Towards the end, words dissolved between us. They would rumble from dark shadows of unsaid places, reach towards one another, mingle high above clouds of steaming white rice and silently, softly embrace. I would not miss her, nor would she me. This I knew before she was no longer there to place one warm, beseeching hand on my shoulder after laying down before me a plate of stir-fried vegetable tofu, a bowl of steaming white rice, and bamboo chop-sticks.
I would not yearn for the way she said 'Bon appétit' with a smile that swallowed her eyes or the way she took my order in the fourth language she ever learnt, squiggling crisp, black twists on a scrap of white paper. I would not long for the way she watched my mouth stretch and stumble around shapes of words in the tongue of these people when we were alone and I spoke to her about things that were not on the menu. I would not miss the way her mouth fidgeted and fumbled around shapes of words in the tongue of these people when we were alone and she spoke to me about things not on the menu.
Late evenings used to find me there when most families in the busy, concentrated municipality of Les Abymes were locked away inside the urban labyrinths of housing estates that were cities of canvases for young, black nèg mawon muralists and their struggles for an identity beyond the tricolour ensign of La Métropole. Sometimes one or a few of the girls would accompany me after our class in contemporary traditional dance in the studio upstairs, but mostly I ate alone. I was not particularly fond of Chinese food, but I was even less fond of cooking meals for one.
I stopped doing so after one particular Tuesday afternoon in May. It was about three thirty and the sun had just clambered behind the giant ficus trees in the parking lot below and started streaming through the kitchen louvers. I was washing a pile of dishes that had been soaking in grease for a week, which no one else seemed to notice but me. When I started emptying pots and glass oven dishes left on the stove since six o'clock the previous morning—after having awoken early to prepare the lunchtime meal before leaving for work—I began to seethe. The spinach-ginger stuffed eggplants and garlic roasted vegetables were coated with a viscous white scum so putrid that it strangled the air when I uncovered the lids. I held my breath as I scraped the gluey contents into the trash bin at the same time catching sight of two greasy, empty, aluminium containers of take-away meals I knew came from the food stand in the next avenue that sold barbeque chicken, ribs, and french fries at night.
The silver oiliness glinted in the sunlight, scorning me as it did that first time when I noticed that Yves-Robert preferred eating from someone else's hand, claiming the rosemary, basil, cumin and coriander seeds were, suddenly, too exotic for him. It was then that the [End Page 628] first grains of sand blew into my heart. That he was also buying meals for his teenaged son, who was not from my womb but whom I accepted in our home and was trying to raise as if he were, and who refused to eat from my hand because he was not, should not have stung me. However, it did, just as sand stings soft flesh on windy days at the beach with the bite of grounded glass.
I was in bliss when I first found the Marché aux Epices, the Spice Market, in Pointe-à-Pitre the week after I arrived. At the time, I was living with other English language assistants from Trinidad and Jamaica who also came here to teach and facilitate conversational English in the public schools. We took turns cooking and when they saw that I was vegan they made an effort to experiment with foods they had never cooked before.
Yves-Robert was in charge of the research centre and...