Unlock the door, step inside, to be greeted with the sensual warmth of curry aroma...a fragrant memory of last night's dinner. Curried black beans and rice, with peppers and onions...all consumed by the light of a banker's lamp while the eater hunches over the keyboard and tries to shush the clamor in his head and the growling in his stomach.
Sipping a gin and tonic, he thinks it an appropriate libation to be had while swallowing the shades of a subcontinent all the way around the world. He swishes it around in his mouth and finds it amusing to be a citizen of a former colony of a once mighty empire drinking in the bitterness of a medicine that had its roots in another former colony, the liquid coursing in blood descended from ancestry once despised by that same mighty empire. Quinine on his lips, another mouthful of curried rice and all he needs is some jodhpurs, a helmet and a native batman to be at the table with the Governor-General himself.
Or maybe, the solitary eater told himself, I'm just full of shit.
No, not that. Full of rice and beans, maybe. And tasty ones at that. The warmth of the spices suffused his cheeks and belly rising on a faint tide of gin. Another chuckle and the shake of his head. Really, it's just dinner, one voice says, no need to turn it into a dissertation on the repression of minorities and foreigners in the framework of empires.
A sigh. Yes, I know, the voice on the other side of the table replies. It's just that I can't help it. I can't help but connect the dots, spin the web when I am surrounded by the silences of a near-empty house. Silences punctuated by the hum and click of appliances, voices in the hall, the faint patter of rain on the windows. In the absence of company, I tend to make my own, you know that, don't you?
Silence, with maybe what could have been a small sigh.
The radio goes silent, another glitch in the streaming audio. The eater pauses for a second, then decides he is too tired to reach the few inches to the computer and reboot the player. Instead, he turns his energy back to chewing the bright orangey-yellow spoonful of rice he had tucked away. Goodness, he thinks, goodness...how did this happen? No response to drown out the faint squeak and grind of soft rice, yielding graininess of silky beans rubbing his gums and coating the inside of his mouth with a paste of intense savor. Slowly, cattle at the feed, jaw moving and a slow swallow. The spicy mixture gently feeling its way to his stomach, he raises a napkin and pats his lips. The napkin comes away stained, gold and ochre dampening the paper. He smiles, admiring the color; pretty, like a tiger laying in a pool of sunlight. The smile fades, the eyes drop under a cascade of longing and loneliness coursing through his gently pulsating mind. His lips tremble. His eyes close as he whispers to himself.
What did you say? asks the voice from the other side of the table.
Nothing, the eater replies, nothing.
I know you did, I heard something, saw your lips moving. Tell me.
He sighs. The spoon lays in the bowl, a few bits of rice and a lone black bean lounging in a shallow pond of Indian echoes. He clears his throat.
I was asking myself how it could be that this bowl of rice, this room full of fragrance and spice...how could it be this fragment of India makes me yearn for home?
The voice from the other side of the table did not answer right away. The eater sat with head in hands and struggled to gain some composure. The voice replied.
Because somewhere, on the other side of the world, someone swallowed a mouthful of rice, bathed in spice and made with love, and their heart spoke to yours.
The eater opened his eyes, took the spoon and scooped up the last bits in the bowl. Yes, he told himself, yes, my heart had to travel the world to finally recognize its true home. The spoon found its way to his mouth...
...and the tiger stretched its glorious limbs in the golden light, blinking, then settled back into the warm lap of the sun.