Wednesday, 11 February 2015

As Though I Had Just Solved Fermat's Last Theorem

I was considering all of this while making dinner when the Professor suddenly appeared. Usually, when he was wrestling with a problem, I hardly saw him. I wasn't sure whether I would be interrupting his thinking if I spoke to him, so I continued seeding the peppers and peeling the onions. He walked over, leaned against the counter, folded his arms, and stood there staring at my hands. I felt awkward with him watching me, so I went to get some eggs out of the refrigerator, and a frying pan.

"Did you need something?" I asked at last, no longer able to stand the silence.

"No, go on," he said. His tone was reassuring. "I like to watch you cook," he added.

I wondered if the problem had proven so difficult his brain had blown a fuse - but I broke the eggs into a bowl and beat the with my chopsticks. I went on stirring after the spices had dissolved and the lumps were gone, only stopping when my hand had grown numb.

"Now what are you going to do?" he asked quietly.

"Well...," I said, "next..., uh, I have to fry the pork." The Professor's sudden appearance had disrupted my usual routine.

"You are not going to cook the eggs now?"

"No, it's best to let them sit, so the spices blend in."

We were alone. Root was off playing in the park. The afternoon sun divided the garden into patches of shadow and dappled light. The air was still and the curtain hung limply by the open window. The Professor was watching me with the intense stare he normally reserved for math. His pupils were so black they looked transparent, and his eyelashes seemed to quiver with each breath. He was gazing at my hands which were only a few feet away, but he might have been staring off into distant space. I dusted the pork fillets in flour and arranged them in the pan.

"Why do you have to move them around like that?"

"Because the temperature at the centre of the pan is higher than at the edges. You have to move them every so often to cook them evenly."

He nodded as if I had just revealed a great secret. The aroma of cooking meat drifted up between us.

I sliced some peppers and onions for the salad and made an olive oil dressing. Then I fried the eggs. I had planned to sneak some grated carrot into the dressing, which now proved impossible with the Professor watching me. He said nothing, but he seemed to hold his breath while I cut the lemon peel in the shape of a flower. He leaned in closer as I mixed the vinegar and oil, and I thought I heard him sigh when I set the piping hot omelette on the counter.

"Excuse me," I said at last, unable to control my curiosity. "But I'm wondering what you find so interesting."

"I Like to watch you cook," he said again. He unfolded his arms and looked out the window for the spot where the evening star would appear. Then he went back to his study without a sound. The setting sun shone on his back as he walked away.

I looked at the food I had just finished preparing and then at my hands. Sautéed pork garnished with lemon, a salad and a soft yellow omelette. I studied the dishes, one by one. They were all perfectly ordinary, but they looked delicious - satisfying food at the end of a long day. I looked at my palms again, suddenly with an absurd sense of satisfaction, as though I had just solved Fermat's Last Theorem.

(Yoko Ogawa, The Housekeeper and The Professor)

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