Once upon a time…
Coriander. Cardamom. Turmeric. Saffron. Most of the spices and herbs were clearly labelled. They had little handwritten notes tied around the necks of their glass shakers. Yet, one bottle sat apart from the others. It was a tiny, crystalline thing that held some sort brown or yellow substance that Dan couldn’t place. He watched Salina use the unlabelled bottle multiple times as she prepared the meal. He meticulously counted when and where she sprinkled that container, particularly wary of its contents. Dan feared she might poison him.
Salina swayed and hummed in front of the stove, narrating her recipe as she went. She spoke over her shoulder about onion and cumin and tomato and the like. The clanging of spoons and cast-iron pans drowned out her voice, but it all went over Dan’s head anyway. He was never much of a cook.
He sat at Salina’s kitchen table watching steam plume over her head. She was making Masoor Dal because she found out it was Dan’s favourite since his adventures throughout India and the Orient. How she figured that out, he would never know – but she was right.
She opened all the windows, yet her little cottage remained awash with all the spicy aromas. The dried chilies simmered; Dan tasted them in the air and his mouth began to water. Salina was the perfect complement to her little broiling kitchen. Swaying her hips in a tattered apron, isolated amongst the trees with her cast iron artillery. She grew her own peppers out the front and a row of pumpkins trailed down the side of the house. Their aromas mingled with the other ingredients in the pot and danced about the kitchen, teasing all of Dan’s senses. He straightened his shirt, hoping he wasn’t too overdressed for the occasion.
“Just a minute more,” she sang out, stirring the pot. “I meant to have it ready when you arrived.”
“Well, I was early.”
“That you were.” She laughed.
She must have thought Dan was particularly eager to see her, and really he was. He desperately wanted to arrive in time to watch her cook. It wasn’t often that Salina invited people all the way out here. They had been neighbours for a long while, so long as an eight-kilometre distance was still considered neighbourly. Dan had an apartment in the village, while Salina lived up in the mountains. They met every so often in town. Everyone knew of Miss Salina who enjoyed alpine living. But no one really knew her.
The kids in town called her a witch because she always wore a long, burgundy cloak and had a crooked nose. According to Salina, she’d earned the crooked nose from an enthusiastic high school hockey game. The cloak, she admitted to wearing simply to aggravate the rumours of her deals with the devil. She found her reputation for dark magic rather amusing.
Wouldn’t that be the perfect acquittal? Hiding it in plain sight?
In any case, Dan felt a little silly for indulging such antiquated beliefs. He mentioned to a friend that he was off to Salina’s for dinner and she threw a fit, convinced Dan would be lured to the woods and spoon-fed some kind of love potion. He laughed at the notion and told the florist about the accusation when he picked up the flowers, and he said he agreed! He looked Dan square in the face and told him Salina was planning to steal his heart. Dan couldn’t quite tell if he was joking, but the baker told Dan the same thing when he went out the day before. They all said Miss Salina would cook his favourite meal, then slip in a potion and steal his heart.
Dan decided it was ludicrous to believe in witches, and he arrived nice and early to watch Salina prepare the meal, just to be sure.
Salina served the dal on two plates, all the while humming a tune reminiscent of Hollywood’s heyday. It was fitting. Salina often moved like a movie star through the village. She turned heads, and not just for her isolation and magical mysteriousness. There was a glow about her, almost like a halo in the sunlight. Her feet danced and her eyes sparkled as if a camera was always pointed at her. Her humming was also endearing and Dan secretly wished she would sing something.
Leaving the unlabelled bottle by the spice rack, Salina slid a shallow, steaming dish of naan, yogurt, and pickles onto the table. It all smelled overwhelmingly divine. She threw her apron on a hook in the kitchen and sat across from Dan with a smile. Inhaling the scent, Dan thought the mystery spice must have taken some effect. In the back of his mind, he grew wary of Salina – the closer she came, the lovelier she seemed. The poison was certainly stealing Dan’s heart already.
“So what do you do up here?” he blurted out, stalling the commencement of the meal. He really had no plan to avoid whatever potion Salina had in store, but the least he could do was hesitate.
“You’re looking at it,” she smiled, helping herself to the dish. “I grow and I cook. I have a few customers in town that I visit twice a week. And at night I dance around naked in the woods summoning demons to thwart my enemies.” Salina mocked the wide gesture of a witch casting a spell. Dan gingerly chuckled along when he finally realised she was joking.
“What do you do in town?” she asked.
“I’m a fixer.”
“Really? What do you fix?”
“Whatever people break, I guess.”
She laughed again. Dan felt relieved because he wasn’t typically amusing. Looking at Dan expectantly, she waited for him to eat. Dan obliged. The comforting texture and intoxicating aroma. Spices danced around his palate. The heat slapped his nerve receptors and the sweet aftertaste teased his every temptation for more.
“Do you like it?” she beamed.
“It’s absolutely delicious.”
“So I won’t have to drop a house on you after all,” she laughed, “I wanted to impress you.”
Dan set his fork down and met her eye. She leaned forward in her seat, gaze burrowing into his soul. “Impress me?” he repeated, utterly enchanted.
It must have been that unlabelled poison; Dan concluded Salina was a marvel. He hardly concerned himself with the witchery in the food. It was too late now, anyway. He felt affected only by Salina’s gaze. The magic of ancient days couldn’t hold a candle to the lure of her eyes. They held the wonderful darkness of the forest. The mystique of the towering trees and slithering brush lived in her as much as she lived in it. Dan loved how her crooked nose accented her smile. She spoke of the mountain and the history of it all. He tried to comprehend but somehow felt outside of himself. He couldn’t tear himself from the wonder of her voice.
Dan’s heart fluttered, and he instantly worried about the effects of the potion. Would she steal it now? Dan threw all caution to the wind. He no longer cared. He was now hers.
They cleared the table, but Dan couldn’t leave just yet. Salina procured a little, battery-powered radio with a long antenna. She flicked it on, and a crackled rendition of ‘Lady in Red’ rang out. Dan offered to dance. She obliged. Salina placed her hands on Dan’s shoulders, and he wrapped his arms around her waist. They twirled through the little kitchen on their toes. Dan felt light on his feet, floating, hovering. He couldn’t let her go for a good, long while. He suddenly wondered at the authenticity of the feeling. What if it was all just persuasion? A potion? A poison?
“Salina?” he said softly.
“I meant to ask—what was in that bottle? The unlabelled one?”
“Oh?” She turned to spot the bottle by the stove. Picking it up, she uncorked it and took a dubious sniff. “Mustard seed. The tangy kind.”
Mustard seed? Dan laughed but did not tell her why. She had seasoned the dal with mustard seed. “Salina, I’d like to see you again soon.”
“I would like that. Glad I impressed,” she grinned, placing her hands on Dan’s shoulders once again.
They danced to the warble of the radio. As the songs grew dimmer, their dancing devolved into a light sway. The deep of night encroached and, confirming every rumour, Salina cast a wonderful spell over Dan, swiftly and gracefully stealing his heart.
“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”
— Marie Curie
Moral of the Story:
Have you heard the latest? How could someone do that? Even with the limited information of rumours, we make guesses and draw conclusions. When something important and newsworthy happens, we rarely get the whole story at first. This is true of national and local news, and it’s also true in our personal lives. We hear some correct and some incorrect details. More information slowly comes to light. People spread rumors and innuendos. They make suggestions, and we can’t help but follow those suggestions to their implied conclusions. However, some of our original conclusions will be wrong. Eventually, we’ll hear more details and some may contradict our mistaken assumptions and conclusions. When this happens, do you then correct your beliefs?
We all make mistakes and mistaken beliefs may continue to guide your thoughts and decisions. Unortunately, people tend to stick with discredited information – even when they can accurately recall facts that mean the original information was wrong (just look at the massive cognitive dissonance during the scamdemic). This is the power of rumour and innuendo. There are countless cases of mainstream media putting out false stories, only to quietly redact them at a later date – when the damage has already been done. You can lead people to certain conclusions through suggestions and partial information. Once they have followed the implications to the obvious conclusion, that conclusion tends to stick. Discrediting the incorrect rumours and providing more complete information isn’t enough to get people to change their beliefs. People also fear what they don‘t understand because of a chance to get hurt. People fear being vulnerable and choose comfort instead. Fear is also born from lack of knowledge and being too ignorant. The key to overcome fear of not understanding is to have an open mind and to always do your own research.
“Always remember… Rumours are carried by haters, spread by fools, and accepted by idiots.”
Affirmation: I am naturally fearless!
I am willing to release my fears because I live and move in a safe and secure world. I free myself from all destructive fears and doubts. I trust my intuition and always do my research before coming to a conclusion. I rise above thoughts that attempt to make me angry or afraid. I release the past with ease and trust the process of life. I am willing to release the need for this protection. I am now willing to see only my magnificence. I have the power to make changes and my mind and heart are open. I am always divinely protected. I can handle anything that comes my way. My setbacks make me stronger. Being confident comes naturally to me. I easily stay persistent and push through setbacks. I naturally persist when things get tough. Staying positive and learning from failure helps me to achieve massive success. People look to me for confident leadership when things get rough. Being positive and motivated is normal. Gaining strength from difficulty is something I do naturally. I always succeed in spite of setbacks.
“We reveal most about ourselves when we speak about others.”