Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Into The Tea Leaves

I taste cinnamon.

          Oh yes, there’s cinnamon.


          Hmmm.  I don’t think so.

It tastes like black pepper.

           You may be getting close.

Syed stared at a powder blue cup through the lens of his reading glasses.  Each time his mind settled into steady concentration she’d ask another question.

Did you know that coriander is the seed of cilantro?
            Yes, I knew that.  I’m surprised you know so much about spices.

Well, I like to cook.

            I don’t know if I’d be able to pick them out after all this time.

Syed didn’t move his gaze when he answered the questions.  He was tired.  Eight months of living in California and his bones had not adjusted. His muscle memory knew the humidity of India.  His skin was cracking in the dry heat of LA.

            You know California is not America, Jennifer.

What’s America?
            Michigan.  The Midwest.  This is not AmericaChicago.  That’s the greatest city in the USLos Angeles is something different.  I don’t think I will ever get used to it.

Syed lived in India until he was 17.  A month before he moved to the US an older cousin coerced him into borrowing the family Jeep.  He had told white lies to his parents to escape for the afternoon.  Syed and his cousin went joy riding on a muggy road, dirt and gravel jumping like frogs in the path behind them.  Muffled American songs playing on their rusty radio.   Behind his silver sunglasses, Syed watched the moving land in the rear view mirror. 

            I think maybe when you grow up with this food you begin to lose perspective on it.  To me, it tastes like chai.

It tastes complex to me.  Each sip and I catch something different. India is so lucky to have their spices. 

Syed tasted his drink.  The sweet silk liquid trickled over his tongue.  With more years of road in his rear view mirror, it had been a long time since he’d had to think about Indian food.  He wondered how one can see a familiar world with babe eyes.
            Jennifer, did you know the British promoted chai in India?  To compete with Chinese tea.

I didn’t know that.  How much of Indian food is influenced by the Brits? 
            It’s hard to tell.  It’s hard to know what is Indian anymore.

Syed tightened his face and tried to look inward.

          You know I made my parents very angry right before I left India.

            I was with my cousin.  He was the cool one.  He asked me to drive him somewhere.  So I took my dad’s car.    

That doesn’t sound like you.

            My cousin was always taking chances.  Once we got about 10 miles down the road he asked if he could drive.  I think that made me sick to my stomach.  But he was older so I could not say no.

How did your parents find out?

            He was driving like crazy.  He was so dangerous.  I asked him to slow down but he crashed the car.  I was surprised that I didn’t die.

Why did you think he was so cool?

            I don’t remember.  Your mind changes things when you look back.  Now that I think about it I may have been wrong.

Wrong about what?

            I think he was jealous that I was moving to the US.  I think he was angry that he would be left behind.

            Syed opened his eyes and smiled.

            Cardamom.  That’s what you taste, Jennifer.   Cardamom.