Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Birthday Party

Stop your crying it will be all right
Just take my hand, hold it tight
I will protect you from all around you
I will be here, don't you cry
For one so small, you seem so strong
My arms will hold you, keep you safe and warm
This bond between us can't be broken
I will be here, don't you cry
Cos you'll be in my heart
Yes, you'll be in my heart
From this day on
now and forevermore
You'll be in my heart
No matter what they say
You'll be here in my heart

I watched her holding the white ball of fur in her lap and trying to stifle her sobs. It felt like a bad omen. They had come rushing in to the vet hospital before it opened. Emergency. The husband got out the car and rushed up the door. The caretaker answered. She had been sitting in the car, the injured doggie in her lap. He ran back to the car and took it off her. The caretaker, who had told me to wait till 10 before I could come in (or the small crowd of others who had already gathered outside the veterinary hospital) opened the door and let them in. The white Pomeranian dog in his arms regarded us all gravely, blood flowing from his nose, while his mistress dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.

One of the vets got in early and went to see to them. But I guess there was nothing to be done. It was easy to underestimate the seriousness of the injuries, seeing the dog's demeanour. He barely flinched. You could only tell from the crumpled, grief-ravaged face of his mistress.

I passed her, taking Arnold upstairs for his major surgery. It was hard not to look, thus intruding into her private grief. It was hard not to stop and say, I'm so sorry. I know how you feel. She held the now lifeless body, the beautiful white fur, evidence of a dog, much-loved, much-cherished, well taken care off. One instant. And it was gone.

How could something we loved so much disappear in an instant? Surely love is enough to keep it alive? If the love is big enough? If the love is strong enough?



The vet indicated a cage and we both had to stuff Arnold into it. He didn't want to go and began to fight. But there was nothing I could do. Major surgery. Deep incisions. They would be going into his ear to see what was happening. Wherefore the pus?

Dr Prem was downstairs and I waited to talk to him. I wanted to know when they were going to do the surgery. The sight of the little dog now dead had shaken me up.

What if Arnold?

Better not to think of it.

Dr Prem took me into the examining room and drew a diagram to explain what they were going to do to my boy. He said the case had been treated as an infection before. But it looked like there was something else going on here. And if it was a tumour, it would be better to put him to sleep.

Otherwise he would suffer.

He told me about a beautiful golden retriever, Marshall, who had had tumour. They removed it. The operation was a success. It came back and swelled his face up. He didn't look like Marshall anymore. Finally his owner allowed him to be put to sleep.

This is not the kind of thing you tell me on a night of no sleep after what I'd just witnessed. My nerves, never good in the early morning, deserted me altogether. I cried all the way home.

What I actually wanted to do was stay with him until the surgery and then through it, and then after it, when he came round.

What I did do was rush back to the bakery shop, the chicken shop, the Chinese sinseh, the Jaya Grocers, to get all the stuff I had forgotten to get yesterday. Then it was back home to mix the cake and throw it into the oven. Thank goodness I had cut up most of the stuff yesterday.

But still. Eight dishes. And the cake (which was supposed to have been baked yesterday but wasn't because of gas fiasco). And all the time, my heart heavy from what was happening to my dog. I didn't want him to die. I didn't want to have to put him to sleep. I wanted him around.

My dog.

I prayed fervently that none of my emotions were going into the food. At least not the grief. Maybe the love. Yeah, the love was OK. The first layer of lemon curd cake was in the oven. And I was heating the curd in a saucepan over a pot of boiling water, allowing it to thicken slowly.

This is what it looked like done.

Yes, and next the butter prawns. Irony is that Chubs doesn't like prawns. This would be for everyone else. It was the quickest dish to make. Butter prawns. Yes. Lemon curd thickening. First layer came out still wet (I had doubled the portions to make a bigger cake and it was taking longer to bake - maybe I should have done three rather than two layers. Oh well, too late now). Put it back in the oven for another 15 minutes.

Then, the ingredients for the asparagus belachan I had cut yesterday (except for the small dried prawns which needed to soak for 30 minutes) went into the blender. Out of the blender and into the oil, fry it a bit and then add asparagus and some water. Yes, yes, that was soon done.

And then put the stuff together for the herbed potatoes. I decided to saute the potatoes before baking (turned out to be a bad idea - next time I'll just boil the potatoes before baking - anything to make it softer). While it baked, I blended the ingredients for the Portuguese baked fish. Add the chilli powder and finely-cut lime leaves and fry...then take out the fish that had been thawing in the sink, separate the flesh from the backbone and lay it out flat, make incisions, and cover the whole thing with the sauce. Wrap it in a banana leaf and then in aluminum foil. Stuff into the oven. The third and last thing to bake today.

And then, ah, time for the vindaloo. In fact chicken vindaloo and lemon curd cake were the only things Chubs actually asked for. Dadda has insisted that we use two chickens instead of one. He said there would be 15 people turning up. Not enough food. (I don't know how he figured there wouldn't but anyway had gotten the second chicken). Problem now was that the ingredients I had chopped up would be enough for only one. Nothing for it. Chop chop again. Dadda helped slice the shallots and I did the garlic, ginger and pounded the mustard seeds in no time. So. Two batches of chicken vindaloo.

Then it was time for the rice. I had decided on two types. Saffron rice and paella. I had gone to great lengths to find actual saffron threads (not easily available) and so, OK, saute the onions, boil some saffron threads in chicken stocks with a sprinkle of thyme.

OK tired now. Really tired.

And there's still the paella.

By this time, Julie, who had gone out for lunch was back with her boyfriend. They went out to get some soft drinks and beer and then came back to help. Clean. There was a LOT of cleaning to be done.

Shan hovered over the dishes sniffing. He helped transfer it into the cheap cheap dishes I had bought the day before (when I suddenly realised that it would be no go as we didn't have any serving dishes from which people could ladle the stuff).

As I was still busy with the paella, the guests had started to arrive. There had been some confusion about the time, but dutifully before six, they trooped in. Chubs wasn't even here yet. Busy with work, and waiting for his new washing machine and fridge to arrive, he was nowhere to be seen. He arrived soon after and parked at the back. Yes, parking did present a bit of a problem, what with all the cars. He lingered on in the car, talking to (I think) his girlfriend, and finally came in with the serving plates I had requested, a box of cupcakes (one of the presents from his girlfriend with little Liverpool emblems, footballs and Baby Baby Baby on them - tickled him pink).

Anyways, I could the rise and fall of voices in the hall as Chubs went to greet his public. Julie ran to serve the drinks, Shan lingered in the kitchen helping me. Finally the paella was bubbling away merrily. I sent Shan to have a shower. Then it was me. Then Julie. We were all filthy from the cooking and cleaning and not guest-worthy.

Apparently Chubs hadn't had any lunch and was starving. He wanted to eat (esp the vindaloo) before he cut his cake. My cousin Godfrey's kids, were starving too. Godfrey's wife, Shyamala, had come to the kitchen to watch as I made the paella (having a Jennifer moment when I started to wail for my missing cumin and turmeric powder, ranting at my Dadda for cleaning the stuff up without asking me, sending Julie to look frantically everywhere - turned out it was right next to the oven. Within touching distance. So of course, Julie had to regale Shan with another Jennifer story about the time she was late for college and had been looking everywhere for her watch while I lay on the bed watching her - turned out I had been wearing her watch. And my watch. In fact, two watches. Without noticing)

So the party began. The eating part at least. The guests kept saying, I don't believe you made all of this yourself. Yourself? Alone? (To be fair, Dadda cut up some potatoes, and the aforementioned shallots) He would have done more but I had sent him away because I had done most of the chopping the night before, and he would only get in my way now).

They loved most of the dishes (I told you, the herbed potatoes didn't turn out so well, though it smelt heavenly).

A selection of dishes:

My sister and her boyfriend posing with the food

Chubs blowing out his candles

I was too tired to eat so I picked at my food on the plastic plates Julie had thoughtfully bought, with the plastic fork. I liked the paella. But don't ask me for a commentary on the other dishes. They must have been nice. People came for second helpings.

Then Chubs cut his cake and everyone took a slice of that and loved it.

Some of the guests doggie-bagged food. Uncle Eldred (Dadda's youngest brother) asked to take some paella. Auntie Saro took vindaloo. Chubs took a whole portion of vindaloo. He said he would eat it at home with bread. After all, he had his new fridge now. He was supposed to take birthday cake, but he left that. No problem. Julie, Dadda and I have been scarfing it.

When everyone had departed to the hall clutching their plates with their first helping off food, my phone rang. It was Dr Prem to tell me the results of the operation. The previous owner had removed Arnold's ear canal. Now you don't remove ear canals unless there was something seriously wrong. There was a lot of fibrous tissue there, which they had removed. But they would have to go deeper to see if there was anything really wrong. They had to stop because the little dog had been under for one and a half hours. But he was fine. Coming out of it. I could come see him tomorrow and Dr Prem wanted to have a chat with me about him.

I sipped some more Coke, feeling my heart lightening. At any rate, they hadn't found a tumour yet. I could go see my doggie tomorrow. As for now, I just wanted to pass out.

The guests left. Shan and Julie cleaned up. I crawled into bed, jeans and all, and fell asleep.

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