I was looking through soup recipes today, and went on to imagine how each would taste and smell, the thyme, the garlic, the meat rolling off the bone, the simmered fat, the pillowy potatoes, and why and how I cooked soup…because sometimes I did it for unusual reasons. Like the time I wrote about cooking soup just after my uncle lost his battle with cancer.
And in a coincidence, I read a Mother’s day story by a blog friend, all revolving around a mother making soup.
This reminded me of the time I had taken part in a Blogfeast: it was a Blogfest on Food...and I wrote this fiction excerpt, in which the soup takes centre stage:
She looked out from the pale intensity of her being, her face neither man nor woman, neither happy nor sad, neither silent nor yet unspeaking for her eyes said what her lips did not as she stirred the pot of soup. Her upper lip pursed over the lower, her square jaws tight on her unwrinkled but leathery face, she looked up from her pot at the wall behind me, and then back to her cooking. Her left hand wiped itself on her dull, tattered apron, and reached for the thyme she had chopped and left on the block of wood she used as a cutting board. With her right hand she stirred, never looking up, her short curly hair falling over her brow and her eyes, making of her gaze a secret thing, a secret also of her cooking.
Under the thyme, I could smell the chicken (I had spotted it running out in her backyard not two hours ago when I entered her hut slung on her shoulders,) which had now become simply flesh and bone, food, nourishment. It had lost its blood, been made to give up its feathers, and now lay simmering in her crock-pot, the water bathing its unfeeling skin, its fat melting slow and easy, mating with the salt and pepper. For a minute I forgot her, my rescuer, and focused on the chicken I could not see. I could imagine its bones, and I knew its marrows will do me good, force a bit of warmth into my muscles, expand my stomach, give it something to linger over other than its steady fare of water, dirt, and roots for the past weeks.
She had not spoken to me, the woman who bent into the river and fished me out, who murdered her chicken for my sake. I could see plenty of smoked fish she could have eaten, so I assumed the soup was in my honor, to work on me on the inside as the poultices and bandages joined and soothed on the outside. My bed of rags must be hers, for I could see none other in the room.
I watched her as she dropped potatoes and carrots into the pot, and they fell with soft swishes and plops. Still she did not look up and greet my eyes.
I wanted to read her look, but had to content myself with watching her as she dipped her finger in the pot, snatched it back to her lips, sucked it and added a pinch of salt with her right hand. Her lips became slack as she let go of her finger, and on her face spread the faraway look of a mother suckling her child, her jaws fell, and for an entire minute I watched her as she let the steam rise from the pot and dot her brows with shining beads, of mingled sweat and soup.
She did not feel my look, or ignored it if she did, for her eyes stayed inside the pot, as if she were cooking the soup from the heat of her eyes and her mind and not over a fire. I tried to speak, but my lips felt sealed with something like mud, and my arms too weak to lift my hand, touch my own face. The afternoon light from the windows receded. Over the bubbling of the soup and the roar of the river in the gorge beneath her kitchen, I heard footfalls.
I felt too weak to react or move, so I did nothing to alert her. The soup had entered me through my nostrils and now played with each tendril of emotion in my being, toyed with nostalgia, and for a minute in the rising aroma of the chicken soup I could sense my mother, the woman who must have given birth to me, some time some place, and then left me for dead on the jungle floor. The door behind her opened with a sigh, and still my rescuer did not look up.