Simone’s knife was swift and sharp. It moved with speed and precision beneath Simone’s practiced hand, dicing the onion until the vegetable transformed from a round bulb into a neatly chopped pile. She swept the onion onto the blade of her knife and tossed it into a hot pan already sizzling with a few drops of vegetable oil. She smiled as the kitchen filled with the familiar aromatic scent. Next she moved to the garlic, crushing the cloves, dicing then adding them to the sizzling pan.
Making savory meat-filled pastries was a task Simone could do in her sleep. She had been making them since she had been a child, learning the recipe as she worked alongside her grandmother in the spacious kitchen of the large turquoise-colored home that had been in their family for four generations. Simone’s grandmother had grown up in the home when it was then considered to be in one of the most upscale sections of Port au Prince. She raised her children in the house, alone after her husband drowned in a fishing accident and her daughter raised her three children, including Simone in it as well. Now Simone raised her own son Pedou in this house, and he played beneath the same mango tree that Simone had played under when she had been a child.
But when Simone had been a child, she preferred to be in the kitchen, cooking alongside her grandmother rather than playing outside. The kitchen felt like her home and even now, with her mother and grandmother long passed, their spirits still lingered in the kitchen. Simone could feel them, smell them and even hear them, especially when she sliced the plantains too thickly or added too much sugar to her homemade jellies. Somehow, though, she felt that they would approve of her selling her patties, both fruit and meat filled, to the convenience store down the street as well as to customers who wanted a large orders for parties or gatherings. She made enough money to pay the taxes on the ancient house and her son ate well every day.
But today the kitchen spirits seemed restless and on edge, filling Simone with an unfamiliar sense of unease. Something was wrong. The kitchen did not have the familiar homelike feel it normally did.
“Be careful tifi,” she could hear the gentle creole whispers. “Attention.”
Simone added the ground beef to the onions and garlic and used a wooden spoon to break up the larger chunks of meat. She glanced out the kitchen window which overlooked the back yard. Pedou sat beneath the fruit-heavy mango tree, playing with two plastic dinosaurs, acting out a lively Jurassic scene. For now, there was still plenty of sunshine, but soon the sun would begin its descent and awaken the darkness. Pedou would need to come in soon, eat a light dinner and get ready for bed. Tomorrow would be a school day. Simone smiled. All was well, yet she could not shake the restlessness.
“Attention, tifi,” the whispers had an edge of irritation and urgency.
Simone had a big order to fill for the next day and she was running behind. She should have had the patties finished by now and stored in the large refrigerator in the corner of the kitchen. She and Pedou should be sitting down to light dinner of stewed plantains already, but she had had a busy day and started her patties much later than usual.
The secret to Simone’s patties was the perfect blend of a buttery, flakey crust combined with expertly cooked meat. Simone liked to brown the meat then stew it in a combination of tomato paste, vinegar, seasonings and a splash of water, allowing the mixture to cook low and slow for nearly a half an hour, until it was well-softened and tasty.
It was well past dinner time when Simone turned off the stove and removed the pan of meat from the stove to cool. The next step was to roll the dough, cut it into two-inch rectangles and place a spoonful of meat on the lower half of the rectangle before folding the dough in half and pressing the edges together with a fork. They would then sit in the refrigerator overnight and be baked in the morning.
Simone hated stopping in the middle of a task, but she knew Pedou would be hungry. She stood looking at the ball of dough which still needed to be rolled. This was the part many people found tedious and time consuming. It took practiced fingers to feel the dough and understand the subtle variations that can occur from batch to batch. Only practiced, familiar fingers can understand how those variations will effect the final pastry.
“Attention, attention,” the whispers continued. Simone sighed heavily and threw her dish towel onto the countertop. Uneasy fingers should not work the dough. Many times her grandmother had preached that she needed to be relaxed and patient when she worked the dough so that she could feel it and understand it. Simone glanced out the window at Pedou. She strode swiftly out of the kitchen and into the yard.
“It’s time to come inside for some dinner, little one,” she said to her son kneeling beside him.
“I’m not ready to go in yet,” he said simply, not looking up from his toys.
As Simone rose to her feet, she felt an unsteadiness in her legs. She looked down at Pedou surprised to see his wide curious eyes looking back at her. He felt the earth shaking too. The ground rumbled and shook. Mangos began to fall from the tree, amazingly not hitting either of them in the head. Simone swept Pedou up in her arms and ran toward the edge of the front yard, still unsure what she was experiencing.
Some of her neighbors were emerging from their homes.
“It’s an earthquake,” one called. Others were screaming. “Mon Dieu” one cried out.
The Earth’s rumbling was loud and persistent as though every restless spirit to ever inhabit the island were violently pushing their way from beneath the surface. Pedou was beginning to cry. She held him tighter.
“It’s OK,” she murmured although in her heart, she knew it wasn’t.
As she glanced from her son to the grand turquoise house which had been home to her grandmother, mother, herself and now her son, she watched in horror as it wobbled then, like an improperly prepared pastry dough cracked and crumbled before her eyes, transforming itself quickly from a home into a turquoise colored pile of rubble.