Mistress of Spices
We women in the family always had a thing for spices.
My-other-gramma of handbags and sleeveless blouses and nail polishes, would always carry a finger of clove in her mouth, nestled in the space between her molars. The dried flower bud, wet and soggy in her mouth wandering about desolately, missing her teeth, when they all fell away. My-other-gramma who withered like dried flowers. Both from her life and mine, leaving behind a stain like that of pressed flowers in white notebooks.
Mu who would grind nutmeg on her magic stone. Nutmeg and honey being her eternal cure for every ailment. It didn't save her though. Naked brown nutmegs, she would lay scattered among her clothes. Which would share their treasure of a smell to her off-white sarees. The spidery lacy mace which she would remove, replacing its delicate sweetness in favor of the stronger one of the nutmeg. That's how she changed, from sweet to sweeter. Adorable to more. Even after she died. Filling my life with hand picked saccharine dreams.
Mother of cardamom. Dark like the closed capsulated seeds, her secrets safe with her. Secrets. Mind the plural. The many that were hers alone. Cardamom tea when she would serve us all, we always knew, she'd broken a pod of her secrets. Their smell and taste almost pungent in the brown swirling liquid in front of us.
Have you seen cinnamon trees? Smelt their cinnamon smells? Chewed their cinnamon leaves? I have.
It was tree that didn't fit anywhere. Standing right in the middle of the pathway. The pathway accommodated it by curving around it. The mango trees with the passion fruit creepers entwined around them, lifted their roots and walked a few feet away one night. The two nutmeg trees- male and female, Mu would insist, together always. None of them anywhere near the cinnamon tree.
It was a mighty tree when I was young. Thick green leaves of serpentine curves. And on them thick green caterpillars, wooly and terribly itchy. It was an unfriendly tree alright.
But the taste of cinnamon... the warm and fragrant smell of your breath after you chewed the brown bark, drew me to it. Many a days Mu would rub balm on my swollen body, while I sat thinking darkly of ways to eliminate the fuzzy caterpillars, chewing meditatively at the curled quill of cinnamon in my mouth.
I'd cut off the bark at random reachable places. Shaving off the bark to reveal the pink grated skin of the tree, I'd pretend to ignore the gaping wound. But I always felt the pain of the tree. The sharp stinging pain which would spread in my mouth when I bit the bark. The cycles of punishment were always quick in my life. Swift and ruthless.