Stew

By Fatima Al-Shemary

Noora’s father liked his black eyed pea stew exactly the way her mother made it, and he could taste the slightest bit of under or over seasoning. Noora attempted to make it once after Mamma died, and he spat it out.

“Too much salt,” he’d said.

She tried again the next day, this time with the okra stew, which she had made before.

“Too thin,” he’d said after he tested a spoonful. He ate some bread and that was it.

When she tried to make the lentil stew, he made a scene of choking it up.

“Too dry.”

Mamma never wrote her exact recipe down; she cooked from memory, from the heart.

“I don’t know how to make it exactly like hers!”

Baba just stayed quiet. She went to her room and sat on the bed, waiting for something to come to her. If she didn’t make any stew, it was like she had made nothing at all. He did not know that she had cried nightly for him.

She emerged from her room to try again. When she passed the living room, Baba was sitting in front of the television, watching a lecture. She lingered at the doorway to hear what the lecture was about. Marriage.

Baba sat still, staring blankly at the screen. The light of the television reflected off of his glasses. She wondered if he was even really watching.

After a while, Noora went to the kitchen and took out a frozen chicken. She let it thaw in hot water while she prepared a marinade. She began cutting it up into pieces, but the bones were too hard to cut through. Before she knew it, Baba was standing next to her.

“Let me do that,” he said, taking the knife out of her hands. He began to cut up the chicken into pieces and then skinned them. Then he poured the marinade on top.

“Take out two tomatoes, some curry, garlic, an onion and tomato paste,” he told her. She did as he said and began finely chopping the garlic and the onion.

“No, cut them into bigger pieces and then fry them in the pan,” he said patiently, sitting down at the kitchen table. She did as she was told. He instructed her to add the tomato paste and begin frying the chicken in another pan. Then add the curry to the paste, two cups of hot water, then add the chicken to the stew. Only one spoonful of salt.

She sat next to Baba and they were quiet while the stew cooked. When it was done, she served it in one big bowl for them to share. They sat down and ate it. Noora watched him taste the first spoonful. He didn’t say anything, and she knew she had finally gotten it right. They ate until the stew was all gone, and then Baba cried.

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