We had just finished lunch. I was stuffed. The soul-satisfying smells of Chinese food lingered. We had the usual lineup of dishes – steamed fish, herbal chicken soup, sauteed bean curd with fermented black beans and chillies, greens, and more. Except these weren't the usual dishes. Because Po-Po didn’t cook any of the food.
Months before, Po-Po’s respite from cooking had turned into a permanent vacation, much to my dismay. Everyone in my family has tried to fill the void since then, myself included. But Po-Po’s grace in the kitchen remains unmatched. She could have outperformed a Michelin-starred chef. Her scallion and ginger pieces were always uniformly and finely sliced. Her pork was always perfectly braised. On her feet prepping for hours, Po-Po's patience was otherworldly. But aren’t human beings supposed to be clumsy, impatient, and crude? Not Po-Po. Her grace. Her precision. Her zen. And her love, which we felt in the kitchen and always tasted in her food, was the best part.
That lazy afternoon after lunch, I was sprawled across her bed, full but not completely satisfied. Meanwhile Po-Po was relaxing in her reclining chair, a felt blanket across her lap. Her eyes were fixed on the television, though it's hard to say whether or not she was watching it. After all, her hearing wasn’t great. This was two months ago.
With my gaze on her, I started thinking about the food we’d just eaten. Lunch had smelled and looked familiar and delicious, yet nothing I ate reminded me of Po-Po’s cooking. Suddenly I felt a deep, melancholic longing for her Chinese tamales, fried shrimp balls, pork-stuffed peppers. And at that moment, despite our proximity, I started to miss her. But she’s only 2 feet away? I missed her anyway. Yes, despite being a mere 2 feet away.
Was that moment some kind of bizarre foreshadowing? The kind depicted in movies, you know, right before the building explodes or the plane crashes. And then the protagonist makes a fateful phone call to a loved one before the inevitable doom. Heartfelt words are exchanged, just in case.
Should I have said something more meaningful than “Po-Po, I’m going to go upstairs and do yoga,” before I left her room? Should I have taken up her offer to put me up for the night, so we could spend more time hanging out? I didn't know that I'd never have her food again. I didn't know that two months later, she'd be gone.