The Devil's Dish Served Six Different Ways (chapter 7)
Once his father had released him they went in to the lounge and Akil said goodnight. As he closed the door he heard Dorothy say in a clear, loud voice: “How on earth could you be so stupid ?”
As he lay in bed Akil wondered what sort of trouble Dorothy’s daughter had got herself in to. Women’s trouble his father had said. Akil could remember his mother whispering things to his sister, things that he wasn’t allowed to hear - secret things that, he supposed, helped her stay out of trouble. “We are talking about the moon goddess, Akil, which is not your business” his mother would say if he asked. Perhaps Dorothy’s daughter hadn’t been taught about the moon goddess and that was why she’d got into trouble.
After eating his sandwich he crept out onto the landing and listened. He could hear Dorothy shouting at his father, telling him to mind his own business and not to interfere, that she would send her daughter to the clinic no matter what Hamzah thought.
Akil didn’t listen to any more. In bed he turned onto his side and closed his eyes. Whatever the problem was Akil couldn’t worry himself about it. He needed to think about the dinner he’d been asked to prepare for tomorrow. He felt nervous about cooking the devil-fish with their red fins and yellow tails and ugly staring eyes.
Akil imagined himself laying the six fish out on the cutting board. What was he supposed to do with them ? They were such strange creatures. Were they poisonous, he wondered ? Surely not! After all, Dougie-boy said his family had been eating them during the Christmas holiday for years. Perhaps he would make a fish stew with rice. But what if no one liked his stew ? Then everyone would be disappointed and the atmosphere in the house would be worse than ever.
Soon he fell asleep and dreamt that he was in the kitchen at the house he shared with his mother, sister and Hamzah when he was small. For some reason Dorothy’s daughter was there too – she was showing him how to prepare the devil fish. She took a sharp knife and cut along the length of each stomach before prising the fish in half, revealing clusters of tiny yellow eggs. Akil asked her if the tiny eggs were made of gold. “No” she said and scooped them out with a spoon. She put the eggs into a dish, added lemon juice and mixed them into a paste. “You can serve this with bread or toast. But remember it is very salty. There is no need to add anything more. Here – try some.”
Before he could taste the paste Dorothy’s daughter disappeared and Akil saw that his mother was in the kitchen too, preparing a selection of different foods that he could serve the following day. She had already cooked some of the fillets in spiced coconut milk to make a molee. His sister, standing on her plastic bucket, was overseeing a tagene. A bowl of fish, rice and nuts was steaming on the dining table. “The rest you can grill” said his mother “or else you can boil and spice some of the fillets to make Samaka Harra.” Akil looked at the array of dishes on the table. There was more than enough food to feed Dorothy’s family and he felt relieved that the meal wasn’t going to be a failure. He turned to kiss his mother and sister but they too disappeared. Now Dorothy and her daughter were sitting at another table with Hamzah and the old man who lived at the house. His false teeth were floating in a tumbler filled with water. In his dream Akil looked closer. The teeth were snapping wildly in the glass as if they were alive. Dorothy, Hamzah and Dorothy’s daughter began to laugh. Akil saw that the false teeth were made of gold.
He woke. It was his father. He was sitting on the edge of Akil’s bed. “You must get up now” he said. “We are leaving.”
Akil was still disorientated after his dream. He looked out of the window – it was beginning to get light. Was it morning already ? “Is it time for me to cook, father ?”
“No. We are travelling back by train. Things have taken a turn for the worse.”
Akil hurriedly got dressed while Hamzah packed their bags. Dorothy’s daughter had been taken to hospital in the night. It had been decided that Hamzah and Akil would cut short their visit.
“Father – I had a terrible dream” said Akil. “I dreamt of mother and my sister. We were in the kitchen together. They were helping me cook.”
His father turned and stared at Akil. Akil thought that Hamzah was going to say something but it seemed as if the words wouldn’t come out. Then Akil saw that his father had tears in his eyes.
“We must hurry” said Hamzah. “We don’t have much time.”
They collected their belongings and Dougie-boy dropped them off at the train station. “We will pray that Dorothy’s daughter returns to good health” said Hamzah. Dougie-boy stared vacantly into the distance. The van pulled away.
The train journey took many hours. With the little money he had left Hamzah bought two chocolate bars and two cups of black tea from the trolley. “Will Dorothy’s daughter get better ?” said Akil. Hamzah nodded. “Things always turn out as God intends” he said.
Akil stared out of the window and watched the lush, green landscape pass by. Coloured lights appeared periodically – lights that had been put up for the Christmas holiday and would soon be taken down after new year. Perhaps, thought Akil, his father was right. Perhaps things always did work out as God intended. He looked in his bag and found the present he’d been given by Dorothy’s parents. He opened it – it was a recipe book. A card was attached. It read: To Akil the little cook, from Dorothy and family. He returned the recipe book to his bag and closed his eyes. He thought of the devil-fish, of the harbour, of the sea, of the golden eggs. He slept some more.