Her husband asked her to make pooris for his birthday like his mother did. Round, puffy bread dotted with carom seeds, fried to a golden color.
She poured wheat flour into a bowl, added carom seeds, kneaded it with her fingers and knuckles into a soft dough, adding warm water and oil as needed. Pinched a lemon-sized ball, rolled it into a poori on the kitchen counter with a rolling pin, and slid it into the pool of mustard oil heating in a kadhai on the stove. The dough disc sank to the bottom like a coin instead of floating on the surface. Perhaps her timing was wrong, perhaps the oil wasn’t hot enough.
She rolled out another, waited for the oil to steam up before adding the poori. This one floated on the oil but didn’t puff up into a soft ball. Instead, it became hard and brittle like a cracker. Perhaps she pressed the dough-ball a little too much, perhaps the disc wasn’t thick enough.
She rolled out another. This one fluffed up and bobbed on the surface of the oil, a mouth-watering golden orb speckled with brown seeds. She strained the poori out with a skimmer and laid it on a steel plate, admired its perfection, spooned some pickle on the side to serve her husband. Then, she stopped, poked a finger at the poori’s center, breaking the bubble of expectation.
At school, teachers often asked the girls what they wanted to be when they grew up. One said a writer, another a doctor, yet another, a lawyer. Her answer remained the same, year after year: a wife, a mother—to which the girls giggled and the teachers snickered.
The images her mind conjured every time she closed her eyes: a stone cottage, fire in the hearth, bubbling quiche in the oven, a warm baby cooing in her arms.
Married she was, at 18. Evenings, she stoked the flames in the hearth while the quiches with fresh ingredients—onion-zucchini, asparagus-bacon, spinach-ham—bubbled in the oven. Her body fevered with passion and longing while waiting for the husband to return from work. And he did, just after sundown.
A mother, she was, at 20. The year her marriage cracked like cheap leather. Embers died, potato peels and spinach stalks in the trash smelled, the quiche on the table dried before the husband returned, enveloped in unknown smells, humming unfamiliar tunes, and crashed beside her, slapping her awake when the baby cried.
Green-and-gray mold covered the quiches and any hopes she had for happiness. With time, the punching and abuse became so routine that her skin stopped bruising and welting, the pain depositing a sediment underneath.
Now 25, unable to layer more hurt, her capacity to absorb saturated, she gathers the gold bequeathed by her mother, hidden in rice and flour canisters, bundles up the two toddlers, and boards a bus into the night.
“To the farthest point,” she tells the driver, unsure if freedom was the solution or the direction. Huddling her kids close to her, she leans against the window. Trees, gas stations, truck stops and motels swoosh by.
At a traffic light, the twinkling white-and-red lights around a “Home-Style Bakery” sign catch her eye, sear into her mind. When the bus moves on, she turns her neck to watch the lights become pinpricks, then blur into non-existence.
Lulled by the motion, weighed down by responsibility, she rests her eyelids, and, this time she sees cakes and buns and biscuits. A baker she could be, but she’d never bake a quiche again.
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American writer who writes mostly flash fiction. Her work has appeared in Reflex Press, Flash Fiction Online, Kahini, and elsewhere. She is currently an editor at Janus Literary and a Submissions Editor at SmokeLong Quarterly. Her debut flash fiction collection Morsels of Purple is available for sale on Amazon.com. More at https://saraspunyfingers.com. Reach her on Twitter @PunyFingers.
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