Chef Jakub – Written By Stephen Fahey. Part 22

By the time the Vizier was addressing the Imam I was already in the palace kitchen with a hammer and a pestle and mortar having ordered not to be disturbed for any reason whatsoever. I chipped off shards of the meteorite and ground them down. It was tough work, every ounce of dust I worked from that rock numbed my arm. But my diligence began to pay off. All day, and into the night, I ground down as much of the rock as I could, but still, by the time I fell asleep I had completed less than half of my task. I poured all the dust I had rendered into a pot and again wrapped the rock in the same cloth I had carried it back to the palace in. I then curled up on the kitchen floor, curled around the pot and the swaddled rock.

Morning came as it does, but that morning I arose with fire inside me. I set about continuing my work as soon as my eyes opened. I didn’t pause for water or food but put all of my will into crushing that strange and vivid rock. By nightfall I was still there, tossing the last pebbles into the pestle. Exhausted both in body and in mind, I finished the deed and emptied the last of the dust into the pot.  It shimmered even more in the form of dust, a small desert of celestial wonder in a cooking pot. I skimmed the tip of my finger through the surface of it. It was soft but still gritty, not unlike sand, but more like dried and crushed breadcrumbs. Dabbing my tongue with the tip of my finger I tasted nothing, feeling only its gritted texture between my teeth. I was undeterred though. All I needed then was to decide which plant I would grow in that alien soil.

Once I had packed away the pestle and mortar I called the Vizier and had him rushed me back to my farm. He didn’t speak to me for the entire time, with me huddled over my undisclosed package all the way from the palace. I dismounted and ran into the small shack of a house to mix the meteorite dust into the stash of soil and sand that I had mixed for growing my crops in. There was enough in the mixture to sustain at least four good sized plants, or one tree. I decided against lacing the ground in the farm with the dust of the heavens so that I could contain and reuse the small measure which I had to work with. I also didn’t want to contaminate the dusted soil with whatever might leech into it from the ground. And so, before turning to the shelf where I kept my seeds, I saw the Vizier in the doorway. Studying me, almost judging me, I stopped and looked him in the eye. My madness quelled enough then to realise how I had been acting. He looked worried for me, perhaps considering if the heat of the desert had cooked my mind. I smiled to my half friend, then raised my right palm to my chest then used the same hand to wave him over to the pots of soil. As we stood there I asked him to agree to never speak of what I was doing until after the Imam had enjoyed the fruits of my labour. He agreed, and I explained. Then he left and I continued my work.

I selected oranges as they grew on small enough bushes to fit pots. I watered the four pots and carried them outside to the sunlight and sat with them for the entire day and evening until it was time to sleep. When the hour came I brought the pots into the shack and slept next to them on the dirt floor. I barley slept that first night, fearing that something would happen to my celestial crop, and when I awoke I sprang up to inspect them.

For the next month I lived on my farm, paranoid that someone would come to me with a grievance – considering the cultural significance of the meteorite. But no one ever came. All that time away from the Imam’s kitchen and not once was a messenger sent. I pondered whether the Vizier had revealed my secret or held onto his honour. He was a good man, and honest, so I held out hope. And so, after another month, one night I locked my oranges in my shack and made my way to the palace on foot.

The guards looked at me with a certain distain, and at first I felt as if my secret was revealed and I was outcast, but as I looked down at myself I realised that I hadn’t washed in weeks, nor had I changed my clothes. I was filth encrusted and, as such, unfit to be in the presence of the Imam or those of his house. Sending for the Vizier, I stepped aside and prepared myself to be subjected to punishment. It felt an age, waiting there in the cool night breeze, but in a few minutes the Vizier appeared, wide eyed, and rushing to get me inside.

We scurried through the halls to a bathing room and the Vizier rushed me into the water. There I scrubbed myself with a brisk intent while the Vizier brought some clothes from my quarters. He insisted that I return to the farm without stopping and that he would come again the following day. Before I had time to ask him to bring provisions I was outside again and the guards were closing the gates to the palace behind the Vizier as walked back inside without looking back at me. Confused, but sure that I should leave, I walked back to the shack and my beloved experiments. They were safe, unmolested in my absence, but still I inspected them – every leaf, every tiny burgeoning bud. They didn’t smell any different from normal oranges, but I knew. I knew in myself that they were going to be a taste of something that no human being had ever tasted before.

The following morning the Vizier arrived with a cart of water and food and a letter form the Imam. He read it to me with the very finest of pronunciation, granting me exemption from my culinary duties until such time as I saw fit. Vizier said he had told the Imam that I was working on something that was as mysterious as it was important, at which point I bowed my thanks to the Vizier. Furthermore, the letter instructed me to send word one week before I was going to unveil my creation, in order for the Imam to ensure his presence in the palace on that day.

Stunned, humbled, saddened by even thinking that the Vizier might have betrayed my confidence, I took the Imam’s letter from my friend and folded it, then tucked it away under one of the potted oranges for safe keeping. The Vizier said little else, he reassured me that I was safe and that I had the Imam’s blessing to continue my work. With a knowing smirk the Vizier nodded, then turned without a word and left my simple shack.

From then on I was imbued with love as well as passion. Every day I sat with my oranges and watched them grow. I tended them as a mother would tend her infant. Cleaning them and watering them with the steady, calm worry that only a parent knows. Those days on the farm blend in my memory. I cannot recall tending the rest of the farm, although I know that I did. I cannot recall any specific day after the Vizier’s visit. And I cannot remember ever feeling tired. All that I can remember now is the sense of accomplishment and the uneasy desire to succeed. I lived the want to bring my Sky Fire Oranges to the Imam’s table. With all that I had in me I strove to deliver my dream.

To be continued…

© Stephen Fahey

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