Monday, May 30, 2011

The Little Rice Pot

They'd had the little rice pot for ever. It cooked rice perfectly. It was a gift to them, second-hand, from an old auntie who had travelled the world. It had a few dents on the outside and the cord was patched with black electrical tape. Still, every time they plugged it in, filled it with rice and water and pushed down the switch, it's orange light glowed on and it percolated away, making a quiet, bubbling, steamy sound.  Within an hour, the switch popped up and the cover could be lifted to reveal a pile of nutty rice, each nugget steamed and soft, chewy and filling, whether white, brown or basmati. They ate rice once or twice a week, alternating with artisan pastas and exotic grains, until times got tough. Then it was rice every night because in those hard times, rice was still affordable.

The children complained at first, they all complained at first, "Not rice again!" No matter how the mother tried to disguise the fact with colorful sauces and cheesy toppings. After months of this, they were down to just rice with salt and oil, and nobody said a word. They'd heard of other times like this: long lines, everyone thin, a holiday made over an orange or a bit of sugar. This hard time was no better, and many said it was much worse, and would never end until they were all dead. The teenage girls were unbearably thin, the babies looked like ghouls. Boys were fierce and active with sticks and rocks, always trying to catch something that could be roasted or smashed. One night there was no more rice but the mother pushed down the rice pot switch anyway. She had a notion of heating up water in it and boiling off the last invisible bits of rice essence into a broth that might have some nourishment. When she lifted the lid and saw the familiar mound of steaming rice, she didn't say a word, just dished it up to her family, afraid to break the spell.

Night after night they ate while others around them starved. They fed friends secretly, and wayward hungry children. Their house was full and when things started to get a little better, there were lots of hands to help till the gardens and bring back sacks of food and jugs of oil from the day-long lines. The family and those dear to them prospered and life went on. The mother hid away the little rice pot, which she knew to be magic but hoped would never be needed again.  Many years later, she tried to explain its value to her middle-aged children, who thought she was nuts and reassured her until she believed them, that she wouldn't need it at the exclusive senior community that would be her new home. They held a yard sale and sold off all the old pots and pans, rusted tools, battered suitcases and out-moded fashions from their parents' home, due to go on the market in a week. The little rice pot was purchased for a few coins by a young couple from another country who were desperate to stay here and didn't have much money.