Nijhum felt the water trickling down from the grains of rice she washed over the kitchen sink. She had never prepared rice before, which surprised her. You would think something as staple as rice in a Bengali household would demand the knowledge of every single one of its consumers. It surprised Nijhum to think of the disrespect their nation showed to the rice they ate. She wanted to wash them properly, discard the starch and bring from within the pearls of almost translucent rice grains. She looked into the murky water before discarding it all down the drain. Nijhum put the bowl of rice on the stove and put the lid on, unaware of whether or not the lid is necessary. If anything, it adds to the aesthetic.
She set down the dinner table, uninformed anticipation on her chest. Running a damp rag over the table, Nijhum made sure to clean every speckle of food stains. She put down the plates, spoons, glasses of water, and bone plate – with as much care as can be put into arranging utensils. Nijhum wished she could put down a label with every utensil put on the table – “This utensil right here, was placed with great care. Love, your daughter.” The thought of it made her chuckle because she thought about all the unprocessed random thoughts that filter through our minds. Nearing her phone, she set an alarm for thirty minutes, a safe time for cooking most things or at least checking up on them. As she waited, the tangled thoughts began to peek into her brain again, and to push them out, she rearranged the utensils. When that was also done, but the alarm hadn’t gone off yet, she spontaneously decided to change the plates.
Bengalis were notoriously known for storing away expensive plates for ‘when the guests arrive.’ But somehow, the guests never seemed to arrive. Nijhum had a euphoric realization that using these new plates could ensue in the banter between herself and her parents – and she waited for it in quiet anticipation. She carefully took the teal-colored plates off the showcase and washed them by hand, admiring their uneven decorative surfaces. You always treated new things with so much respect. Drying them off, Nijhum put the plates down at the dinner table- carefully adjusting and readjusting them, all the while thinking about that invisible label. Her alarm hadn’t gone off yet, surprisingly. How bizarre is time? It seems the most lethargic at the most inconvenient of times. But then again, Nijhum thought about how most concepts confused her, and she decided to forgive time then and there.
As the alarm finally went off, she put her cooked rice – all the while admiring its simple elegance – in a ceramic bowl, the best they had. She put the rice in the middle of the dinner table, but not before she had wiped the center clean once again with a damp cloth. And thus the feast was prepared. Nijhum laughed in her head, “Feast, you say? More like ordinary dinner.” But it wasn’t ordinary, and Nijhum knew this much. How could it be? She cooked the rice with her bare hands after all. With the feast on display, Nijhum played the waiting game once more. Only this time, she didn’t set an alarm. Sometimes, you just cannot measure time.
As the sun stretched overhead and showed the faintest signs of mellowing out – Nijhum sat at the dinner table, with her bowl of cooked rice in front of her. She clearly heard a lizard croaking in any one of the rooms of her house, letting her know its presence. She heard faint crows outside with their harsh tunes and even heard the faint whistling of winds through the window cracks. She ate her cooked rice, relishing each of the grains that she hand-washed, all the while desperately wishing to stick that invisible label saying, “I cooked this”, on each of the grains.
On either side of the long dinner table sat Nijhum’s parents – lost inside their little cosmos, unaware of each other’s universe. The lumps of rice that she had cooked seemed to lodge themselves in her throat, and she couldn’t speak. In many ways, the lizard, the crows, and the wind outside were more within reach for Nijhum – more accessible than her parent’s vast cosmos.
And Nijhum sat in the middle – with the croaking, the whistling, and the grains of rice between her fingertips.
Tasnim Naz Chowa
A soon to be graduate of Literature & an infrequent writer of book reviews.
A note to self and to others – “not all those who wander are lost.”