You Will Always Need Coriander
The three sisters peeled off their black mourning capes. None spoke. Their capes had more chemistry as they collided midair above what was once their mother’s bed, their pillow against the world. It was now five days since they’d all been home at their late mother’s house to plan for the funeral. Neither reached out for an embrace. No mouth shared a word of comfort though there were no thorns in their voices and no blades on their tongues. Grief swayed in front of their faces like a sad jelly.
As they ambled to the kitchen, they exchanged hollow stares, their eyes puffy, but no tears. Zelda walked ahead of the sisters, her gait straight like her hips had a rod controlling their sway. Like dazed moths the other two sisters copied her. Ley, eyes tracking faint lines on the shiny wooden floor smashed into Zelda who had stopped on the doorway. Siso stepped aside avoiding the collision. No apologies. No words. The three sisters stood there each turning their nose, faces contorted. Then without exchanging words, Zelda dashed to the vegetable rack and pulled four potatoes. Ley paused watching then rushed to the metallic combo fridge and winced as frost zapped her fingers. She pulled out a clear freezer bag and counted six chicken thighs. When she lifted her head, Siso was waiting with a large silver bowl.
For nearly 12 minutes they stood side-by-side around the bluish kitchen table with silver legs. Zelda peeled potatoes, Siso chopped carrots, and Ley minced onion with garlic. When Zelda was done she helped Siso with the carrots.
When Ley fished the chicken thighs from the microwave, now defrosted she ran them under cold water in the sink below the only window in the kitchen. Looking out the window into the plots where their mother grew most of her vegetables, something she called the therapy of the soul, memories bubbled in Ley. She thought of the times they used to pull mama's carrots before they were ripe. She remembered the times tata would chase them among the corn stalks near the vegetable plots. It was there in the vegetable plots where she broke her front tooth when her foot got tangled among pumpkin stems and she tripped and fell. It was Zelda who carried her to this kitchen where mama was cleaning beans. It was Siso who ran behind mama’s car with a wool hat just in case Ley got cold at the hospital. As she looked at the green world outside with all sorts of grey little bugs and animals and an afternoon sky parting for more light, all she could see was three little girls running around, playing icekwa and only worried about not dirtying their clothes too much for mama would have smacked their buttocks.
"It's fine now," it was Zelda, arms stretched out toward her sisters. She grabbed Ley by both shoulders and moved her to the side and closed the tap just as the sink started filling up having been blocked by the pieces of meat that had fallen off Ley’s hands. Siso was pulling out pots from the cupboard, her behind brushing against Ley's right leg. All three of them were back together, in the tight corner of the kitchen were mama always fed them, and scolded them. This was the same kitchen where the girls traded love stories and nursed one another’s wounds, and plotted against boys with their mouths full so mama couldn’t understand their words.
Siso placed a large black pot on the stove. Ley grabbed the vegetable oil as Zelda marinated the chicken thighs in curry powder. The pan now oiled, Ley’s eyes darted about the kitchen. Zelda lifted the bowl full of chicken to her nose and sniffed it.
“You will always need coriander,” Siso said the first three words, but all three of them completed the sentence.
The chicken now marinated and also sprinkled in coriander, each of the sisters grabbed a piece and dropped it in the hot oil. With each drop of the chicken, with each sizzle, the aroma of curry and coriander overpowered their noses and hearts.
When all six pieces were in the pot, Ley pulled out a letter from her pocket and handed it to Zelda who looked at her sisters then nodded. Siso grabbed a matchbox, lit the paper up over the silver bowl that earlier held marinated chicken. They watched it turn from white to orange to black and then just flaky ashes.
Zelda jostled past her sisters and rummaged in the drawer next to the one where mama kept her knives. That drawer was always stuffed with neatly folded grocery store bags. She dug out bags, some landing on the black ceramic floor. She darted about and from the fridge and grabbed casseroles and pies and stuffed them in the bags. The other two sisters joined in, tidying up the kitchen of what felt foreign, un-mama like – all the food the white neighbors had brought for the funeral, all the food with blandness even a child couldn’t swallow.
Back at the stove, Ley grabbed a fork and carefully turned the chicken pieces. She didn’t know how long the chicken had been browning, but it felt right to turn it now. Mama had taught them that you never time food, you cook until it feels right, ready.
It was as if mama was back in the kitchen with them. As the sizzle grew louder, as the aroma became more flavorful, Ley could feel the kitchen pushing out their silences and replacing their loneliness. Above the stove, in the kitchen that once was their center, the sisters found their center. Their laughter grew louder with the background of the sizzle on the stove.
Though back to milk from SIUE as a student in the English department, Lindani obtained an MFA: Creative Writing in May 2022. As a Black South Afrikan, Lindani grew up with lessons embedded in stories. Learning through the wisdom of animals and humans was at the center of her life. She hopes to continue the tradition of storytelling by encouraging her children to be imaginative and to tell their own stories.