Merr Sally and Merr Mbaakeh sit out in the yard, babysitting their grandchildren.
– I have a story for you, Merr Sally says, – the kind you like.
– You mean…?
– But the children?
– Ah don’t mind them, Merr Sally replies, I will speak in code. Even if they’re listening they won’t understand a thing.
– OK then – begin, Merr Mbaakeh says, leaning forward eagerly.
They had spent the evening at an event. All night long she had looked so elegant; all night long he planned the things he would do to her when they got home. And she saw the look in his eyes, and the effect she was having. And she couldn’t wait, to have things done to her…
So as soon as it was over they left, the first out of the parking lot. And then they were home, tumbling into their bed…
What they ate together that night was chereh.
She brought the lekett; he brought the laalo. And what a lekett it was, its top adorned with colourful beads that glowed in the dark; its two halves perfectly shaped and balanced.
All night long they ate chereh, only pausing for breaks, to drink water and rest their bodies. They ate chereh standing up. They ate chereh sitting down. They ate chereh while leaning out the window in the dark, because she found this way of eating chereh titillating.
And then, stomachs full, they held each other, and slept.
In the morning they ate the last of the chereh, with sowe and Peak this time, a pinch of salt sprinkled on top. They ate it slowly, taking their time, reveling in the taste, enjoying every spoonful, and enjoying each other enjoying it… until it seemed as if the chereh they ate had joined them into a single being…. And he looked into her eyes then, and swore to her that hers was the only chereh he would desire for the rest of his life.
And she believed him.
Merr Sally pauses, to yell at a child who has picked up a stick and is swinging it wildly in the direction of the other children.
– Ramatoulie! Ramatoulie! Put that stick down! Don’t make me get up and come there!
Ramatoulie drops the stick and runs to join the other children.
She turns back to Merr Mbaakeh, who sits waiting impatiently.
– Now where was I…
The affair began at an office party, as these things tend to do.
At opposite ends of the room, their eyes met. There was something in hers that drew him in, that made him forget everyone else in the room, as if they were in private.
What could he do after that but approach her?
She was welcoming, and he spoke with her, giving her his complete attention, drinking in her words. And as he looked at her explain, watched her gesticulate as she spoke, he thought he’d never seen anyone so beautiful.
They left the party together that night, and went to her apartment; to a room lit only by the full moon. In the half-dark they could see only suggestions of each other, the rest left to the imagination…
And what they ate together that night was Dahinn.
Dahinn isn’t chereh. Its preparation is different, and does not involve leketts. Chereh is eaten in layers, each one a choice: jain, or ndawal; meww, or sowe; horom, or sukurr; water, or nyehh… Dahhin is self-contained: everything already mixed and ready.
She did not come adorned with beads. She came as she was born – you understand? – no part of her hidden. She took his hand, and placed it on her chest… and, his heart racing, he took her other arm and pulled her to him and into the bed…
The dahhin they ate together that night was like nothing he had ever tasted before. He had gotten so used to eating chereh, he had not even thought about the possibility of becoming tired of it, of desiring anything else.
And he saw clearly, even as they ate it, where his appetite for it would lead him and, in that moment, did not care.
After that night his marriage stopped looking the same, and their evening trysts began.
The clues were subtle, easily missable: but a wife always notices; a wife always knows.
Something was off, in the way he rushed to shower first before he got anywhere near her when he got home, to change his clothes and brush his teeth before he would kiss her. Things that made her think at first that he had gone back to his nasty habit of smoking, which they had agreed he would stop.
And then she found the shirt, scrunched up and buried at the bottom of the laundry basket. Placed there by a man who did laundry by upending the basket into the machine; and had forgotten how she did it: one item at a time, unfurling each and checking for tears; objects forgotten in pockets; any escaped coloureds.
And on the shirt: a smudge of rouge, faintly smeared, as if someone had tried to wipe it off with a wet finger. And wafting from the shirt: the smell of a perfume she knew could not be hers, because it made her nauseous just smelling it.
And all the pieces fell into place, and she thought: they are dumbest when they think they are being smart.
And then just as suddenly as it had begun, the dahhin eating came to an end. It was nothing either of them said, or did. But it was as if the scales had fallen from their eyes – and for the first time they could see each other clearly: the spell broken; the enchantment lifted.
After an evening in which no dahhin was mentioned, they sat like strangers, forced into close proximity only by circumstance.
And as he looked at her he could not remember what he had ever seen in her dahhin: all he could think of now was how bloated it made him feel, afterward; how heavy its buried yaapa was, dripping with congealed fat, weighing down the nyagkatang it was meant to complement; your choice of maalo and sauce proportion taken away, already decided by the chef.
And she looked at him and thought similar things: unsure now how she had ever put up with the messy way in which he ate, almost slobbering; the feeling she got, even while they ate, that he didn’t care much who he ate with, was only interested in the fact of the food, and satiating his own hunger; evidenced by his deflation right afterward, his sudden loss of enthusiasm, his rush to be somewhere else.
When he left her apartment that night he knew he would never return to it again. What had come over him, he thought, as he drove home. What could have made him turn away from the chereh he had at home – the comfortable, familiar, predictable, unconditional chereh – toward another torga? He would go back now, and never wander again. He appreciated, now more than ever, what he had, and he would hold on to it with a firm grip, and never lose sight of it again.
It was too late, of course – she had already decided, ever since she’d smelt the perfume.
But she knew him well enough to know just saying it would have no effect; at the thought of losing her he would launch a charm offensive, involving her whole family and all her friends – calls and visits and gifts – recruiting them all to win her back. What she needed was a cut so deep it would severe the cord connecting them a final, decisive time, in a way past repair.
And the next day, while he was at work, the opportunity presented itself.
A text, from an ex, in the neighborhood. Only a friend now, asking if he could drop by to check in on her.
When he arrived, she opened the door and ushered him in, then locked it. He began to speak – she placed a finger on his lips to silence him.
She took his hand, and led him into the bedroom, closing and locking that door too.
And then, walking up to him, she kissed him on the lips.
He stepped back, confused, unsure what was happening. She had drawn such thick lines after her marriage, he had never even thought about crossing them.
Then she kissed him again and this time he did not resist, placed his hands on her lower back and pulled her in, as she wrapped her arms around his neck…
What they ate together that afternoon was Supah Kanja.
He had not eaten with anyone in a while – she could feel it in the urgency of his movements, his rush to begin. So she let him yehka, and hand her a kudu. There was something funny about the way the supah looked: as if it had not been cooked enough; or perhaps frozen and reheated too many times. In high school, forbidden from each other, she had always imagined his supah as a saff treat, one just out of reach…
But now she found it wanting: the diwtirr stale, the taste too horomeh, the kereng kereng limp, the nyangkatang soggy. It was a disappointment, and she remained at the bowl only because she had invited him, and couldn’t leave him to eat alone; felt she had to see things through to their end.
As soon as they were done eating she got up, dressed herself, and handed him his clothes. He looked at her, a smile on his face. Reached down to kiss her – and she pushed him back.
– You need to leave now, she said.
– Can I call you later?, he asked.
– No you can’t.
– Will you call me?
– No. I can’t. I’d prefer if we never speak or see each other again. Now I need you to leave.
She unlocked the door of the bedroom, and ushered him out. She unlocked the front door, and turned to him.
– I’m sorry, she said. – It’s not you at all. It’s all me.
And then he was out in the hallway, the last thing she saw on his face as she closed the door a look of utter confusion.
To be continued next Friday.