• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 11
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A Good Meal

Hanna says she has prepared a meal and urges me to sit on the rickety sofa. There’s a small rose-patterned shiny-plastic plate on the low table in front of me. I pick it up and mime eating. ‘Mm,’ I say, ‘delicious.’

She rummages in her little cupboard and throws me an annoyed glance over her shoulder. ‘There’s nothing on the plate, silly. I’m getting it ready.’

I give her a quiet nod and wonder what she’s up to. That time we were at Aunt Mai’s, Hanna picked us all these green shoots from the garden. I thought we’d have a nibble to humour her just a little, but Mai kept on eating whole leaves, stuffing them between her nicotine-stained lips, so I started to think she was getting on a bit, perhaps not quite there anymore, when suddenly Mai slapped a green stem right out of my hand.

‘That’s hemlock,’ she said. ‘Poisonous.’

‘I cooked them, so they’re not poison anymore,’ Hanna protested and dug at the ground with her sandaled foot. But Mai told her to wash her hands and come sit with us.

Now, Hanna places a black blob on my plate.

‘What is it?’

‘It’s coal.’ She smiles so widely I can count all the gaps in her mouth.

‘First you are bad and then you eat coal and become good.’ She has one hand on her flat hip.


A Good Meal

The blob smells oily, and I can see her little fingerprints all over it. Under her observant eyes, I take a bite, tearing a chunk off its claggy surface. The bitter lump circles in my mouth. I force myself to swallow.

‘Good,’ Hanna says, ‘I need to do the main course now.’

I hide the rest of the blob underneath my jumper.

She brings me a plate covered in pale worms.

‘It’s pasta,’ she says, ‘your favourite.’

I wish very small sandwiches with only a slice of tomato and a basil leaf were my favourite instead. The noodle doesn’t require much chewing though. It slides down my throat, leaving a slightly plasticky taste.

‘I have to tidy up,’ Hanna says, sounding forty years more tired than she should be.

I stuff the noodles underneath my jumper. She comes back and looks at the plate approvingly.  

‘And now,’ she says, ‘we have desert.’ She pulls an orange ball from her pocket and places it in front of me. I poke at its surface, harder and shinier than any plasticine. There’s a green shoot at its very top, with two large leaves.


A Good Meal

‘How did you make that?’

Hanna smiles. I pick up the fruit and sniff its citrusy fragrance.

‘I just wanted it to be true,’ she says and watches me dig my fingernail into the thick peel. I remove the white bits and give her half. She bites into it, letting the juice run down her chin. Underneath my jumper, I can feel something hard and something slimy-soft.