It brewed and brewed. The aroma wafted through the kitchen, and wandered its way through the back door into the farm. Charles was busy rousing the hens from their deep slumber. He needed the eggs to be delivered at the villagers’ doorsteps so that they could adorn their breakfast table. It was an acquired art to retrieve the golden egg from the reluctant hens. Many peck marks scarred his mottled hand. He didn’t believe in beak trimming, his hens; they were his darlings. Not clipping their talons, he allowed them to poke him with while he laughed in merriment at their antics. Laughter was perhaps his way of shooing away the weary disparities of life. But his merry was only with them. Why? They were Martha’s treasures, left back after her heavenly abode.
For the rest of the world, he was a habitual recluse.
The tea leaves had now boiled and charred as if they were cursing Charles for neglecting and abandoning them while he pampered the hens. The stench of the burning tea leaves reminded Charles and he rushed to the kitchen like a tornado. He ran through the coop, scaring the snoozing birds. In the kitchen, the sight and odour brought an inevitable frown on his pockmarked face. The tea leaves had valiantly fought a losing battle against the flames, but eventually succumbed to it. Its corpse lay stuck to the bottom of the pan, turning it brown. Today yet again, Charles had forgotten to add sugar and milk to it. The sight of the residual mix aggravated his foul mood. Charles staggered, feeling quite dizzy. And with a dejected hangdog expression, he turned off the burner while few smoky whiffs emanated from the charred remains of the tea.
Scrubbing the burner with a bristled brush, he murmured profanities.
“God bless you Martha, for leaving me all alone to face the struggles of life. I must have been a terrible husband for you to escape in this manner. Can’t boil a decent cuppa for self! Curse my shabby living.”
As he missed his wife of twenty years, some parrots squabbled in the Sycamore tree outside.
“Why not? Raise a ruckus, exactly like the one in my life. Go ahead and beat the drums to inform the villagers how hapless, Charles is. Can’t even boil a decent cuppa for himself!” he chanted. The parrots continued the commotion while Charles busied himself by brewing a routine quagmire of grief, doubt and confusion.
The villagers were aware of his love for tea and Martha often invited him over for scones and oatmeal biscuits. But he could never relish a cup made by another. And he blamed Martha for getting him addicted to her brand of tea, and sweet romance. Being polite, Charles did stop by to honour their invitation, only to return disappointed with the experience. Deep down, the villagers knew he abhorred them for their offer; some persisted while some deserted him.
Charles was the village’s handyman. He had no degree to his name or nor a regular income to pay his monthly expenses. Yet, he managed to keep the hearth warm by running errands for the village women. For the farmer’s wife, he helped her to polish the tools, whereas for the doctor, he helped with mailing the post. For the vicar’s daughter, he brought pins and clips from the market. But his regular beat was to deliver fresh eggs daily. He enjoyed monopoly over the egg supply as far as the cozy little village of Pedruggan was concerned.
The Cornish village of Pedruggan was a sleepy little hamlet on the south-westernmost tip of Great Britain. Most of them spoke a Celtic language, while a few rolled their tongues to the Queen’s English. A church, a depleted pond, a few farms lined with gigantic windmills, a post-office and a doctor’s clinic, that was all Pedruggan could call its own. Rarely would a lad migrate to London, to fill his pockets with the shiny, bronze metal. Otherwise, time stood still with satisfied souls tilling their land, and baking their bread with immense gratitude. Everyone was blessed with everything except a place of recreation. A cafe or maybe a cinema hall was needed to uplift their hardworking spirits. Martha was working on this very problematic issue when she was snatched away by the hands of death. Much too soon!
The village septuagenarians’ dreams of having their village’s first cafe were squashed. Their only solace was the eggs that Charles delivered. The eggs; gooey yellow and the fluffy whites, would make the most perfect omelet to welcome the sunny morning, breaking the shackles of lassitude. Charles charged only for the eggs, for everything else he accepted whatever was thrust in his clenched palms. He never bothered with the amount, and just put the coins in a piggy bank Martha had bought from the market. She was filing it up, to save for a rainy day. At least that’s what she told him! But he knew Martha’s secret ambition was to open a cafe.
He had seen her lean figure, hop and dance while brewing tea and baking cupcakes, humming a song dedicated to her new cafe. What kind of joy she derived from brewing tea for her husband, only she, a lady with silken auburn tresses and pert nose could tell. Maybe this love and eagerness to serve Charles was what flavoured the otherwise ordinary tea.
Tea and Martha were inseparable. When she left for heavenly abode, she took away with her that cuppa which turned his day brighter. The hens, too, missed their mistress. Remorsefully, in the past three years of her demise, he tried to emulate her technique. Sometimes his forgetfulness, many times his disgust for working at home killed the lively cup and hurt the proud hens.
This morning, as he sat separating the burner from the charred and tenacious remains of the tea, he wept profusely, wailing loudly, and causing the squabbling parrots to flutter away in distress. His wails pierced the hearts of every villager, but they found themselves helpless. Unable to provide to him what he sought, they hung their heads and pretended they didn’t hear his keening.
“Martha, my sunflower, my little pansy of autumn, why did you leave me? Nor a daughter neither a son you gave me to whack or cane, cuddle or caress when I would miss you. This tradition of sweet tea, once an elixir is not even proving to be the poison to see you. Mother Mary, take my squandering soul away. Let me rest in peace”
Burying his face in the dirty mop, Charles cried like a baby. Big sobs swallowed him.
“Arghhhh…..Oh, my good gawd! Why a big man like you cry so loudly, eh?”
Who was it? Who asked him this question?
Charles lived alone in his ramshackle cottage. He looked at the backdoor that lead to the coop- was a loitering ne’er-do-well watching him?
Must be my guilty conscience, he thought and continued to weep and mourn.
“Not there, you good fellow. Here, inside. I’m here, right behind you.” Popped the dialogue in Charles’s head like an unwanted Jack-in-the-box.
“Who’s there? Where are you?”
Charles turned around, bumped into a large bubble. But the bubble didn’t break!
Very taut it was, indeed.
Something lifted him off the floor and he floated in the air. A dark black, froth-like mass stood facing him. The mass’s eyes sparkled like little diamonds, reminded him of the ones that adorned Martha’s thin earlobes. They were her father’s love, none he could afford. The nose was like heap of white sugar, pressed flat against a dark round chocolate cake-like face, exactly like the one Martha had baked on his fortieth birthday but without the icing.
The face was smiling at him, the lips spread generously while a pair of fat arms kept him swaying.
“Whoa.. What in the good Lord’s name are you?” Charles finally managed to stammer.
Peering into his terror-stricken eyes, the frothy mass replied, “Mumbo..Jumbo…I’m the tea djinn. What can I do for you, my Master?”
Tea Djinn? What’s that supposed to be?
Charles mind ran amok but he was tongue-tied. His bewildered expression propelled the djinn into fits of thunderous laughter. Charles shook in his grip like a precarious dry leaf clinging to its stalk, while dreading its fall.
“Whhaaat brings your mass herrree…?”
“Oh, it is ya who called me here.”
“Yes, my master, you. You precisely boiled me for thirty six minutes and two seconds with two teaspoons of tea and no sugar; the right formula for my birth. So, your wish is my command, my master.”
Charles couldn’t even rub his eyes to wade off the dust of imagination as his hands were in the djinn’s grip. He swallowed, his parched throat, protesting. Closing his eyes for a brief second, he tried to brush off what seemed to be a nightmare. He was convinced this illusion…this monstrosity was the result of the alcohol he had consumed in the party last time. He smiled with relief.
One two three…Go
In a jiffy, Charles opened his eyes. The smile instantly dried. The diamond eyes glinted with mischief as if reading his mind.
“Master, you have to make a wish within the first one hour of our meeting or else I’ll disappear. Be quick, or else I’ll have to carry you to the djinn world.” That part was scarier, from the tangible world of Pedruggan to the outer non-believable djinn world.
With brain fog creeping over him like grapevine, Charles blurted, “Make me a cup of hot tea.”
Who makes such mundane, wishe to a djinn?
Nevertheless, that was exactly what his frayed nerves needed. The sun outside had reached a pinnacle in the Pedruggan sky, indicating lunchtime was near. Yet, tea was all that he desired.
Placing his master gently on the ground, the djinn turned around. Little sobs gave way to high pitched wails. The earth beneath shuddered under the cries.
Mercy! Why is he howling? Can’t he make a cup of decent tea? Bless my bereaved soul! Starving for a cup of tea!
Mustering some courage, Charles touched the djinn’s bubbly back.
“Can’t you make tea? Huhh.. er…no problem I’ll make one for you.” Charles’s heart melted at the sight of the magical figure shedding tears.
Sorrow, despair, grief; touches everyone- natural or supernatural!
“Nah!..my master, I can’t take any services from you. It will be a shame to my community. How can I create something out of which I am born?” the grotesque figure had a valid point. Both sat in the kitchen humming and hawing over the mystery of procuring tea. The hens had now ventured outside the coop, to sun-bathe. Pecking at stray worms, they chuckled at the distraught men.
“VIOLA!! My brain puffs up an idea!”
“All ears mate.”
“I can carry you to the distant lands of fairies and unicorns, of dragons and griffins. Let’s go on a tea trail! Wohoooo..”
This all sounded too ethereal for a man who had never crossed the boundaries of Pedruggan. All his life Charles had pedalled around on his bicycle. And now he was invited to go on an adventure, atop a frothy mass that seemed to have emerged from his recklessness, to go globetrotting in a mystic world.
He sat astride on the translucent body so limpid as if made from a diaphanous material. As soon as he sat on the human carpet, he felt as if was the master.
He gazed at the low lying village of his birth. The barley fields appeared as mere blotches of brown. The houses looked like Rubik cubes with splattering colours. People outside the post office resembled, nothing more than ants lining up for a crumb of sugar. The church‘s cross poked the clouds, displaying its figure of authority. The sun was ready to retire to bed early, and the sky yawned in colours of crimson and patches of grey. The day had over-exerted itself, and now was droopy with over-enthusiasm.
Maybe, a cup of tea was all it needed.
Higher, higher they scaled in the now grey sky. The clouds felt like the soft woollen sweaters, that Martha used to knit.
She too must be somewhere here knitting another one for me.
Charles secretly hoped he would bump into his Martha.
Suddenly, a huge cloud obstructed his vision. For some time, it seemed there was fog all over. He shut his eyes tightly, while trusting his new friend.
“MASTER…Here we are!”
The groggy yet excited voice shook Charles out of stupor. The sight was breathtaking. Beneath them, a lush green carpet was spread. Butterflies larger than crows flitted past them. Nearby, a brook gurgled with red wine. The trees were loaded with apples as big as watermelons.
Bless the Newton’s soul that he was not born here…hehehe… Or else the apples would have surely crashed the gravity out of him!
There were the kins of Pedruggan parrots, too. But their feathers were of myriad fluid colours. As they encircled the cloudy sky, they made geometric rainbows of various shapes. How Charles wished these creatures shared some civil sense with their telluric counterparts.
Slowly, the duo landed on the emerald green bushes. Few unicorns galloped their way past Charles. They took no notice of this alien in flesh and bone.
How graceful was their flight!
He wondered after each one of them fluttered their wings skywards; like feathers billowing in the expanse of the sapphire sky. If desires had wings, this is what they would look like; not belonging entirely to the sky or earth, creating a world of their own. With desires, he remembered what he was here for.
“Mate, so where is the tea party?”
“Heh, yes, my impatient master. We are headed towards the cafeteria.
Wow! A cafe in this fairy wonderland! How exciting!
“Hey wait!” Charles’s exclaimed. “What are ordinary hens doing her in a fairy’s land?”
The chuckles had caught his attention and fantasy.
“So what Master? Fairies, too, are ordinary beings with extra-ordinary living. Simple!” His djinn enlightened.
The mass seems to have some understanding. Good!
To Charles’s astonishment, the cafe was indeed named Fairy’s Wonderland. He bit his lip and wondered what if he had asked for something more meaningful when the heavens were handing out blessings. The cafe had tables and chairs suspended in the air. Only when a soul occupied a chair, the whole segment would touch the ground. A spring erupted at the centre of each table with bouts of opulent wine. Orders were taken and delivered on fleecy, feathery clouds. The djinn helped Charles climb onto one of the chairs, and in an instant they touched the ground.
Charles admired the beauty.
The walls were festooned with human portraits, personified by livid emotions. Smiling babies, worrying mothers, composed fathers, mischievous friends and longing partners were painted in infinite shades. Charles made it a point to acclaim each face, and its emotion. One by one, his gaze shifted from happy to sad to doubtful to peaceful expressions.
Hey, wait! Christ! Is that me? Who drew the younger me? I have never been here before.
Somebody was listening to his thoughts as if they echoed in the hollow interiors of the cafe. Just then a cloud floated near his chair and there was his cup of tea! The djinn gently placed in front of his master.
“Here is your first cuppa of the day, Master. Bless it.”
Charles picked up the porcelain cup that had ears shaped like wings. The cafe adhered to its theme well. The first sip danced on his taste buds like excited frogs jumping on the arrival of the first rain.
“MAGNIFICENT! This truly is heavenly,” Charles exclaimed!
With the second sip, “Mate, this is exactly how my Martha used to make tea. My Martha…” his eyes misted over and he couldn’t drink any further. He wanted to take it back. Sip it every day till his last day; not allowing the cup to deplete itself. This cup had Martha’s touch, what made him think that?
Was he hallucinating? Was Martha’s memory playing a game with him?
“Charles darling, I’m here.” It was the same sweet voice, with the same calmness and poise that Martha carried.
Charles could see a fairy approaching him. As the beauty came nearer, it became clearer that she was his Martha.
HIS VERY OWN MARTHA!
He jumped in joy and his jaw dropped to the floor in surprise. He could barely take his eyes off her. Just like, back in Pedruggan, he kept admiring her old sepia photograph.
“Darling, I hope you enjoyed the tea. Forgive me for leaving you so early. Would you like another cup?”
Charles could just nod as words had failed him. And, then began the series of mushy talks interspersed with steaming, hot cups, just like their earthly days.
Martha told him how she had set up this cafe with help of other good souls. He was so proud of his ambitious wife. Death had not been the thorn in her path. She had overcome even death to fulfil her dream.
The portraits on the wall were placed there- specially to boost the desolate spirits of the fairies when they missed their loved ones. Charles was stupefied to learn that the dead too missed the living.
“Yes darling! Especially if a loved one has not found closure after the death of his dear one, the fairies too long and suffer in the agony.”
Martha’s explanation made him guilty. He was responsible for her suffering even after death. He had to pick himself up. Now that he was here, he would never go back. Once the destiny had failed their story but now he wouldn’t budge.
She always knew what conjured in his mind.
“Charles, my sweetheart. Go back and enjoy your life. Set up the cafe I always wanted to. In every cup of tea, you offer to a stressed soul, you will find my reflection in it. Go back my elixir, the village of Pedruggan needs their ‘Do it all’ man. My salvation lies in your happy living. I’m more than happy here with the younger you giving me accompany.”
This time the farewell was like walking on a thin sheet of ice. But he couldn’t go weak. At least he had a divine opportunity to meet his fairy once more than enough for him to trudge through life.
“Ah! Master.” The djinn was wailing once again. Charles feared the frothy bubble would break. Cleaning his sooty nose, the djinn carried his master on his back.
Swish swish swish……The wind was their sail. Swish swish swish…. The wind was caressing his face. Swish swish swish… Something brushed across his face.
“CHARLES…CHARLES…-Wake up man, what a mess you are!” That was certainly neither Martha nor the djinn. Opening his eyes, Charles found himself the object of several myopic eyes. The village elders had gathered around him, to provide much needed food, and medicines for their ‘Do it All’ man.
Just a dream! Silly old me! Martha you are driving me crazy.
If it was just a dream, why does the taste of Martha’s tea still linger on my tongue?
Charles slapped his forehead. He had no time to dilly-dallying on such matters. After all, he had to set up the cafe FAIRY’S WONDERLAND in Martha’s land, Pedruggan. But before that, he had to diligently make himself a decent cup of tea.
Maybe she would herself come for the inauguration!
He rose and clapped his hands. The villagers were surprised to see the lost sparkle glow in Charles’ eyes again. He had found the reason to live again. He had to open her cafe, for all the lost souls who yearned for the perfect cup of tea!
Now if he could find the djinn again…..The fantasy kept him busy.
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