Yeah, mincemeat, and he had about 10 kilograms of it. He couldn’t very well eat it all and he didn’t know what to do with it. And he didn’t know how he came by it either. He could give it to Farid, but then he would be suspicious and was very likely to feed it to his pigs. Or, he could give it to Karim Chacha, his landlord, who had a large family to feed (Allah be Praised!). But for days his four wives would squabble over how to cook it and the whole stairway in their narrow, ramshackle building would smell. He could give it to the beggars that lined the noisy street to the mosque, but they would grumble they had nowhere to cook it.
Yet, there the meat lay, succulent, red and fatty—undecided, waiting, redolent; twiddling its thumbs as if, waiting for Kemal to take a call. The early morning flies had begun to discover the juicy dish lying in the huge copper cauldron in his tiny rooftop kitchen, and were fast gathering in a musical hum outside, looking for cracks in the netted window so that they could move in for the feast. Kemal had covered the pot with a newspaper and placed a small pebble atop it—so the meat was safe for now. But the sun was rising, the Maulvi was clearing his throat, and if he didn’t decide fast, in the pitiless heat of the summer the meat would soon turn bad as he didn’t even own a fridge. Kemal sat at the end of his jute charpoy outside his small rooftop room and gripped his aching head in his hands, and wondered what to do.
As full of ideas as the blank, gaping sky, or the stuffy day of a merciful breeze, Kemal decided to wash, and deal with the problem at Haji’s Tea Point over a kick ass breakfast of sooji halwa and poori-sabzi. A practical man, who kept careful, rather secretive accounts concerning customers like Kemal who ate mostly on credit, Haji was sure to know what to do.
“Could you accept 10 kg’s of good mince mutton in lieu of my credit?” Kemal whispered, out of earshot of a nearby patron who seemed to be leaning in, as Haji poured him piping hot masala chai in a clay teacup. Kemal brought the teacup to his nose to inhale the rich bouquet of cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon mixed with earth, before sipping loudly from it.
“This is a vegetarian establishment, chump,” Haji replied, swatting him with a flourish of his sweat towel. “And where did you come by so much mincemeat?” he wondered aloud, moving on.
“A friend left it…” Kemal’s voice trailed, as Haji had already reached behind the sweetmeat counter, where he sat gravely on his seat and became engrossed in swatting flies. That was that—he wasn’t going to get any help from that scourge of the humble housefly.
“Subhan Allah,” Kemal said after finishing the sumptuous meal; caressing his belly, he burped loudly in appreciation of the repast the good Lord had favored him with. Gesturing expansively to Haji to note down his bill, he walked out into the hot day.
The street was quickly coming to life: pushcart men shouted out for junk bottles, rags; old buggies and carts worked up a mean cloud of dust, and the clear sky was beginning to cloud up with soot rising from the tanneries and dyeing shops. He sauntered along until he came to the small corner store. The store lady, a widow, who had disappeared behind a maze of sacks and barrels, returned presently with a bag of flour and a broom for another customer who was already waiting.
He salaamed and said pleasantly when she turned to him: “Fix me a paan, Ammi Jaan.”
She grinned at him, revealing a row of cracked, betel-stained teeth. After spreading slaked lime, areca nuts, and tobacco on the soaked betel leaf, she deftly folded it and handed him the paan.
“Umm,” Kemal mumbled with satisfaction, admiring in a rusty mirror hanging on the sidewall his kohled eyes and under his sharp mustache lips red with the overflowing betel juice. “Your store seems wanting in custom this morning,” he observed.
“In custom, or in a particular customer,” she quipped.
“Barak Allah Fik! May the blessings be upon you! To whom you allude, I know not, but you do jest me this fine morning.”
“I do not trifle with my business, Kemal Mian—do I tot this up in your account, as usual?” She scowled as he casually reached for a packet of Gold Flake and matches, and lighting a cigarette, replaced the merchandise in his kurta pocket. ”Or am I going to see some hard cash here—rare as the moon of Eid?”
“You well know my situation, Ammi Jaan...” he answered, lacing up his talk with the sweetness of gulqand, the preserve of rose-petals that Ammi tucked liberally into her paans. “ Eid is just four days away, and that is the blessed day I’m going to seek Fatima’s hand in marriage from that miser of a Maulvi.”
“You can’t pay me four annas for this paan, but you can pay him a fortune in dowry,” she rued, tying her hair in a bun and rolling up her sleeves, readying as if, for a scrap.
“I’ve been saving—whatever a humble clerk working in a leather factory can make. I promise you, Ammi, I will repay you from my first salary after Eid.” He paused for a minute. “Would you like 10 kg’s of the finest mincemeat instead?”