The way in which the men of The Gulf conducted themselves made a deep impression on me. They were not as quick to anger in conversation as we were. They kept themselves clean and to an impeccable standard, each bathing twice a day and using perfumes and oils I had not known existed. I could not speak their language, but I never once felt that their enjoyment was ever at my expense. I imagine that the Vizier had lauded my expertise and preserved my dignity in line with his own person. We travelled the following day and made our way to the high courts in the old capital. There we met with the houses of commerce and finance, each receiving the Vizier and his entourage with humility and distinct interest. He represented a vast new potential market and ally in a land so far away that none of them had even been aware of its existence. The natural resources there were not only a massive population of potential customers for our exported goods, but also minerals such as rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. Ore and silk also presented tantalising and lucrative opportunities, but for me the unknown variety of spices and livestock were everything. I didn’t care for the wellbeing of the country, I had no concerns about the employment opportunities or the value which exchanging our cultures presented to future generations, all I wanted was their culinary art. I wanted to breath it in and taste it in my soul. I wanted to learn the history of their kitchens and know their ways. I had already taken in all that I could from the markets and people of my country.
When the first day at the old capital folded to a close I was ushered to the house of one of the senators that had arranged to house the Vizier and his men during their visit. I was exhausted, but it was my time and I was not about to let anything, least of all myself, get in the way of my ascension. I made a light, but hardy salted thyme soup and filled my diners stomachs. Including the Vizier, his men, their host and his host’s family. All of whom were, of course, shocked, as was to be expected, but once the meal ended the Vizier himself called me aside. He spoke exceptional English, far better than I in fact. He said that he had been on many such visits to countries my people didn’t even have words for. And each time he would miss his wife and children, but he was proud of his position and the contribution that his work made to his people and his culture. I admired him, but I didn’t see life from his perspective. The only family I had was Luke and I hadn’t seen him in years. My singular goal was to bring my art to as many people as possible while gaining the fame I deserved.
The Vizier and I talked by the fire for an hour or so before he retired for the night, but I got a sense of the man, and he I. Most of all, I knew that if I asked him to allow me to return to his land with him then he would let me. That night I dreamt a fiction of my own creation, filled with the strangeness the Vizier had described: large horse-like creatures with humps on their backs and insects the size of your hand, spices of every colour and the strength and vivid beauty of the desert. It was both terrifying and engrossing. Thus I was saddened and glad at once when I awoke to the sound of strange chanting the next morning.
I walked the halls of the senator’s house as a calm droning pervaded the entire property. The morning sun soaked through the windows and onto the wall nearest me and made for a jilted reality to awaken to. I found the staff huddled on a balcony, gawping at the garden below. There the Vizier and his men were in two neat lines bowing and chanting in unison. It was beautiful in its newness, like a dance one might perform on one’s knees. Gossip rattled through the staff next to me, but I knew well enough that we were witnessing the prayers of a faraway peoples.
Once the visitors had bathed and breakfast was served we made our way together to the ports. There I walked the market with the Vizier and spoke to the merchants of the new goods that would be available to them in the near future. Standard prices and special privileges for certain traders were arranged before various foods were purchased for the evening meal that I was to prepare – each selected by my new patron. Mango and sweet rice, sardines and almonds, and sated olives, all new combinations which had never even dawned on me before. Hurrying back to the senator’s house, I set about the meal with an urgency that I hadn’t felt since I first searched for the serums. The Vizier and his men all prayed as I went about my work, their droning soothing me while I surrounded myself with pans and knives and bowls.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey