Life for Beginners

Stories by Kenny Mah   |   Live Everything

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“Because the night”

Patti Smith tells us that the night belongs to lovers. When you are tired or I am ailing, the night belongs to us watching over each other.

You have jetlag, you say. One night you turn in early; another has you staying up till early morn. Tonight I’m under the weather, I say. Fatigued. I’ll get in bed, I say, and read a book. I have A.S. Byatt’s Angels & Insects to cuddle up with.

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This is a blessing

A year before

We rise early in the morning. It’s a working day.

I get up first and switch off the air conditioner. I head into the bathroom and squeeze toothpaste onto both of our toothbrushes. I pull you out of bed and we brush our teeth together, your eyes still half-closed, slowly waking.

I finish before you and head out to the kitchen. I take the lemons out of the fridge and cut a few slices. I drop a couple of them into your water bottle for you to bring to the office, so you can have fresh lemon-flavoured water all day.

You’ve read somewhere that drinking water infused with fresh lemon juice will help you lose weight. I had rolled my eyes when you initially told me but still I prepare your drink while you do some stretches in the living room every morning. And like clockwork, I always chuckle and say, “Don’t sprain yourself.”

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Divinity

I am in my friend Sapna’s kitchen as she prepares a meal fit for Diwali. A meal made from the heart for family and friends. A meal that shines with light and love.

She tells me that in Goa, where she grew up, very little oil is used. Coconut vinegar is also called toddy there and it’s much sweeter than the acids we are used to. “It’s the Portuguese influence, you see,” she says. “In Kerala, where I was born, it’s all about fresh ingredients, very little spices and no vinegar at all. But in Goa, the Portuguese brought vinegar and food could be fermented.”

I love the stories she tells as she cooks.

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“I told you so.”

“This one is not her first boyfriend,” my sister sniffs, usually a warning that she’s about to start, “this boy’s her second one. And she’s only nineteen!”

I want to say “And how old were you when you had your second, your third boyfriend?” but I keep mum, for I know the answer and I know it will not please her.

Instead I listen to her worries about her daughter and her woes as a mother patiently. I nod at the right places. I hum an “Mm-hmm” or two under my breath. I can imagine my eldest niece rolling her eyes. I’m tempted to do the same but this would be unwise while my sister is still at it.

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Wordlessly

We have been hitting one café after another in Amsterdam. First Espressofabriek where yogis and yoginis practise in the park opposite, stopping only when the rains come; then Quartier Putain, so named after the red light district; Koko, a sunlit boutique where fashion and cappuccinos mingle; and now we are at White Label, where there is a map of the world with coffee tags attached to countries from which the beans are sourced.

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