Layla owned one medium-sized pot, which she used to cook absolutely everything.
Not because she didn’t have any other pots – there were a range of other sizes, colours and brands stacked haphazardly onto the bending shelves of her pots’ cupboard. But because for Layla, this one was the right size, the right weight, the right base, the right everything, and when she felt something was just right she had no use for anything else.
The pot was a wedding gift from Uncle Fadiel. Uncle Fadiel was her only wealthy family member and his generous presents always made sure that everyone knew it.
It arrived in a large box covered in shiny cream paper with gold wedding bells printed all over it. Gold paper ribbon wrapped around the box. The ends of the ribbon was tied and curled at the top so that it fell playfully around the edges, like a little girls’ hair hanging loose at her shoulders. A little card with a hole punched into its corner was threaded into the curled ribbon.
Inside the card read:
Dear Shamiel and Layla,
Slamat on your big day. Alghamdulillah, Marriage is half of your Deen.
May Allah grant you a long and happy life together with lots and lots of beautiful children Inshallah Ameen.
Uncle Fadiel and family
P.S. Layla, I hope you cook up a storm for Shamiel with this gift!
Admittedly, Layla was a little bit disappointed when she found a pot inside the box. She was expecting something a little more glamorous from Uncle Fadiel. But the hype around the thing from all the other married women in her family made her second guess her first impression.
“Wow, it’s a AMC Layla! You lucky, that’s a very good pot, do you know how expensive that is?” Their heads all nodding.
And so it was.
Fifteen years later, for “a very good pot” it wasn’t in a very good condition.
The shiny silver outside used to gleam. You could admire your distorted reflection in its curve. Now, all that stared back at you was a dull and dirty blur, smudged with layers of dishwashing liquid mixed with fatty handprints that stained each bend.
The heavy base that Layla’s aunties “ooh-ed and aah-ed” over, once a sleek matte version of the silver sides were now a thick black. A dense protective layer tarred itself around the bottom of the pot, guarding it from the burning hot plates that licked its sides daily.
The aftermath of:
“Layla, did you switch the stove off?”
“Layla, what smells like burn?”
“Layla, you were supposed to turn it down to low!”
“Layla, what’s smoking like that in the kitchen?”
“LAYLA, THE POT!”
A thick protective layer burnt into its base while life was just too urgent to intervene.
The inside though, the inside of that pot was where you could find the stories.
The story of raw lamb, slow cooked in spices until it was so tender it fell off of the bone.
The story of onions, chicken and potatoes, burnt to the bottom of the pot.
The story of garlic and tomato, spilling its aroma into the streets.
The story of pumpkin bredie with too much salt.
The story of cauliflower bredie with too little salt.
The story of tablespoons of sugar cooked into Denning Vleis.
Inside that pot lived the story of Sunday lunch, mid-week fry ups, soup in the Ramadan, Labarang, and the same food heated and reheated 3 nights in a row. Her masterpieces and let downs all born from that “very good pot.”
Inside that pot, rough, dark rings circled its centre. Each ring marked out a scar left by the pot scraper that worked desperately every night to remove every trace of the story.
The next day, Layla would drizzle a bit of oil inside her pot and start a new story.
Years later, in the throws of her annual spring clean, Layla found the little wedding card from Uncle Fadiel.
“Shame.” She muttered to herself, and threw the card into the bin. None of Uncle Fadiel’s duahs for Layla were granted.