Archive for servants

Pot Auntys

Posted in Mystical Experience, Unknown with tags , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2012 by javedbabar

Ali needed a new pot for her book club dinner. A plastic handle had come off the old one and she’d had a go but couldn’t fix it. The previous tenant’s cookware was junk. Its handle stayed wobbly whatever you did. It had caused her to spill a whole pot of stew. Thank God she was wearing shoes! It had taken her an hour to clean the mess, and wasted ten dollars of ingredients.

She went to the hardware store for new cookware. There were so many different metals – pans made of aluminium, copper, cast iron, stainless steel, and carbon steel, and those with non-stick coatings. There were composite materials like enamelled cast iron, enamel over steel, and clad copper, plus alternatives like ceramics, glass, glass-ceramic, and silicon. What was the difference between them all?

The cookware specialist – she had a badge saying so – said, “Choice of material has a significant effect on performance and cost. Key factors you should look for are thermal conductivity and how much food sticks. Pans should conduct heat, but be chemically unreactive. Some may require surface pre-preparation with…”

This was too much information right now. Ali said, “Which one would you recommend for me?” The cookware specialist picked one out.

“How much is it? Oh, two hundred and twenty dollars? That’s more than I can afford.”

The cookware specialist told her the benefits of buying a pot for life. It would prove cheaper in the long run. How old was Ali now – twenty five? If she lived to seventy-five, that was fifty years at less than five dollars a year.

Ali said, “Does it come with a guarantee?” The cookware specialist said there was a two year guarantee.

“But didn’t you say it was a pot for life?” The cookware specialist said who, these days, thinks beyond two years? If Ali didn’t wish to invest her money wisely, maybe she should go across the road to the thrift store instead. This was a ploy to shame her into reconsidering, but she really didn’t want to spend two hundred and twenty dollars. She preferred to take the shame.

The sign on the hut across the road said Eternal Antiques. Ali had visited many times but never seen anyone working there, just shadows moving among piles. She’d chosen her items, dropped her cash into the honesty box and left. They had a good selection of books, clothes, games, and sports equipment. She recalled seeing cookware downstairs at the back, and made her way down there. Ali admired a painting of a medieval kitchen. Servant women in black aprons and white bonnets attended to steaming cauldrons, boiling pans and blackened spits. A vast feast was being prepared for their masters, and if they were lucky, the servants would dine on leftover suckling pig, roast swan, herb-roasted roots, and gravied dumplings.

Ali rummaged through the pile of cookware, causing crashes and bangs as lids rolled around. She found a dark fat cauldron, similar to one in the medieval painting, priced at five bucks. Its handles were welded. That’s what she needed.

It didn’t seem like the pot had any special coating so Ali scrubbed it well, but it remained dull and refused to shine. The water was on full, rushing and gushing. At one point she heard laughing but it must have been water fizzing as it whirled around. It was a good sign though. This was a happy pot.

Her book club members were coming at six, so she had better get cooking. She felt a grumbling as she crumbled stock cubes, which settled down as the water reached a rolling boil. She chopped beef into cubes, and then felt drawn to certain ingredients. Voices in her head said “Add this,” and “Add that,” causing her to reach for parsley, sage, hyssop, and cloves. The voices told her to add mace and verjuice – which she found in the previous tenant’s spice drawer – and egg yolks, ginger, salt, and saffron. This wasn’t her usual recipe for stew. The taste was much stronger and spicier. What was she making? She had no idea.

Her book club members said it was the best stew they had ever tasted, and the sole male member stayed for “coffee”. Later in the bedroom she heard further voices in her head, saying “Do this,” and “Do that,” and laughing. The book club member said this was the best sex he’d ever had.

Next morning as Ali washed the pot, she heard laughing again, as if someone was being tickled. It matched her good mood. She decided to scrub the pot really hard to remove the char stains. As the pot became shinier she noticed shapes wobbling within it. There was a series of black blobs, all crushed together, with pale circles within them. As she looked closely, Ali saw the servant women from the painting.

The pot was made by an English blacksmith in 1666. Women burnt in the bishop’s kitchen during the Great Fire of London had given the pot their souls. Added to these were the souls of every woman who had ever used the pot. There’s a reason that witches use cauldrons. Ali’s soul would also inhabit this one.


Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Unknown, World Myths with tags , , , on January 13, 2012 by javedbabar

“Now, quieten down children. I said quieten down! Ally, didn’t you hear what I said? Sshhh!” The teacher turned to the museum guide and said, “Sorry about this, they’re usually much better behaved.”

“Not to worry,” said the guide. “It’s understandable.” She turned to the children. “Children? Children! Thank you. I’m going to tell you a little story. It won’t take too long. I think you’ll like it. And then you’ll get your cake.”

“Cake!” shouted a fat white girl.

“Cake!” repeated her friends.

“Yes, I promise. But first you must listen. Who has heard of Azir?” Most of their hands went up. “Good! Well Azir woke up one morning wanting some cake. He wanted something sweet and eggy that melted in his mouth, with strawberry jam in the middle, and chocolate icing on top…”

The fat white girl interrupted. “And cream in the middle, Miss?”

“Yes, child – and cream in the middle. Azir licked his lips. But before he could have any cake, what must he do?”

There were several answers, including, “Bake it”, “Mix it”, and “Order it”, before she got the one she was looking for: “Brush his teeth.”

“Yes, brush his teeth. Azir always brushed them as soon as he woke up. That’s why his teeth shone like pearls.”

“Do you brush your teeth?” asked one of the children.

“Yes I do, I have a special way.” She gave her a big smile, and said, “He didn’t have to bake the cake himself because he was from the Rulers. He was Lord of this estate and had lots of servants.”

“How big is this house, Miss?” asked the fat white girl. Her enthusiasm was to be expected.

“Well, the house is 12,000 square feet, and the estate is 12,000 acres. Azir liked things to match. He also had 12, 000 servants – the rule was one servant per acre. But only a few served in the house. A buttery-baked smell filled the air. He put on his morning clothes and went down from the Tower into the hall, and peered into the kitchen. The servants seemed busy and happy. They were sharing cake. But as soon as Azir entered, they hid it away in their aprons.

“Azir said, ‘Good morning everyone.’

“‘Good morning, Master,’ they replied.

“‘You seem very busy,’ Azir said casually.

“The Chief Servant stepped forward and bowed. ‘Yes Master. We are busy because we are finishing work early today. It is our festival of Zolly.’

“Azir became conscious that he was delaying them. As soon as he had entered the kitchen, they had all lined up and work had stopped entirely. ‘Well, I’d better let you get on with it then. Happy Zolly.’ It was only when Azir returned to the hall that he realized he’d forgotten to ask for cake.

“Cake!” said the fat white girl. The guide smiled and continued.

“He was wondering whether to return to the kitchen, when Mitra rushed in. She had a duster in one hand and a net in the other. When she saw him she froze, and looked down immediately. ‘Sorry Master,’ she said. ‘I thought you were still in the Tower. I didn’t know you were here. Please excuse me.’

“Azir had never liked this formality, but the castes were regulated, and Master-Servant relationships were set. Here was a woman who had raised him from childhood, who wasn’t allowed to speak to him unless spoken to. How ludicrous!

“‘It’s really no problem, Mitra. You weren’t in the kitchen just now, so I’ll wish you Happy Zolly.’

“‘Thank you Master.’

“‘Listen Mitra, could you get me some cake?’

“‘Master , Cake?’ she said.

A child raised her hand. “What kind of cake was it?” she asked.

“It was a cherry-fruit cake with golden raisins,” said the guide, and continued. “Azir said, ‘They were baking it this morning. I smelled it when I woke up in the Tower.”

“She looked uneasy, but said, ‘Of course Master, I will bring it.’

“‘What’s wrong Mitra? You seem uncomfortable with my request.’

“‘The cake was not on today’s menu. The cooks used some old flour to make it. It’s a Zolly tradition.’ She stopped and looked up. ‘And Master, you can’t eat it. We didn’t use the cook machines. It was made by hand.’

“‘Don’t be silly! Bring me some cake immediately!”’Azir hoped that he’d got the tone right – friendly not bossy.

“He expected her to return quickly, but she took forever. He used the time to enjoy the view through the huge windows of the hall. Beyond the misty fields and forests was Mt. Alba, its wide base rising to a sharp peak. A fitting symbol, it was said, for human society.

“Mitra entered the hall, her face flushed. Azir saw that her discomfort had increased. She held a silver tray with a covered plate. ‘Here, near the window, Master?’ she said.

“‘Yes thank you Mitra. Now take off the cover.’

“She did so, wobbling slightly. Reflected in the window, Azir saw kitchen staff peering into the hall. He said, ‘Now break a piece off for me.’ She reached for the knife. ‘No, with your hands.’

“Her body shuddered. ‘Master I cannot. It is forbidden.’

“‘But isn’t that the tradition? To feed people with your hands, as Zolly once did?’

“‘Master, yes it is. But only between ourselves. Not between Servant and Master.’ She held the knife in the air, not knowing what to do with it now.

“‘Do you not wish to follow the example of Zolly?’ he said.

“‘Master I do. But I am not as strong as She.’

“‘Well I think it’s time to update that tradition. Mitra, feed me with your hands.’

“‘Master I am an old woman now, and don’t have too long to live. But I value the years I still have left. I am not sure that I could spend them as Zolly did. But you are my Master. Your wish is my command.’  She broke off some cake and fed Azir, with tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Azir hugged her and said, ‘Mitra, in my home, your hands and your heart will be honoured always. As will those of all others.’ Then he called in all of the white-skinned servants and fed each of them cake with his brown hands.

“So that, children, is what happened here in this room. You listened well, thank you. It’s time for your cake now.” The teacher cut the cake into slices. Then the children broke off pieces of cherry-fruit cake with golden raisins, and fed each other beneath a bust to Azir, and a gleaming plaque saying, “Who shares cake shares all”.

The children also fed the guide. She was unable to feed herself for she had no hands. The story of Azir feeding Mitra had been sweetened for public consumption. The guide was Mitra’s daughter, and had loved Azir. For this she had been punished in the traditional way, as had her mother for touching Azir, as had Zolly for preaching such acts long before. None of these mothers had ever held their children. It had been a long, hard, bitter struggle to change the old ways.