Bent like her walking stick, Ma Abdool lived a frugal life, balancing her budget like the basket atop her head that floated precariously with straggly bundles of yellowing chive and pale ochroes which like her dry self had long passed the age of slime. Yet she planted, the only way she knew of, for a small income so meager at times that, after Choy Wing closed his shop, she would blow out her flambeau, knot the coins with her orhini, raise her eyes to the dark heavens as if in supplication, and walk the tired road home. Zobida, her new daughter-in-law, bright eyed but plump and smooth like ‘bigan’, lived with her. She cooked and kept house, collected coconut husks and, whenever the wind littered the yard, bent with one arm behind her back, the other rotating in rapid arcs with her cocoyea broom , heaping up the trash that went up later in dry leaf smoke. Late one afternoon, Ma Abdool returned from selling.
“You na cookam yet, gul. And night done come.”
“Mai, ah done put the water to boil.”
“Wata…wata…what you make am?”
“Mai, Azard say he goh take some soup tonight.”
“Soop…soop. We is creoni? Only creoni does drinkam soup.” “But Ma, it still have piece a sada roti.”
“Bete. I wantam choka, too. See you have am damadol and chonkay it.”
Azard worked in the sugar estate. When he married Zobida, two of his best friends boycotted the wedding. They listened to the rumour that Zobida was ‘dougla’, even though the bride’s parents denied it. Later, many times sitting on the door step , as he rummaged her head on his lap, he would stop for long moments, his fingers probing the strands of hair behind her ear, and watch their natural curl as he thought of black pepper grains. He wondered what brand of lice fed on ‘dougla’ heads, but musingly smiled for he had loved Zobida and that was what counted.
She was so different from other Muslim girls. He like the way she carried the pitch oil pan of water on her head, her thick calves bouncing along the railway road like cork balls, her splayed toes stubby like a morocoy’s. But most of all, it was her waist --- round and moulded --- rotating in that flawless rhythm as she walked, dizzying his head until his heart was seized by joyous palpitations.
Azard knew of the mild bickering at home. That clash between the old world philosophy and the challenging horizons of anticipated resistance. The strong-willed hard-core precepts clashing against the liberal exuberance of new world ethics. Yet he loved them both: the caring mother and the loving wife.
He sweetened their lives with brown sugar, cane syrup, and at times molasses he brought home in his food carrier, and had more than once intoxicated with puncheon rum spirited away from the sugar estate distillery in his bamboo walking stick. He was a panboiler assistant. He would pass the gateman after work, head aloft, walking briskly, the small parcels of brown sugar concealed, tied around his calves under his baggy pants.
‘Gul I don’t know how we goh make out nah; Ma doh eat this and you doh like dat. This kinda thing could drive a man crazy. Just now we goh have two pots in this house, one for you and one for she.’ “You think is dry baggee I go eat every day, Azard, You yuh self. I want solid food. I doh want anybody to call me like Ma mangy Madinga,” Zobida replied. “ I know, I could see for myself but you know them old people accustom to they own diet, Azard said. “Since I small. I know baggee bound to be on the table. But I used to like Johnny bake. Ma used to cook roti, but I always used to ask her to make a fat one for me. And was chocolate tea with fry fish and salt beef,” Zobida answered. “So, is true you have a liking for creole food?” Azard asked. “Why not, and that is good food too? Food without grease is like grass for cow.”
Azard’s suspicion of Zobida’s blood strain continued to grow. Not only because of the physical attributes of her buxom body, but also her flair for cooking...