The Hunger of the Bourgeoisie
He says touch is his love language and mine is affirmation. I think it cute and say so, even though this wouldn’t have been my own assessment. “Your language of love is demonstrated action,” would have been closer to what I’d have desired to hear; perhaps as a disposition shaped by poverty in childhood, I believe in a love where even words of affirmation must rise to meet up with deeds.
I do things for my lovers, and although I do not keep spreadsheets (I grate the carrots / You dice the onion), my memories of them are of the things they’ve done for me. Call it lasting gratitude. At its most basic level I think love takes the form of concern and one demonstrable manifestation of this concern is effort made to pacify a hungry stomach. It shows itself in the daily preoccupations of family life; in a suburban housewife’s concern for the homeless on her street, separating the edibles from among what goes into her bin; in how after a hurricane pots of food are served and food cans are delivered to the afflicted.
But of course, the feeding scale vacillates from assuaging the basic need that daily life insists on to peacock tail displays of culinary skills that romance, at its peak, tends to inspire.
My romantic life is a history of long and short engagements with two sorts of lovers. Guys who show up broken, break everything, break up, and on their way to breaking bread with another leave behind a classroom with lessons that take a while to understand. On the other hand, is a league of lovers that tell me daily or often enough that they love me and/or want to spend the rest of their life with me because I am smart, sexy, special… Illogically, the former excite me and I’ve done with them all manner of exciting things life offered at a given time but the latter group comprised of four men rather frightens me. When you wake up to yourself mostly or entirely naked in the middle of your or someone’s kitchen, cooking or watching them cook some fancy meal, you are already in so much trouble.
My last lover in Cape Town made a brown rice risotto that in texture was a cross between runny soup and thick oats porridge but on the taste buds induced a pleasure rivalled only by the sex we had on poppers. And my first lover in Joburg made the best potato au gratin that my friend loved so much he had to prepare it each time she was invited over. This included the last supper where twelve bottles of wine were had between the five of us a day before we were to return to work after the December holidays. I spent midnight wiping Chardonnay-infused vomit lodged in the crevices of his washing machine and she spent the following morning wondering why there were cigarette butts stuffed in her takeaway cinnamon buns, dubbed ‘ciggarbuns’ when we were using them as ashtrays. After that gathering, the end came quickly “but not because of that,” although I never learnt because of what. No matter…
Standing naked in your kitchen trying to figure what can be made with what is there, you learn that in good times and in bad the same lover is not the same. You are retrenched, say, and just for now you cannot dash to the Woolworths around the corner for those Norwegian salmon recipe ingredients, and suddenly your phone beeps less and less. Or junk status hits and because you peddle wares of a vulnerable industry you are most affected but entrepreneur that you are, you follow the dream, and the top half of the grocery list must be thrown out the window. Who follows it, who stays behind? Which meals continue to be prepared in nakedness and shared in that marriage bed?
In the case of my first and the current lovers, lentils have showed up as the manna for when the troubles descended and the ‘I love you’s had to rise to action. Because hindsight is a room where lessons are the most articulate, I reflect only on the first. In the beginning, we mostly lived on Melissa’s and Woolworths takeaways – there is a special place in heaven where the moist, soggy Woolworths Malva Pudding accompanied by their warmed custard is served – which to enjoy required the creativity of pressing the microwave Start button.
When money dwindled, creativity was expended to making the dhal that we’d so enjoyed, if not from the prepacked meals from Vintage India, and this at a time before we learnt that the internet had recipes which turned out well if carefully followed. Instead, ours was closer to boiled lentils with oil and an overpowering taste of radurised powdered spice than to the aromatic dhal even the poorest households in India perfect.
In many ways, you could say we were becoming ineptly and embarrassingly poor, and nothing in the confines of the bourgeois world is sadder than a poor gay couple. Yet in many other ways we had this space for vulnerability, in which to be discovered in our nakedness by another, to know that if the love is there and the soul is big and the spirit willing everything that a lover prepares is a source of nourishment. That lesson took its time to come forward, uncloak, and make itself understood. And by then, I was gone.