Ginger tea has a bitterness that you get used to. You might even end up wondering how you managed to live without it till now.
‘Do you want honey in it?’
‘Why, when did I ever?’
Electra had been almost hypnotized by the yellow digital clock display next to her laptop–a segment of the second digit was blinking, for months now, turning 5 into 6 and back. That was the tempo at which she was stirring air in her godmother’s empty mug, the absinthe spoon the latter’s “loony grandson” had gotten her from Montmartre clinking against the porcelain at each digital blink… Out in the courtyard, the demented old woman was at that moment searching for the seconds again; whenever her mind failed her, that’s where she stepped out, affectionately calling every passerby her “pasha”, the old-school Epirot that she was, and asking him for the time. And if she got a reply, she gave him her blessing.
An almost explosive bang from the stove made Electra jump. Fluffy, yellow foam was boiling over the pot.
And on the laptop screen in front of her, the opened e-mail was still peering at her.
The godmother drank the brewed ginger with a heavy heart, only because some folk medicine expert–the local go-to tax accountant–had told her “it’s anti-inflammatory”. And whether placebo or not, her “blazing calves became lighter”… The whole village knew this; a village immune to the virus of gossip is a perversion of nature. Let alone one that had seen its liberation just after the First Balkan War, so that a hundred years later aunt-Mitraina and uncle–Thodoros would fight to outdo each other, whose garden had birthed the tastiest potatoes.
Electra’s eyelids were trembling. The aftermath of tears had glued her eyelashes together. Whenever she pondered on how sick and tired she was of doubting whether she had taken the right turns in her life, her forsaken dreams pointed the finger at her bellowing that she had betrayed them. She didn’t like that. On the other hand, however, she was too old now to be denying truths. It felt like just yesterday when she was not yet twenty, but tomorrow she would be past thirty… And among all those glorious, shipwrecked plans of hers, she could no longer remember when she had resigned to the fact that spending her college years over lore-heavy tomes of Medieval History was ultimately for it all to be mere history.
A fifth-grader she had been when, playing chase, her determination had winged her feet and she had managed to catch her ‘uncatchable’ classmate that set everyone already caught free. Electra clenched her jaw and picked up the cracker bag from the floor. Something in picking up her despair’s evidence herself plunged her into even deeper despair. She wanted to think… And at the same time, she didn’t. For the past seven years, her days had had no reason not to be carbon copies: secretary to a mechanical engineer in the city centre, right behind the old mosque, and then off to her godmother’s at the village. And from time to time, to the family beekeeping business, too. What with the financial crisis and all, her parents had gone beyond hope watching their pensions wither more and more and had set up beehives on an inherited field of theirs…
The ginger scent from her own mug crawled sharp up her nostrils and Electra reached for a cracker to take a bite. Yet, she instantly changed her mind; the fact that up till then she had never been allergic to sesame didn’t mean a thing.
‘Do you want me to read something to you?’ she called out to the old-nuna, who had now retreated in the parlour, and as Electra put the ginger vial back in the cupboard between the linden and the thyme, an unnerving shiver spread once more across her nape–next to the local herbs and spices, the foreign ones always looked so uprooted to her…
Electra smiled half-heartedly at the godmother’s reply and with mug in hand, she walked over to the small chestnut bookcase in the corridor. Andreas’s volumes, the “loony grandson” of her godmother’s late brother, turned Electra into a sponge, of other cultures and harbours… She lifted the time-stricken doily edge shading the books of the top shelf and her right index finger caressed their worn spines: Sartre’s Nausea, Camus’s The Stranger and The Complete Poetic Works of Cavafy crammed between them, Ithaca included there too, of course. All three of them together a sea voyage in itself.
That e-mail, with its Asian emojis and all, came and went in Electra’s thoughts like the tide. Especially last night out in the yard, when she had almost gotten a stiff neck fishing for Perseids and a shooting star had drawn an arch right above her as if from milky tempera. “What are you afraid of anyway and have rooted there? Is it every day you get the chance to work for the Guangdong Museum? Thank ‘June’, who will put you up and you won’t have to worry one bit about lodgings or anything! You’ll be even better than if you were in your own home.^_^”
Almost as in reflex, Electra’s gaze ventured to stray towards the silver photo frames on the bookcase, but she didn’t let it. In one of the photos, there was Andreas too–vacationing in his mother’s land, in Macau, as the palm trees behind his wet head testified. A born anthropologist, whatever travels Electra could only dream of, Andreas already had them in his inventory. Whatever souvenir she adorned her mirror with, it was usually a gift from him; next to her local, amber kompoloi hang a Double Happiness red knot along with a Tibetan mandala… And a bit further, pictures from Udaipur collaged their way around the mirror’s oaken frame, with beaming kids hopping around at the Holi festival, smeared with coloured powder so vivid that you could almost breathe it, or vintage postcards from Benares, eternally capturing elder gurus praying half-submerged in the bronze, shimmering waters of Ganges.
“Always, always away, this child,” the godmother would murmur.
Once again, Electra refused to look at his picture. Otherwise, her mind would play a movie: Andreas’s half-moon eyes started to shine, his two front teeth stood out almost as in scherzo and she remembered the childlike enthusiasm with which he described to her “the lacework-like muqarnas of the Alhambra”. Even his smile was postcard material. That’s what he believed too, his strongest feature, he said, were his lips’ edges when he smiled…
June the godmother called him, because he reminded her, she said, of the unripe summer.
Electra’s right index finger was lingering over the Tao Te King’s spine when the doorbell rang like an old rotary dial phone.
She went to open the door. And there the mug almost slipped through her fingers–Andreas was at the threshold. With the strap of his seasoned backpack almost cutting into his left shoulder and his chest heaving at each faint pant, he let out a short, rather embarrassed laugh; only to rush and cover it with the back of his hand, like he used to. His voice, however, was as confident as ever:
‘Hello, “mountain”. “Muhammad” has come to you.’
He stood there for a second, half through the door and half still in the moonlight, his smile a sine qua non. Electra pondered, a photo is just a piece of paper… Andreas ran back to his jeep for a bit, but left the courtyard gate behind him open.
*local dialect word for godmother
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Ginger Tea cover art copyright © Constantina Maud 2019 via Canva
Ginger Tea short story copyright © Konstantina Koutsoupia (pen name: Constantina Maud) 2019 All Rights Reserved
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