Excerpt of The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther
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A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear;
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.
W. H. Auden
Strange not to know that youre alive or even that youre about to die.
Thats what it must have been like for my unborn baby. Id been kicked in
the guts by my young cousin, as I hauled him back from trying to jump over
the bridges railings into the cold green water rushing out to sea. My
mothers scream rang in my ears as she ran toward us and the world froze:
the churn of the Thames at high tide, the rumble of going-home school
traffic and the tremble of the bridge. In that moment, my baby started to
And then the world unfroze. The traffic rolled by as if nothing had
happened, and my cousin, Saeed, and I clung together on the pavement. When
my mother finally reached us, she hauled Saeed to his feet, shook him hard,
and shouted in Farsi so that I half expected him to make another run for the
hungry river. But it had claimed its life for the day. Saeed looked at his
feet. My mother shook her open palms at him and the sky, and asked what she
or his dead mother had done that he should treat his life so lightly. Only
when she stopped for breath did she turn to see the spreading bloodstain on
my pale blue skirt.
Oh, Sara. She knelt on the wet pavement. Saeed, find her phone. She
pushed my rucksack toward him and out, onto the bridge, fell the rest of my
life: my school books for marking, sixth-form essays on Othello and
Desdemona, an apple, a bottle of folic acid tablets, cherry lip salve, my
diary, a small photo album, and, beneath it all, my phone. One of them
dialed 999 and I felt Saeed wrap his anorak around me, his thin brown arms
goose-bumped in the cold and bruised from the bullying. I rested my head on
my mothers knee between the convulsions of my body and cried for the lost
life I had never known; for Julian, my husband, somewhere oblivious of it
all; and for myself.
What am I doing here? my mother had asked in tears earlier that summer as
she tidied her immaculate kitchen, her head shaking as she again wiped down
the surfaces, rearranged the fruit bowl, and refused to sit down.
Her younger sister, my aunt Mara, was dead and my mother had not seen her
for over a year. When I thought of Mara, I mainly remembered her laugh, how
it had bubbled and rippled from her. Everything about her had been generous.
Even when she was in a wheelchair with cropped hair and swollen with drugs,
she was beautiful. And they had not had the chance for a final good-bye.
More or less five decades and two continents, stretching from Paris to
Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Bucharest, Istanbul, Baku, Mosul, Kirk¯uk and
Tabr¯ız, lay between my mothers life in London and her sisters death in
It did not help that Maras husband had already remarried. My mother had
cried and shouted down the phone at the betrayal, full of her own guilt.
Maras two oldest children were already grown up, but the youngest, Saeed,
was just twelve. He was tall but slight, with the dark skin of his father, a
solemn, angular face, and large green eyes that rarely blinked beneath their
thick lashes. He arrived on my parents doorstep early that autumn and moved
into my old bedroom, squeezing his stuff into the gaps my mother made,
between the old clothes, books, toys, and photos that I had left or stored
there over the fifteen years since I had moved out.
The following weekend, I had driven over to my parents from my home in
Hammersmith. It was a Sunday morning and Id woken early, the window
rattling in its casement with a dry wind that had blown up from the Sahara
and Arabia before that, leaving sand on the window ledges and car bonnets,
and bending the stiff old London trees in the night. Id woken with Julian
curled round me, his hand on my growing belly, and the warm air billowing
through the window.
Excerpted from The Saffron Kitchen
by Yasmin Crowther. Copyright © 2006 by Yasmin Crowther. Excerpted by
permission of Penguin Group USA. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.