Short fiction and serialised novellas of GJ Fairlamb

Archive for March 2013

Savage Writing: Cuisine

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Sorry for the lack of updates. Work has calmed down a little and the Valentines/birthday/anniversary-a-thon is over, so back to writing for me!

Theme for this week was ‘The Eternal Hedonist.’ Some really great pieces and new folk at the meet as well! All awesome fun πŸ™‚

I’ve been editing a book my Persian friend is translating, so I feel a little more immersed in the culture and its conflicts than previously. This is what came out.


Unfortunately, being dead did not stop Mohammed Shakar from eating all the fresh dates on the table that evening, and all the olives, and half of the garlic naan bread (only half because the kitchen had anticipated a high demand for it). Nasrim Shakar, the daughter who had buried him four days previously, was mortified, though it was not clear whether she was more mortified at his apparent return from the grave, or at the heedless, juice-dribbling gluttony which shamed her in front of her friends.

And she had thought he would have been proud of such a party. It was Nouruz, the Persian New Year, and she had decided to introduce all her friends to her national cuisine, and talk about Iranian traditions along the way. Her father had always said she should take more pride in her heritage. Well, not in those exact words.

‘Why do you not wear the hajib? Why must you always show your hair?’

‘Why do you not come back home with me this time? Your mother and sisters wish to see you. You dishonour your family by refusing to return to your homeland.’

‘How is it you are nearly thirty now, and still there is no sign of a husband? Your sister Hediyeh has four children , yet you will be dead before you have even one!’

Her older sisters were already married when her father decided to move to the UK, so they stayed behind with their families. Nasrim’s mother only lasted a few years before she missed them, and her grandchildren, too much to stay. To her, London’s cinder blocks and glassy towers could never compete with the sun-filled gardens of Shiraz. Nasrim’s father always bemoaned leaving its beauty behind. He could never understand why his youngest daughter chose to stay with him, instead of returning β€œhome.”

‘You are not an English girl,’ he would say to her, as she left for school with straightened hair, her make-up stashed in her bag, ready for its morning application in the girl’s toilets. ‘Remember that. You are Persian and always will be.’

Persian, he said, though she knew more English words than Farsi, though she wore English fashion, though she believed in English values, like not having to get married and have children, and that hair was made for showing off and not something embarrassingly sexual that must be hidden. Persian, he said, even though every night for dinner, they ate English food.

Oh how he hated this country, he said, how he hated its sunless sky, how he hated its morally loose yet socially uptight people – but oh how he loved to eat its food. Fish and chips. Donner kebabs. Meat feast pizzas, vindaloos and chicken chow mein. He never learnt to cook. Nasrim taught herself, with the help of her friends’ mums. And if he was ashamed of her attitude, then she was ashamed of his gut more. They had come here because of their aspirations, right? They had come here because Mohammed had a well-paying job that let them live in comfort. What did it say about them, that despite having enough money to eat fresh and organic every night – like her friends did – he still ordered takeaway from the neighbouring down-beat postcodes? She was almost relieved whenever Ramadan came round, purely for the excuse to not eat junk.

University had been respite. She went up north and indulged herself in the free student lifestyle, ignoring the calls from London every weekend. But once she graduated, and she found herself looking for work in the capital, her sense would not allow her to give up on the offer of a free room at home. Her salary increased over time, yes, but spending three hundred a week on a tiny room seemed ridiculous when she could get new shoes, and a massage, and keep up her gym classes. Always spending the night at a guy’s house, instead of bringing him home, was a small price to pay for all that.

Greasy boxes in the bin, and neon-stained plates in the dishwasher. She swore even the smell of his takeaways made her fatter. He refused her nags to go to the doctor and β€œget himself sorted out.” She refused to go home to Iran. The idea of covering herself up and listening to banal family gossip – and all her sisters constantly yammering about kids! – was repugnant to her. ‘Your mother cries for the lack of you,’ Mohammed said. Nasrim doubted it, because she barely missed her mother at all.

It was a conversation at work, where she started talking about Persian cuisine, that gave her the idea of holding a Nouruz party for her colleagues. Their interest in her unusual background flattered her, and she wanted to glow in it as much as possible. She couldn’t cook any of the food herself, of course, so she booked a local restaurant to do it for her.

And then, when she came home from work, her father was sitting forward in his armchair, clutching his left arm, struggling to breathe.

‘Nasrim…’ he gasped.

I can’t deal with this right now, she thought. The reek of last night’s kebab wafted from the overly-full kitchen bin. She wasn’t going to miss Crossfit for this.

‘Phone an ambulance,’ she said, grabbing her gym bag. ‘I’m busy.’

‘Nasrim!’ he called after her, as she left. When she retrieved her phone from her locker after the class, she had five missed calls. She sighed and left for the hospital.

He wavered for a few days. Before they could operate on his heart, another attack took him away for good. She cried and phoned Iran, but she made sure her father was buried in the UK, and her mother and sisters couldn’t make it to the country in time for the interrment, since one of her nieces was getting married. Nasrim was relieved she wouldn’t have to host them all. She didn’t want to lose her booking at Persian King.

On Nouruz, her friends gathered round the tables and congratulated her on choosing such a nice, ambient place, and as they nibbled at the aperitifs they asked her if it was similar to β€œback home.” Yes, she lied – lying because she barely knew anymore.

An extra seat was opposite her on the table. She asked the waiter why they had given an extra place, and he said that she had asked for that many. Then, the door opened, and – belly first and beard last – in walked her father, in his black funeral suit, as red-faced as the day she left him. He greeted her friends with warm, pained smiles, and he ate every single entree that was on the table, and he ordered two whole meals for himself. Nasrim only watched in horror as the juice splattered on his pure white shirt.

‘It’s good,’ he said, as he stuffed the dates and garlic naan into his mouth. ‘Good Persian food. I like it. It reminds me of home.’

He was crying.


Written by G.J.

06/03/2013 at 11:46 pm