I grew in stature here yesterday as I was allowed to use the scabbard knife, long handled and as sharp as any blade or operating theatre instrument. Its dark wooden handle is perfectly round and as I mentioned earlier doubles as a garlic crush with one swift sharp swoop. I am warned to be careful using it.
I am confused when I am handed the two chicken breasts purchased the day before in the supermarket. The two chicken breasts I thought the daughter-in-law purchased for me in said supermarket have been transformed overnight into a chicken breast bone with thick pink meat attached. But this is no chicken. I would estimate it is an aged hen.
Sumitra looks at me askance. I say, ‘Okay! Okay!’ and smile, so she returns to her sewing. She is making an outfit for a customer for a Buddhist ceremony. The material is exquisite, like broderie anglais, but not as a trim, the whole fabric is of a lace effect and there is pristine white cotton with which to line it. Sumitra says, ‘Very expensive material! At least €3.00 a metre!’
I meanwhile wonder what to do with the hen. I have been asked to make soup as well as a chicken dish and there is nothing for it but to boil the half chicken carcase and use it as stock for soup.
Meanwhile the scabbard knife lies waiting in anticipation. I cannot slice the carrot, leeks or potatoes as thinly as Sumitra – she has after all years of practise as she deftly makes short work of anything before her. Perfectly thin slices appear as if by magic under her closed knuckles.
I peel and slice the potatoes, carrots and leeks and leave them in a covered dish. Flies appear as the sun rises, but the large fan over the even larger kitchen table dispenses with them as they escape the wind from the fan through the open kitchen door and windows.
Eventually the hen is cooked and within another hour soup is ready to eat. Sumitra is Buddhist and eats no meat so will not sample the soup because of the chicken stock.
I leave the cooked meat to cool, again under a cover and when completely cool find space in the overflowing refrigerator. I intend to do a sauce with leeks and potato but my intent is lost in translation. I am called in the evening to eat my dinner, a spaghetti dish with neat cubes of the cooked hen, flavoured with peppers, tomatoes and Swiss cheese. The others will have a hen curry.
Only when the son and daughter-in-law and her father return from a very long and frustrating day securing air con units, fans, a promise of delivery of the container for Tuesday, and the discovery the beautiful mosaic tiling laid in my new bathroom has been messed up by one of the plumbers, and that the electrician has forgotten to put electricity in the new attic room, so the walls will have to be scored to lay the cables – well the mystery of the disappearing chicken breasts is nothing compared with what they have faced. Also they have learned they should not shop on a Friday if needing to buy from a Muslim as they go to prayers on Friday.
When everyone has eaten I ask about the disappearing chicken breasts but they are there still in the fridge intact. Sumitra’s reasoning was to give me the chicken/hen carcase because it had been bought the day before the chicken breasts from one of the open stalls up the road on the way to the cricket ground. There are cricket grounds everywhere in this country. So I have to do the chicken breasts today.
Will Monday’s move happen? It depends how many workers arrive today and tomorrow to the Pelawatta house. A lorry is booked to remove some of the furniture from this house early Monday morning so the process of yellow post-it notes on everything to be taken to the Pelawatta house is ongoing. Sit still long enough and you will have a post-it note applied.
What will happen on Monday is a Buddhist blessing of the new house. It must take place at a specific time and I am told Sumitra will conduct the ceremony which involves blessing the four corners of the house.
Usually these ceremonies involve burning oil and presenting flower heads to the Buddha. The oil will burn dry, the flower heads will die by morning – a reminder that nothing is forever. We are here but for a short time and should do good whilst we are here.