Chef Jakub – Written By Stephen Fahey. Part 21
Knowing that my own produce had been a success I didn’t sleep that night. I sat up in bed and concocted plans to reach our far beyond what I had already accomplished. I thought of all the faraway lands that I could visit to find the wildest ingredients. I considered the traditions and the methods used in places I hadn’t yet discovered – most of them but mere imaginings born of my fantastic want. And then, in a fit of madness, I pictured myself aloft amid the stars of night. I imagined foods that may grow hidden on the moon and the wanderers that escape us at the birth of each dawn each. I guessed their flavours and their scents and pondered how I might entwine such delicacies of the sky in my feasts. So sad it was knowing that I could not reach that place. But I was not to be stopped. I refused to be defeated then as I had refused to be defeated when it was just Luke and I. I knew that Luke had made a life for himself in a trade he loved, alone, away from other people on his small boat, tending crab pots far out to sea. But then, as I had many times before, I wanted his company that night. I wanted to sit with him and share my tales. I wanted to give him the happiness that I felt in having grown from that starving child who he knew years before into the Imam’s personal cook. But it wasn’t to be. He needed his space away from everything. I would be intruding on the life he had managed to carve out for himself. Still and all, I missed my brother. The only family I had.
Leaving the farm and the Imam’s palace that next morning, the Vizier and I took to the desert in search of rare flowers. The Vizier was a wise man and I sensed that he was searching for more that ingredients. He led me north east all morning until the noon sun forced our hand and we pitched cloth across our camels to hide under them – our blood thickened in our veins from the heat. I was intense, like the Imam’s massive ovens, but hotter. Much, much hotter. As I looked out across the sand fields from beneath my camel I marvelled at how anyone or anything could survive in that place – let alone build a grand palace and a functioning town. It was a place not of this world, more the construct of a nightmare than a happening of nature. Still, I watched and thought and waited, pretending to myself the recipes I would create had I a way to reach the stars. Out on the sands there wasn’t ever the occasional bush to entertain the mind, not a tree or lone buzzard to keep the mind occupied with curiosity. And so I daydreamed of the heavens.
Once we were on our way again the Vizier slowly built the pace of our trek and we covered a substantial swathe of land by nightfall. Out there, in the brutal truth of a desert night, the cold chimes one’s bones. The Vizier and I huddled together under a cloth tent hung over our two camels, both laid side by side, a small fire crackling before us. It was cramped but it was warm compared to the open night outside.
The next morning I awoke alone, the Vizier had stepped outside to pray and I could see him nearby on a dune bowing and reciting. Stretching and yawning out the knots that had worked themselves into my shoulders overnight, I watched as my fellow traveller rolled up his mat and walked back to me. He seemed so peaceful in himself, gentle even. I thought perhaps the solitude of the desert is conducive to the meditative pursuits of prayer. Smiling to me, the Vizier motioned for me to pack up, then we moved out again. On, and on – and on – the sands sprawled out before us. Every dune was met by a hundred more that reached to the horizon and no matter how many we crested we were met by more and more sand. I remember wondering how the Vizier ever managed to navigate that barren stretch of earth, but I never questioned his wisdom. As we set our cloths and crawled under our humped steeds that noon I looked out across the sand before me and, by sheer chance, noticed a glint. It was a shimmer on the side of a dune some hundred yards away – a fleeting echo of light. Unsure that I had not been tricked by the glimmering noon brightness, I bobbed and swayed to try and catch a glimpse of it again. But there was nothing. It tantalised my mind for the whole time that we waited for the sun to move over the zenith and allow us along our way. So the moment that the Vizier stepped from under the cloth I stood and started towards the glint without stretching or even looking to my noble guide, a flurry of want churning inside of me.
As I neared the spot where I had seen the glint two hours previous, I was dismayed to find nothing but sand. Atop the slick sheen of tiny dusty grains the wind gusted a slow moving vail of sand-filled breath, a flowing silken cloud that traversed the surface at a height of less than an inch. Stood for a few moments at that spot, certain that I was where I had seen the glint, the Vizier reached me. Curious of my strange behaviour, he wore his questions on his face. I didn’t speak. I just looked to him, then back to the sand, watching the gusting vail deposit its minute cargo. Then it hit me, I dropped to me knees and thrust my hands into the dune – heaving wads of sand beside and behind me. As I cast aside handful after handful of the dune, the sand above it filled the fleeting hole I was making. But soon a small enclave began to take form. After a few brief moments of work my fingers caught on a jagged form.
Noticing my discovery, the Vizier knelt and helped me unearth it. A simple looking dark rock emerged, glinting with flecks of metal, it’s glassy surface shinning in the bright light of day. I had never seen such a rock and had no clue as to its origins. The Vizier, however, knew what it was and marvelled at its rugged beauty. A rare visitor from above, the rock was a meteorite. His people knew well that rocks such as these fell to earth – they were taken as omens having been mentioned in many of the fables of his people. Often they accompanied great and terrible moments in history such as floods and the arrival or war, but I was not dissuaded. The very instant that he mention the heavens I knew that very instant what I would do with it.
Lifting the rock I noticed that it was heavier than I had expected it to be. About three times the size of a man’s fist, I wrapped it in a bundle of cloth, packed it up with the camel and insisted that we return to the palace at once. Seeing my determination, the Vizier steered us back toward to Imam’s palace. I begged the sun to set but it bemoaned me, almost on purpose, as it crawled west. That night I sat up by our small cooking fire inspecting the rock for hours. Its familiar appearance belied the awesome journey it had undertaken to reach me there in the vast emptiness of the desert. I imagined the moons and suns it had passed on its way to me. I pictured the emptiness it had crossed as I too had crossed emptiness there on the dunes. As if we were moving towards each other, our paths combining for some reason. It all but spoke to me in some unknowable language of fate and hope and chance. It mystified me as I cradled it in my arms, this piece of heaven that I could touch.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey