By: Cait Auer
He was the personification of disruption as he slid down the steady escalator – the conveyor belt commuter factory – where we chased each other like salmon swimming against the current. Earl Grey and cream tea evening haze faded to dark roasted night. Our jittery fingers choked the necks of beer cans covered by crinkled brown paper bags.
It was a quickening tango: locked eyes with stolen glances over shoulders, his bobbing form weaving through people as he cast a smirk in my direction, lighting the firework before it burst.
I managed to hop onto the tube just before the doors swished shut, catching him push his way through people by the shaggy swoop of his hair. He broke the tube car’s silence first, and together we swung on the handlebars as the train coasted under the heavy heartbeat streets of the city. Our voices clashed—differing, throated accents poured out of us, thick and sharp, foreign melodies to the gentle murmurs surrounding us. His words waved and wiggled, much like the charismatic charm at the corner of his eyes that curved whenever he cracked a cheeky remark, that secretly bounced when he saw me. The words sounded like a home of sand, salt water, sun-kissed skin, lazy koalas, and backyard barbecues. My own is tin – a Western drawl that turns heads and is shortly followed by a joke.
We passed two stations, then three, though our destination was unplanned. We dug deep into my bag, settling for nuke warm sausage rolls, baked by my plump neighbourhood vendor who mastered the art of crisp, flaky dough, and tender, juicy ground pork. Together we were wayfaring nomads for the days – a growing tradition. Lips pressed against shop windows in search of some familiarity to show each other. We chased after a hint of home nestled in between pristine teashops, gooey udon noodle shacks, and creaking pubs. Our wallets emptied daily and I readily followed him through eateries of all kinds to experience the vast array of worldly cuisines. How could we settle with one favourite restaurant, when infinite flavourful possibilities were at our fingertips?
“You haven’t lived until you’ve had a parmy!” my cohort whined, and I knew he was already salivating over his hometown’s crisp battered chicken smothered in melted cheese and swimming in sauce. Two pubs, regular hangouts for Aussies, once sold such cozy delicacies to the masses of mid-twenties London transplants. Our tired feet travelled to both establishments, but we were only greeted with pints.
No holds barred, together we hatched a plan to create our own taste of home within the city. Onward to our shared temporary flat’s kitchen, to the sizzle of a sauce-pan that caught drippings of freshly roasted garlic and sweet butter from the countryside. Double-decker buses whizzing past our window served as the kitchen’s soundtrack as the dishes piled high. I leaned against him and we crushed tomatoes into a sauce that was reminiscent of my mother’s comfort recipe. If I closed my eyes and sampled the spicy sweet tomato sauce, I could transport him back to my family kitchen nestled in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. Escaping our roles as extended tourists, the meal provided a comfort that grew with each ingredient found in the back of Victorian cabinets.
We twisted the unfamiliar oven’s knobs, hoping not to set off the fire alarm. Once somewhat confident that we would not yet turn to ashes, we linked limbs together and sprawled out on the couch as a juicy chicken sweated away in the oven. After the bird was smothered in the sauce and blanketed with Pecorino cheese, we took our time to appreciate our culinary masterpiece, made by four hands from two distant countries.
My stomach filled, but my appetite for the two of us was a never-ending craving. In seven days his visa would expire and he would be sent back the way he came, halfway across the world, to make his chicken parmesan shop a weekly routine. I’d settle for venturing to our restaurant haunts alone after his departure, to sip on melted chocolate without the pest who blew marshmallows through white and dark chocolate straws at my cheek. Or to the French bistro in pastel Notting Hill, where we had been the youngest in the room by forty years, spending his gambling money, with our teeth stained blood red from a bottle of wine and our laughter resonated through our thick stem glasses.
This love was a rare combination, meant for an overwhelming hunger that had not yet been filled. Experiencing him was a far too temporary bite, one so intense that the sampler has to close their eyes and reflect on the flavours. A mixture of bitter circumstance and a rare encounter, with an underlying sweet aftertaste of wanting more, even if just for a single day.
Cait Auer is a 24-year-old writer from the Pacific Northwest, specialising in nonfiction and fiction prose. She has served as a writer’s conference assistant coordinator, a travel journalist, a music and restaurant reviewer, and was an editorial assistant for three regional magazines based in Washington state. Her main hobby is spending her pounds on tasty treats and getaways abroad.