The Devil's Dish Served Six Different Ways (chapters 3 & 4)
Because neither Hamzah nor Akil celebrated Christmas the trip to Dorothy’s parents’ house was scheduled for the day after Boxing Day. Hamzah always enjoyed the holiday period because he was one of the few at the factory who wanted to work and earn extra pay. Akil, though, had mixed feelings about Christmas. He thought it was peculiar for people to celebrate the birth of a baby who had been born many thousands of years ago. On the other hand Akil enjoyed seeing the colourful lights that went up all over the city. One evening after school his friend, Simon, took Akil to his house. Simon’s father had spent a considerable amount of energy and money turning the outside into a winter grotto. “It’s wonderful” said Akil, enraptured by the brightly lit models of reindeer and Santa Claus and the rows of coloured fairy lights that followed the contours of the building. “Yes” Simon said with pride. “It’s the best winter grotto in our road.”
It was a long drive to the south west of England. They drove in Dorothy’s car – a very large, white car that matched Dorothy’s suit. Akil sat in the rear, watching the landscape change as they sped along the motorway. He saw fields and green rolling hills until eventually the daylight faded to darkness. His father and Dorothy listened to Mariah Carey and Celine Dion, Dorothy’s favourite singers, while they travelled. Even though Akil knew that his father loathed such music he was curious to see Hamzah delicately take each cd from the in-car player and return it to its case, pointing out how delightful Mariah Carey’s voice was and how it was his ambition to see Celine Dion performing in Vegas. Soon Akil grew tired and fell asleep. And while he slept he dreamt of his mother.
She was in the kitchen of their old house, the house in which Akil had been born. Akil’s sister was nearby, standing barefoot on a plastic bucket so as to reach the draining board. They were making sweet cakes with almonds and honey – his favourite. His mother was speaking softly to his sister, showing her how to roll the pastry and layer the inside of the cakes with the correct amount of cinnamon and nutmeg. Akil’s sister was having problems with her hair. Both his mother and sister had long black hair – hair that reached well below the waist. Akil’s mother washed her hands and coiled his sister’s hair into a bun, skewering it with a pencil. “You must always keep your hair tied up in the kitchen” his mother said “otherwise bugs from the garden might fall into the food.” His mother and sister began to laugh and turned to Akil who, in his dream, was very, very young. The thought of bugs falling into the dinner terrified him. He ran out of the kitchen in tears.
When Akil woke the car was stationary – parked outside an old stone house. Hamzah and Dorothy were busy collecting their luggage from the boot. “We’re here now” said his father. “Open the door, Akil, and look.”
They were parked high above a little fishing village. Akil could see a walled harbour with monstrous cliffs either side. The air was fresh, the moon full and clear. A magical silvery light illuminated the tiny boats moored far below. Three people emerged from the house: Dorothy’s parents, who were very old, and another man with a full moustache who, Akil learned, was Dorothy’s older brother. While Hamzah introduced himself Akil wondered if it was safe to go into such a house. Was nobody scared it might slide down the steep road during the night and fall into the harbour ? Eventually, after shaking hands with Dorothy’s parents, he decided that it must be safe and was led inside where he ate a sandwich and was given a present from under the Christmas tree. Then he was taken upstairs to a small bedroom which had been made up specially for him. As he climbed into bed he thought yes, his father was right when he said their lives would change. How he wished his mother was by his side to help guide him.
The following day, after breakfast, Dorothy suggested they take a walk to the harbour. Dorothy’s mother and father were going out somewhere in their car and Dorothy’s brother had left before Akil woke up. As they descended the steep hill Hamzah and Dorothy spoke quietly to one another in a very serious manner. When Akil, having run on ahead, stopped and waited for them, his father shouted: “Go on, go on. We’ll catch you up.”
By the time Akil reached the harbour railings Hamzah and Dorothy were still well behind. He stood for a while and looked around. Along the front was a tavern called The Severn Stars and a fish and chip shop called The Admiral’s Plaice. A group of people, many of whom looked like tourists, were standing nearby eating food out of polystyrene trays. Akil could hear Christmas songs playing on a radio somewhere – familiar songs that he’d heard in years gone by. He looked up at the cliffs and surveyed the harbour. It was cold and the bright mid-morning sunshine seemed to bounce off the water.
Akil leaned over the railing. He wondered if his father and Dorothy were going to get married. His friends at school said the best thing that happened when one of your parents re-married was that you gained new brothers and sisters. Akil had already formed an image of Dorothy’s daughter – slender and tall, with long black hair - not fair haired, like Dorothy. Perhaps Dorothy’s daughter liked to cook too. Akil would show her the recipes he knew. He would teach her how to wash rice. Perhaps she would want to learn the language of his homeland.
A wooden boat came into view, approaching the quayside. Akil watched as it manoeuvred its way through the larger fishing boats at anchor. He realised that the man in the boat was Dorothy’s brother. The boat drew up alongside the harbour steps and remained there for a while, the engine chugging contentedly.
“Here” shouted Dorothy’s brother and threw Akil a rope. “Tie it to the cleat.”
Akil hesitated. He didn’t understand what the word cleat meant. He looked down at the base of the railing and saw a large iron ring. “That’s it. Tie it there.”
Akil knelt and tied the rope several times around the iron ring. His father and Dorothy came into view.
“What’s he got you doing, love ?” Dorothy said with a chuckle. “Have you got the lad working already, Dougie-boy ?”
Dougie-boy looked nonchalantly across the harbour. He was rolling a cigarette. He licked the edge of the cigarette paper and said: “No harm making him work.”
Hamzah, who was strangely quiet, looked down at Dougie-boy. Akil was hoping that his father would say something to the effect that Akil was a very good worker, especially in the kitchen. But Hamzah said nothing. It was Dorothy who spoke. She asked Dougie-boy if he was going out fishing. Dougie-boy nodded and drew on his cigarette. “Perhaps you can take Akil with you ?” said Dorothy. “You could use an extra pair of hands I reckon.”
Dougie-boy busied himself at the rear of the boat then took a long final draw on his cigarette before flicking the stub into the water. “Go on” said Dorothy to Akil. “Go and help Dougie-boy catch our New Year dinner.”
Akil looked towards his father. Surely he would say something now ? Instead, Hamzah gave a polite nod, indicating that he should follow Dorothy’s instructions.
Akil walked tentatively down the wet stone steps and climbed into the boat. Dougie-boy reached into a wooden locker and handed him a yellow waterproof coat. It was far too big – the arms reached beyond the end of his fingertips. Dorothy began to laugh. “Look at the poor mite” she said to Hamzah. “Doesn’t he look sweet!”
Dougie-boy put the boat in gear and it pulled away from the harbour. Akil waved and for a while his father waved back at him. Then his father and Dorothy faded into the distance and the boat headed out to sea.
Go to chapters 5 & 6: