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Crossing the street with Dutch chocolate

published: 2010-12-06

I crossed the street carrying chocolate. Rang the doorbell. “I came to give you this, it’s a Dutch tradition,” I said. It was a specific kind of chocolate.
Did I honestly think I’d get away with just that and then swiftly return to my home, to my newspapers and magazines? My glass of wine?
Of course Leila would not have it. How can I refuse her? She puts her arm around me, pulls me into her home. Come, my friend. Sit. Have rice-pudding from Pakistan. And take this bottle of almond oil please, it’s nice for your skin, good for your hair. The chocolates were discarded of somewhere, on the floor next to the couch. My explanation of what this particular Dutch tradition meant seemed equally irrelevant. The gift was only a pretext for me to be there. To sit. To eat. To chat.
Leila chose to squeeze right next to me, on the small strip between me and the end of the couch. As if we were in the back seat of a crammed car. She was turned to me. Took both my hands while asking how I was, how my son was, how my husband was. My sister, my mother, my father.
She asked me to write down the recipe of the soup I had once made for her. So I said, “come tomorrow at five, we’ll make it together.” Am I always like this? No. The practicalities of my culture often stand in the way of being the way I’d like to be in the face of hers. In all reality, it even stresses me out that she is coming tomorrow, as I so want the cooking of soup to be a womanly, companionship-like thing. And for the soup to be good.
And now, I sit here feeling the need to write something about her. What did I want to write that’s not yet in the above? This: that I am touched by the warmth of Leila’s welcoming hands. They speak to something quite vulnerable in me, the child I once was, the warmth I once needed.

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