Translated from Macedonian: Elizabeta Bakovska
A. was a cook. Although his profession solely relied on a cane of numbers and letters, and his free time rolled on his feelings, what really moved him as a unique human taste of the world… was the cooking. Since he was a child, A. had fantasized to open a restaurant and as his fantasy became more distant in the course of the years, the taste of his meals became more and more irresistible. Even magical. A.’s real life slowly roasted in the middle oven rack: on top was his professions, on the bottom his feelings. On top there were the letters and numbers, on the bottom the pain.
Since he was a boy, A. would stuff the most those that he loved the most. As his mother kneaded – he watched, and when he would stay alone – he did what she had missed to do. For example, he would knead the bread longer and more energetically, because his mother did not always do this and then she wondered why the bread would sometimes break when baking and sometimes not. He would set the clock for the bread to rise for the first time, and for the second time before baking it. At a precise temperature, of course. To a precise degree. Once he had put cumin in the fried leek for the pie and since then his house started to smell like otherness and somehow seductively and sexually, movingly desirably, he moved out of his family kitchen. A. was not born for the kitchen he grew up in, because there hunger was seen only as an empty pan that should be filled in with anything… He considered hunger as yearning. For him, of course. Yearning that had to be responded, compensated with dignity, in a multiple way. With passion.
For his first love, who, by the way, was younger than him and insatiable, he prepared two breakfasts, once in bed, and the second one on the kitchen counter, lunch at the dinner table, dinner at the coffee table by the TV set in the living room and two snacks… anyplace around the apartment… On the bed, on the floor… A. cooked and cooked almost day and night, banana halves fried on butter and most common old fashioned dips with dry red peppers scalded with hot oil. There was nothing that A. cooked that should not eat up. The food… and himself. One year after another, one pan after another, powdered sugar and vanilla flowers with orange taste placed in a bowl nest to diverse home make cookies, doughnuts and small doughnuts skewers coated with dark chocolate with more than 70% of cocoa, Greek moussakas, Dalmatian potatoes with Swiss chard, lahmacunes and falafels, red lentil soups with coriander and garlic, pumpkin soups with curcuma, saffron and finely chopped red peppers, or whatever green in the world and… his love started to grow and bloat, and nothing would fit it anymore. Pregnant from greed and insatiate, she could only give birth to more new recipes, combinations, coatings… Never anything else… In the beginning of her marriage with A. her pants would not fit anymore, then the shirts, the shoes… then the dining table would not fit, the sofa in the living room, and most scary thing was when their double bed could not fit and it pressured her and suffocated her so she could not bear. Still it could somehow be solved with food and it had no significant influence on A.’s cooking. But when their whole house became too small for her, hid first love burst, gushed out and flew out of their home as a plumbing accident. Only A.’s soul lifted up from this disaster, just as wooden floor lifts from too much humidity.
A.’s second love, his peer, finished with a similar lifting of his wooden floor soul. She did not get fat, but she vomited at each one of his cooking master pieces. His menu was different, pasta with homemade sauce, garlic fried in olive oil, fresh basil from the terrace or homemade pesto with walnuts instead of pine nuts, a piece of Parmesan that has to be grated immediately before eating, thin breadsticks of dark flour type 900 with seeds and mint added in the dough, an invented Cesar salad with yellow cheese cut in sticks, small loaves filled with anything, Spanish pie with vegetables and corn flour, Gipsy pie with puff pastry… What was common for all these meals this times was the strange, proportional law: the tastier they were – the more she vomited. At one point she grew so weak that A. started to prepare a lava cake for two with a single egg. And then – not even that! His second love simply disappeared in the air as a strong smell of fried fish in the kitchen after long airing.
Years later, a certain B. fell in love with A. She was older than him, but he did not deserve her former youth not her current age. He did not deserve her and he could not stand such a giant love in his big and long, and yet somehow fragile hands with two wedding rings: one on the ring finger on his right hand – a thick one, too thick, made of yellow gold; and the second one on the ring finger of left hand – a thin one, too thin, made of white gold. “It would be great for me as well if I knew about love, at least as much as I know cooking”, A. thought. “If I could perfectly peel my emotions rather than vegetables… If I loved when I was loved… It would be great if I loved B., but I don’t.” The relationship lasted, B.’s fire warmed A., the autumn passed, the winter came and A. was soon tucked in and dozed in B.’s warmth as a sneaky, spoiled pet. When he came to his senses after his mind was blurred by the enjoyment in her love as if he had deserved it, he was already supposed to think about the third wedding ring, for which he really did not even have a free finger. But there was nothing to think and contemplate about, B. did not mean anything to him! He simply – left her. And why shouldn’t he leave her when during the time they were together he did not make her even a cup of coffee, did not fry any eggs, did not warm up anything for her in the microwave, did not even make a piece of bread with meat spread, ajvar, margarine… When B. asked him once if he knew how to cook, he decisevaly said “No!”, not even wishing to reply with the usual, polite and routine counter-question “How about you?”. It was this that very soon got to him.
B. was not the type of a woman who falls in love often and short. Hurt and broken like a match in a wrong pocket, she could not give him up yet. She started to pretend that she was a friend to him only to have him by her side one way or the other. At times she put her dignity in front of his feet like a mat, she cried about him like a little girl three times, in front of him… and he noticed only once and then he did not care, of course… Soon, B. started to invite him to lunches and dinners and A., just like any man rather than a top cook, sunk into her shallow kitchen. He was fascinated by the taste of her meals… Once, eating a surreal pork steak with butter and parcel, he said that she was paying too much attention to hunger, and she replied: – Hunger is a yearning which has to be responded, compensated with dignity and in a multiple way, with passion…
The next time she put cumin in the fried leek for the pie, and then A., somehow seductively and sexually, movingly desirably, moved out into her family kitchen. She started to fry bananas in butter for him, she poured voluptuous chocolate mousse in the varicella scars on his forehead and she licked it with passion. She made doughnuts and small doughnuts skewers, Greek moussakas, Dalmatian potatoes with Swiss chard, lahmacunes and falafels, red lentil soups with coriander and garlic, pumpkin soups with curcuma, saffron and finely chopped red peppers, pasta with homemade sauce, garlic fried in olive oil, basil and Parmesan, thin breadsticks with seeds and mint, Spanish pie, Gipsy pie… and A. neither gained nor lost weight, he just nibbled and nibbled her love, seating his indifference in the most beautiful and only armchair in B.’s life.
On the New Year’s eve, B. made cabbage rolls, Russian salad, buns, Vasina cake, baklava… and plain chicken soup with homemade noodles for the first new morning. As lampions twinkled on the Christmas tree, the little lights rhythmically went on and off, and piercing shots of firecrackers were heard from outside, B. asked her sinful lover what he wanted to eat.
– The soup – he told her, not looking at her. – Then, we’ll see.
– Here you are, – she told him in a voice that hugged and kissed, bringing him a dish of hot soup which he cruelly moved away from himself to be cooled. His gesture burned her soul. Later, much too later, when the soup was cold, A. ate it without any attention. He slurped it like an animal, as if hunger and love were empty pans that were to be filled in with anything…
It was the last soup in his life. Everything that is hot is love, everything that has forcefully been cooled is hate. One of them heals – the other one poisons. A. poisoned himself, because she was the only one he did not cook for, and she loved him the most,. Because he put her on the wrong rack in his life’s oven.