The garden lay in shadows; the sun had dipped below the top of the old mangosteen tree. The cool breeze was heavily scented with the jasmine blooms from the riotous border shrub, verdant green and white, interspersed with the subtler but more intoxicating ylang ylang from the massive tree next to the house.
The veranda was empty except for the white rattan and steel loungers. Wispy smoke curled lazily upward from the footed brass tray positioned neatly on the edge of the veranda. On the tray, seven different coloured and scented flowers, slices and whole kaffir limes, a brass bowl filled with water, and an empty spot that held a bowl of uncooked rice ringed a small earthen dish that bore the ember remains of the kemenyan.
A shadow passed by, carrying with it the scent of burnt incense and promises made in darkness.
Maria Callas was pouring out her heartbreak from the discreet speakers positioned to beautifully amplify the acoustics of the kitchen. The granite counter top under the bank of windows had been cleared, leaving only the gleaming coffeemaker and a porcelain jug filled with cheerful daisies and white chrysanthemums. The lacy curtains fluttered with the lazy evening breeze.
The air was fragrant with the scent of caramelising meat, the oven's lambent light illuminating the fowl reposing on the cast iron pan, sizzling in its juices. Turmeric and lemongrass bubbled in the creamy sauce on the stove. An old fashioned copper pot was steaming rice gently next to it. The simmering broth in the slow cooker released a rich, citrusy smell, invigorating and indolent.
The crystal plate on the kitchen island held crisp zucchini and carrot sticks, matte green long beans cut military-straight of equal length, crispy cabbage leaves sliced thin and curls of home made mung bean sprouts. In the center of the verdant arrangement was a matching bowl filled to the brim with peanut sauce; studded with crunchy nuts, sweetened with palm sugar to counter the heat from the chillies.
She stood at the sink methodically rinsing the pots and pans before placing them in the dishwasher. Her gauzy lilac kebaya was protected by an apron with The World’s Best Cook emblazoned on it, the floral embroideries draped over her ripe breasts water-stain free. Her full, sensuous hips were wrapped in Javanese batik carefully pleated and cinched with a silver belt, the dark hued cotton hitting mid ankle perfectly. Her dark hair was pulled back in a stark upswept do, held in place with silver combs. The quivering cucuk sanggul of intricate silver and garnet flowers from her mother-in-law completed the style. Her bare feet made no noise on the terracotta tiles except for the discreet clinks of the gleaming gold ankle rings, heavily chased with motifs of mythical beasts of the Nusantara.
The timer chimed, indicating that the fowl was done. She protected her hands with an old dish towel before retrieving the cast iron pan from the oven. The crispy skin of the bird were perfectly browned and crispy, the juices from the roast bubbling gently at the bottom with the marinade that had dripped from its flesh. The fowl was transferred to a chopping board, light from the overhead recessed lighting flashed on the cleaver as she dismembered it with skill. She arranged the roast on the silver trimmed ceramic dish, its fragile filigree belying its sturdiness. The gravy streamed into a matching boat from the ladle. She ground the Sumatran coffee beans, measured the water into the coffeemaker reservoir and turned it on. She sprinkled chopped cilantro on the soup in the tureen, the fresh herb adding a sparkle to the decadent fragrance in the kitchen.
All was set.
The steam from the overhead jets fogged the mirror. He stood under the stream, allowing the force of the pumped heated water to loosen the muscles of his shoulders and back. It seemed to him that the commute to and back from the office was taking longer and longer. He flexed both ankles and feet, trying to ease the cramp from driving.
He dried himself and walked out of the damp bathroom to find his clothes laid neatly on the bed. The cool cotton was comfortably loose. He cinched the drawstring, brushed his hair, and spritz a bit of the perfume she favoured on his neck.
The delicious aroma from the kitchen teased his nose as he hung his towel. The weariness from the day's drudge evaporated; he could feel the blood coursing energetically through his veins. The heavy teak door stayed open as he exited, following the scent trail.
She had put on her favourite gamelan album on the sound system. The bass-y notes of the brass instruments were soothing and atmospheric. The lighting in the dining room was turned low; the shadows dispelled by the strategically placed fat white candles. Her homemade potpourri provided the background notes of the aroma in the dining room. The table gleamed with mahogany polish underneath the Belgian lace draped over it, her best damask place setting protecting the fragile lace from the porcelain dishes over it.
Ice cubes clinked in the crystal goblets, fat condensation hugging the cool clear surface before sliding down because of its weight, obeying gravity. The cold liquid could not quench the thirst burning in him but he sipped anyway. Before seating him, she pulled him to the side board where the brass wisuhan was; her long fingers washing his, digit by digit, from base to tip. She pressed her thumb at the base of his, the heat it ignited was a lower hunger than the one induced by the dishes she had prepared.
He learned to eat with his fingers when he married her. She laughed at his earlier clumsy attempts and cheerfully kissed away the inevitable mess at the corners of his mouth. By now he was an expert, ignoring the subtle burn of the roasted fowl when he pinched the tender flesh, pulling it away from the bone. He swabbed the piece in its accompanying gravy, neatly balling it with the rice and vegetable before popping it into his mouth. He sipped the clear soup occasionally, the delicate balance of spice and cool lime clarifying the palate.
“Aren’t you having any rice?” he asked.
She had shaped the rice on his plate with a pleated bowl, but had none on her own.
“I’m on carbs reduction, dear,” she smiled, her curved lips wet with the sip of the liquid in the goblet. Her strong white teeth crunched on a carrot dripping with the peanut dip, her long tongue swiping an errant drop on her littlest finger. The raw vegetables contrasted with the creamy, spicy sweet dip and seemed to be the only thing that she was having.
In contrast, he was ravenous. The fluffy starchy grains of the perfectly cooked rice were a beautiful match to the rest of the dishes, balancing out the richness of flavours. Each chew was like a burst of delight on his tongue, each swallow decadent. She prepared his plate for each helping, refusing his assistance when she sashayed to the kitchen to add the rice. When his plate was clean, he licked his fingers, sucking each flavour to the last drop.
Again she washed his hand at the wisuhan. She poured the clean water slowly, using her soapy fingers to remove any oily residue on his hand. The massaging movement was strong yet gentle, and it aroused him beyond bearing. Her calm demeanour betrayed nothing as she gently patted his hand dry with clean linen, using an edge to wipe at his lips.
The meal ended with cups of fragrant black coffee and tiny pearlescent jellies and fruit. He sat still, sipping his coffee as she talked, her hands waving about gracefully. The meal had set in his belly comfortably, which was surprising considering the amount he had eaten. He watched her, and waited.
She rose from her chair and placed the dirty dishes on the sideboard. A tudung saji covered the leftovers.
His chair almost fell over in his haste to follow her.
He carefully crept out of bed and retrieved his laptop, and settled down on his favourite overstuffed wingback chair at the corner of their sitting room. His fingers trembled as he scrolled through the archived feed of their home security system.
He clicked on the outdoor cam folder and chose the backyard. The azure evil-dispelling eye from Turkey that hung over the veranda door hid a high definition camera. Impatiently he dragged the feed to the desired time, the sun moving across the sky and every movement captured by the camera moved at high speed in a comical manner silently. He paused at 1838 hours when she stepped out with the brass tray laden with the ritual offering. He slowed down the playback and savoured every movement on the screen.
The strike of the match to ignite the kemenyan.
The flare of the flame.
Her full lips moving as she chanted the incantation.
His heart was beating a staccato behind his sternum as she disrobed on screen, revealing the rich curves of her body, smooth skin gleaming in the low lights of the dying sun. Strong legs wide apart as she stepped over the brass tray, the smoke of the kemenyan writhing upwards to the apex of her thighs. She pushed a long strand behind her ear, her lips unceasing her chant as the kemenyan smoke stroked her between her legs and flowed down again to stroke over the white grains of the uncooked rice in the bowl.
He switched to the kitchen cam. She had prepped everything else except the rice. She measured the water over the grains with her long finger, and set the copper pot on the stove. It took an expert to cook rice on a stove top with not a single grain dry or singed. He could still recall the taste of the fat, fluffy rice; a hint of salt to flavour the steamy starchy aroma. The chicken and gravy and vegetable were also perfectly done, but he could only remember the texture of the rice, sliding smoothly down his throat.
“Do you want the key, baby?”
The head on his shoulders and between his legs jerked upwards. Her tall firm figure was silhouetted by the light from the dressing room that she often left on low. His mouth went dry.
“Yes, Mistress.” He wanted to shift his genitals to a more comfortable position but knew that it was pointless. Besides, she could see him do it and may decide to keep the key a lot longer. Anticipation and hard won submission stayed his hand.
“Then put your toy away and come here. You have been a bad, bad boy, haven’t you?” she murmured and turned away. Obedient, he rose, the Macbook abandoned on a side table and followed her.
p/s It was my writing circle pals' idea for the nasi kangkang reinvention. You may thank them for it. The writing prompt: A sensual meal.