what you want anymore.

I feel your distress. I release you from the hug and tell you that you can leave, if you want.
No, I want to stay. You reply. And, as you say it, you realize that it is true.

I smile, take your hand and guide you into my room. It surprises you how familiar everything is. One second, and all of the memories you thought were gone are back. There you were, dancing to Rock Your Body and singing in falsetto. There you were, making love in the shower, eating eggs on the floor, studying on the couch while eating pasta with tomato sauce. There you were, watching Fight Club with a glass of wine… and your girl by your side.

You look at me, really look at me, for the first time in more than a month. My face is a little thinner, my eyes are a little more tired, my smile is a little more tense… but my eyes, they haven’t changed. The same expression. The same feelings. The same soul behind them.

You panic. There are so many problems… so many things that scare you.. so many thoughts that hurt you.. so many fears…so many insurmountable obstacles.

We look at each other, both afraid to speak, to say the wrong thing, to ruin the moment. Then you go to my computer, stop Arrested Development, put on a song.

We sit on the floor, our knees touching. We let the song end until the world around us becomes quiet again. I sigh. You put your hand around my shoulder. I lean into it, surprised at how easy it was to trust you again. You close your eyes, amazed that the voices in your head have finally stopped tormenting you.

And, together, we enjoy the silence.


Valentina Nesci

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