Do you recognise compatibility while grocery shopping? You can always tell a lot about relationships while watching two people shop for groceries together.
There’s a rhythm, nearly sexual, when he picks the bread, and you add the cheese. He puts back the Coke. “Uh uh.” He nods. So you retaliate by picking out the family pack of crisps. “No,” you say. He shrugs. But he smiles. You both always buy fruits. A variety of them. Everything summer and imports in Germany have to offer. He picks out the mangosteen. You collect the the mangoes and bananas. He adds avacados, cherry tomatoes, and you both smile at each other over the mirabels. He pays for the grocery so you buy him flowers outside Reve.
As you walk back home, you twirl a pink peony under your nose because he won’t let you carry any luggage, except for the eggs and the flowers.
If this were a painting, you would be the little girl holding the adult hand, twirling a flower, a tiny basket in her hand, and skipping in joy with the summer wind teasing her hair.
At home, you are the adult. You put away things in their baskets, in the refrigerator. You do it quickly and with authority. You expect to be congratulated, praised. ‘Daddy, look!’ you want to say. But he is busy arranging flowers in the vase. He opens the wine bottle, pours you a glass, and brings it to you. The little girl moment is over. You cook quietly in the kitchen, sipping wine.
“The mirabels aren’t sweet,” he calls out.
“What did you expect? Let’s hope the mangoes are. They were frightfully expensive.”
“Fruits are good for your health. Don’t think about the money. Have them for breakfast tomorrow. I want to eat the mangosteen now.”
“I have never eaten one before.”
“Yes. This will be my first time. I don’t even know how to eat it.” you say drying your hands on the dish cloth. The quick pongal you set out to make should be ready in five minutes. Already, the asofoetida, which you used with caution, permeates the apartment. He lights incense, opens the windows.
The sun refuses to set in summer in Europe. But today, there’s a sweet summer breeze that brings out the smell of frying meat from a neighbour’s house down below. You can hear children laughing on the street.
He picks the mangosteen from the basket, gets a kitchen napkin, a knife and proceeds to teach you. “So,” he says, “you cut it along the head like this. Not too deep. You don’t want to ruin the pulp.” Next, he draws thin lines on the skin with the tip of the knife. He peels the fruit slowly, along the lines.
The white pulp shimmers.
“My grandmother used to like this a lot,” he says spooning the pulp, “Here.”
Your faces are close. You close your mouth over the spoon. His eyes search yours. “Well?”
“It’s interesting. I don’t know. It tastes like nothing I have had before.” You try to taste, chew, swallow. The texture is somewhat smooth, slightly grainy. It’s not unpleasant. It doesn’t have any smell.
“You only appreciate things that are sweet.” He is disappointed, irritable even. It doesn’t bode well for the evening.
“That’s not true. This is sweet. I love orange juice and that’s not sweet. Ha.” You know saying this will amuse him.
“Woman, do you know how much sugar they add to orange juice?” He laughs at your ignorance as expected.
“Whatever. My point is it doesn’t taste sweet. Give me some more.” You reach out for the pulp and the spoon.
He pulls it away, scoops more of the pulp and eats it. “I thought you didn’t like it.”
“I said, it’s interesting. When did I say that I didn’t like it?”
“But I know you don’t like it.”
“It’s my first time eating this. I can’t just take to it, you know.”
“See. I knew you didn’t like it.”
“I need to eat more before I can decide. Peel the next one.”
The whistle from the pressure cooker deflates a quickly escalating scenario. He decides to peel another mangosteen while you scamper to the kitchen to turn off the stove.
“I told you not to add too much asofoetida. It’s stinking up the place.” The harmony of the previous compatibility at the supermarket is lost. The evening can end any which way now. You are determined to keep it pleasant and agreeable. “I didn’t add a lot, darling. How can you make pongal without any? I just added a pinch.”
“Do you want this fruit?” You peep from the kitchen. He has peeled the second fruit. The hard, deep purple rinds look pretty but abandoned against the white kitchen towel.
“I do. But go ahead and eat it if you want. We’re anyway going to have dinner now.”
“I knew you wouldn’t like it.” His shoulder slumps a bit as he says it. He spoons the pulp.
“I really don’t have any opinion on it.” You wearily return to the table. He offers the spoon, raises an eyebrow. This is less sweet than the previous one. It still tastes like nothing you know. It’s underwhelming at best.
“They are very good for you.” He is making an effort to be agreeable too. It gives you hope. Maybe the evening can be salvaged, after all. It gives you courage. You quip, “I am sure. It tastes like something that would be.”
“Are you mocking the fruit?” He places the knife under your chin. You look up at him and make your eyes big, the expression that always amuses him. “I wouldn’t dare. Let’s have a mango after dinner. Now, that’s really a fruit.” He taps the tip of the knife on your nose. There’s a hint of a smile.
You move his hand away and walk to the kitchen. “Darling, let’s eat the pongal when it’s hot.”
He follows you in, takes out the clean plates, wipes them down, “All you think about is taste.”
“That’s only because you don’t think about it enough.” You open the pressure cooker and the aroma of India assails you. You serve the pongal on the plates he’s kept out on the counter. He is already at the table, cleaning out the purple rinds. You bring in the plates. He pours out more wine. “It looks pretty. It’s a nice, deep purple.” You offer as if it were a gallery and you had to compliment the artist.
“You don’t have to give it a consolation prize. You don’t know a thing about eating a mangosteen.” He says.
“I never said I was an expert,” you roll your eyes at him. In defiance, you spoon the hot rice and lentils. It tastes divine.
He heads to the kitchen and brings out the pickle jar. It’s the one his grandmother had made for him. Something clicks for you. Now you get why this was important. It’s too late to change, though. He adds a small spoonful of pickle to his plate. He offers to add some on your plate. You refuse not because you don’t want it, but because you know he hoards it like the prized possession it is.
He reads you like you were an open book with extra large font. He spoons the pongal, adds the pickle and gives you the first bite. You moan at how good it tastes. “So. What were you saying about my taste?” He sounds smug, supercilious, all that he is.
“Just that your sense of taste is divine. I shouldn’t argue with you, my master, big daddy. Forgive me. Let’s eat a mango after this. Please.”
He smiles satisfied. “Do you know the first rule of eating a mangosteen?”
You sip wine lazily looking at him, “I’m afraid you are going to tell me.”
“Never compare it to a mango.”
You both burst out laughing at the same time. It’s going to be a decent evening, after all.