Mother greeted me at the door when I came home from work this evening. I was quite startled; I nearly knocked her over! She must have been watching for me out the living room window.
“Harshan’s hijacked the kitchen tonight,” she explained. “We womenfolk get to take it easy in the living room.”
“That’s nice,” I said, a little confused. “Harshan is a pretty good cook back on Homeland, but what could he possibly concoct here?”
“I’ll never tell!” Mother said jokingly, as if she were an accomplice to a conspiracy.
“Let me go put down this stuff and wash my face,” I said with a sigh, “and I’ll join you in the living room.” I was half-way down the hallway before I thought of it. “Where’s Darryl?” I asked, stopping to turn around. “He should have been home from school long ago!”
“He’s in the kitchen with his Dad playing assistant chef,” she shouted back and waved me on.
This is going to be interesting, I muttered to myself.
Harshan had closed the shutters between the kitchen and the living room so we couldn’t see what was going on inside, but we did have ears. There was a lot of noise: chopping, pots banging around, and careful instructions in kitchen skills. Lucy (Mother’s collie) kept sniffing at the kitchen door. Meanwhile, Mother and I were absorbed in our favorite television trivia game show—it’s the show where they give the answer, and the contestants have to supply the question.
“I’ll take ‘US States’ for $500,” a television contestant said. There were the usual bing-bong noises.
“The answer is,” the moderator read, “This state changed its capital in 1779, but the original capital city is still a tourist attraction. What is the question?”
“What is…Virginia?” the contestant said. That was correct.
Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, somebody dropped a pot.
“Ow, my toe!” Darryl yelled. The pot made a metallic ‘wobble-wobble’ noise on the floor until it came to rest. I pushed the button on the remote control to turn down the volume on the television.
“Harshan!” I called, “Is everybody okay in there?”
“We’re fine,” came the reply.
“Let’s keep the casualties to a minimum, please!”
“Yes, ma’am,” Harshan said. Mother couldn’t help chuckling a little.
Strangely familiar smells emanated from the kitchen, and Darryl came out and set the table.
We made it all the way through the game show and part of the way through a cartoon show when Harshan and Darryl emerged from the kitchen.
“Dinner is ready,” Harshan announced with pride, “please take your seats at the table!” Mother took this as her signal to escort Lucy to the backyard.
Darryl walked up to me with a clean handkerchief. “I have to blindfold you, Mom,” he explained. “We want this to be a surprise.”
I was a little mystified; but Mother nodded to me to go along with it, so I did. I could hear the plates being placed on the table. I was sorely tempted to peek, but I didn’t want to spoil things.
“Now’s the time,” Harshan declared.
Darryl removed my blindfold with a flourish. “Tah dah!” he announced.
I couldn’t believe it! It was a completely authentic Halakanian meal, right down to the ring shrimp and the red peas! I just sat there stunned. How did he do it? Where did he get the groceries?
Harshan just reached over, picked up my fork and filled it with red peas. Then he swirled it around in the air a little, finally suspending it in front of my mouth. “Time to park the car,” he said with mock solemnity, “Open the garage!”
I really don’t know whether I was laughing or crying, but it was very touching (and very characteristic) of Harshan to reenact that moment so long ago. He was a purser on the spaceship, and I was on the first leg of my trip to Homeland, and that’s how he got me to try red peas.
I had to excuse myself to wash my face, and when I returned, I expressed my appreciation for the thoughtful meal. Harshan has got to be the most thoughtful husband in the Spiral Arm!
“But where did you get all these groceries?” I asked. Harshan started to answer, but was distracted by Darryl peeling his ring shrimp. Harshan had to show him why that’s not done.
“He brought it with him when you came from Homeland,” Mother explained. “I’ve had it in the freezer in the basement all this time. He wanted to save it for a special occasion!”
“But this isn’t a special occasion!” I said, perplexed.
“It is now!” Harshan pointed out. “It’s easier to make a special occasion than to wait for one.”
“So where did all this special food come from?” Darryl asked. He couldn’t hear the conversation between Mother and me. “I’ve never seen anything like it, but it sure is good!”
“The groceries come from your Dad’s home land,” I signed. It occurred to me that ‘Homeland’ and ‘home land’ would come out the same in sign language.
“What country is Dad from? I thought he was from America.” Darryl asked, looking around the table at three somewhat dumb-struck adults.
Harshan broke the silence. “Your Mom is from here, but I’m originally from Halakan,” he replied calmly, finger-spelling ‘Halakan’ as he spoke. Since he volunteered to get in over his head, I figured I had better stuff my mouth so that I would be exempt from explaining anything. Gosh, I love red peas and ring shrimp! I thought I’d never get to eat them again in my life.
Darryl looked very confused. “There’s no such country as that in the world!” he exclaimed.
“That’s right,” Harshan said, and Mother calmly nodded agreement.
Darryl shrugged his shoulders and got back to shoveling in the food. “Well, for a country that doesn’t exist, it sure does have good food!”
We all breathed a sigh of relief, and ate in silence for a while.
Eventually, a light went on in Darryl’s attic. “Dad?” he asked, “I promise I won’t tell anybody, but is that why you showed me the stars?”
“What do you mean?” Harshan asked tentatively.
“You taught me all about the stars,” he said, “but there’s one thing I want to know.”
Harshan reached for the salt, and his hand was visibly shaking. His face was red, too.
Darryl ignored his failure to respond. “Is this why you emphasized that one little star?”
“Tau Ceti,” I blurted out. I quickly covered my mouth with my napkin.
“What?” Darryl demanded, so I carefully finger-spelled ‘Tau Ceti.’ Me and my big mouth! After I ate all that food, I still had room for my foot.
“Mom, how did you know what star it was?” Darryl just looked back and forth at the two of us with a horrified look on his face. Mother was trying not to laugh! My stomach was quite frankly in a knot.
“Wow! Neat-o!” Darryl exclaimed, and finished his dinner enthusiastically.