I am sitting by myself, reading Ondaatje’s Divisadero. The waitress arrives and places my plate of pesto pasta in front of me. Instinctively, as I reach out for cutlery, I call out to her, asking for some salt.
A few days ago, my mother told me that I take too much salt with my food. I had laughed, then, and continued to sprinkle white crystals over my sautéed tofu. Mother never puts enough salt in her food, and she knows this too. But she is my mother, and there are certain things she must do, and say, to remind herself, and me, that she is looking out for me. That I am still her daughter. That she is still able to take care of me in such ways, however small.
The waitress returns with the salt; I scatter it slowly and carefully over the multi-hued green noodles.
I’ve never always liked salt, at least, not until I met you.
When you cooked, I would be the final arbiter on how the food was. You would let me have the first taste and then, you would adjust the amount of salt accordingly depending on what I had said. However, whenever you ate, there would always be salt on the side, just in case you wanted more. You loved salt. I would warn you that you should watch how much salt you consumed, that it was not good for your heart. You would tell me that your heart had a hole in it anyway, and that depriving yourself of tasty food was not going to make you live any longer. I would shake my head exasperatedly. There was no use in arguing with you about these things.
(Even then, I had started to learn my lessons a little too early.)
Watching you cook, I understood several things. I understood how the added pinch of salt into any dish could transform it from being mediocre to extraordinary. I understood that when you sautéed the onions with the salt before adding the meat, everything smelt more fragrant, and the meat would cook better. But you had to be careful that the onions would not brown too fast. It is all about timing, you would say. I would ignore you and focus on making my dish turn out right. You were not the easiest to please, and after being with you, I had become as critical, as much a perfectionist, when it came to cooking.
I had also begun to love salt.
That was when I realised that when you were with someone, some of them became you, and some of you became them. You would even start to resemble one another, only because you would have picked up the same habits. Like how I would fold jeans like you did, first the bottom, then the top, before stacking everything neatly in a corner. Or how you would buy donuts from the city centre for 2 pounds, and eat everything in one sitting, fingers slightly burning, mouth slightly burning, dough melting in your mouth, just like how I liked them. You started saying cushty, instead of comfortable, like I did, while I started to learn how to cook Kapa, just like you did.
Little things. Little things that eventually made the big thing much, much bigger between us.
Then, you left.
Well, I left first, and then you left, and then I was waiting and waiting, but you did not return. I stopped cooking, because I did not know what to do with food, and this eating business, and nourishing myself, especially when all I did was wait for you.
But even then, even then, there was a lot of salt.
This time, I would taste salt on the side of my lips, where tears had rolled down my face through the night, and I had fallen asleep without wiping them dry. Sometimes I would taste salt on my fingertips after I had hurriedly brushed them against my eyes. Those were the days when there was no stopping the salt from leaving my body; I would not even know I had been crying until I would find myself sniffling, find myself curled up in a public toilet, hugging my arms tightly around my body, holding everything inside in hopes that it would stop me from wanting to burst, to explode, from all that misery and anguish that was taking up space inside.
There was no getting rid of the salt, then. It was everywhere. Behind my eyes, on the tip of my tongue. So much salt, you would have been proud.
(Maybe this was why I had started falling in love with salt all those years ago. To prepare myself for that moment, that space where I would have to bring all the salt I had in me out, out, and be okay with it. Who knows, really.)
A long time later, I started meditating by the sea. There was something comforting about picking out the little grains of salt and sun and sand resting on the skin. There was something comforting about knowing the sea where this salt had come from; the tireless, ever-generous, kind Mother sea with her hands full of salt became a safe place.
(Sometimes, when my eyes were closed, I could feel the salt in my body surging to meet the salt of the sea. This, I took as a kind of rebirth, a rejuvenation).
I take the first bite of my pesto pasta. It is perfectly salted.