Poisoned Food, Its Master, and The Guests

A Bizarre Short Story by Abhishek Sengupta

Poisoned Food, Its Master, and The Guests

by Abhishek Sengupta

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You have to be perfect,” Master says as he spoons me up from the bowl and plates me on to several dishes.

Of course, Master, I reply with humility. But I’m wondering if being plated makes matters more demanding. I prefer being in the bowl as one conclusive whole. This multiple consciousness business makes perfection all the more delicate. Now, I must ensure I’m equally perfect in each of those dishes.

Not that I’m complaining. Decomposition to multiple consciousnesses is the sad truth in the life of every cuisine. Our genes have evolved to adapt to it, but still, the mind is never quite ready.

All the more reason to put in that extra effort to ensure that I’m ready. I can’t be anything but perfect after all of Master’s careful preparations these last twenty-four hours. He has intelligently selected each ingredient, diligently set them to the precise proportions, and elegantly brought it all together to add an original charm to my already succulent being.

Unable to contain my excitement during the preparation, whenever he adds yet another ingredient, I ask – what are those leaves, Master? Or will I taste even better, Master, for those seeds? But he never tells me the names of the ingredients. All he does is sing lines from a rhyme –

What are little boys made of?

What are little boys made of?

Snips and snails

And puppy-dogs tails

That’s what little boys are made of

I hope he hasn’t used those things to prepare me. No, he obviously hasn’t. You see, Master is a perfectionist. He has many awards and accolades from around the world to vouch for his culinary skills. He would never use anything but the best. And I am supposed to be the best of his best.

I’m the poisoned food that the guests have been invited to taste. And yes, they are perfectly aware that I’m fatally poisoned.

So, you can understand why Master is adamant that I taste better than any cuisine ever prepared. Not only am I supposed to be the last meal for the guests waiting in the dining hall, but I must also satiate the eagerness with which they wait for me out there—dying to taste me, or vice-versa.

He cannot afford to cants over the globe. Master’s primary criterion was that each of the chosen guests must be leading a perfectly happy personal life. He rejected anyone who was found to bear even a pinch of discontent in their hearts for their lives, in the various rounds of the interview.

I had to do this.” He dresses me up with some fresh herbs. “I would never want people eating you for the wrong reason, my sweets. I won’t allow them to defile you with one of their personal grudges. You are my tribute to something so small that it’s big. I would accept nothing but the sparkle of love on the tips of their tongues when they nibble you.”

I feel emotional. I’m so proud of you, Master.

Take Mme Soandso, for example,” he speaks excitedly. “Married to a wealthy business tycoon. Despite being busy, he always gives her all his time, listens to her, addresses her concerns. She’s never been more in love. And she has two children who love her just as much. Only someone like her could appreciate you for your taste.” He smiles at me.

I smile back.

See there? That’s Sergeant John Doe, an ex-serviceman, who proudly served his country for years. Thrived at his own business later on. Lives with his perfectly loving girlfriend in a mansion on a secluded island now. The walls of his house adorned with medals of bravery and certificates of achievements. What do you say to someone like him?”

I’m at a loss for words and simply salute him.

And that one in the long robe is Monsignor Papal. A self-professed orphan. Found his calling in the house of the pious, in the sacred texts, and in handing down the consecrated bread drenched in the consecrated wine. Leads a perfectly comfortable and peaceful life now in the sanctity of the Holy Spirit. Wouldn’t you be graced by the touch of his tongue?”

Yes, Master. I’d love that.

#

Master’s assistants, dressed as immaculately in their aprons as I am in my culinary garnish, pick me up from the kitchen counter, on silver platters, uniformly distributed. The assistants carry each plate of me on their shoulders, walking in a straight line, each one of them equidistant from the other. “Distance creates order,” Master had told me, and I can’t contain my happiness at becoming a part of the measured distance now.

Each of them puts me down on the various tables set in the hall in a synchronised movement of grace, where Master’s chosen guests breathlessly await me. Their eyes sparkle at the sight of me. But they are civilised and don’t just dig their spoons into me right away. They wait for Master’s signal.

I look up to Master as he slowly strides into the hall with a glass of wine amidst rising applause, a symphony of clapping hands. He reaches the centre of the hall, nods to each guest in turns and finally takes a bow. The guests each lift their wine glasses from the tables.

Ladies and Gentlemen,” he begins. “Congratulations on being part of this last supper. Congratulations, moreover, for making the final cut. The privileged few, who will get to taste the most exquisite dish ever prepared. You shall have the honor of tasting it alongside your chef.”

This gives me the jitters, and I’m about to spring out of the plates, but I must behave. For Master’s sake. Only then do I notice the empty table, where one of me has been served. How could I miss that? Why did you not tell me, Master, that you’d be tasting me too? How privileged I am! I can’t believe how privileged I am!

Master raises his glass in the air. “So, without delaying your experience any further, here’s to your good death, our tasty retreat.”

All guests join in the toast, smiling.

Master raises his other hand in the air.

At Master’s signal, the guests pick up the first spoonful and welcome me into their mouths. First their canines and their incisors, then their molars and premolars aid their tongues to infuse me into their taste buds. They relish my presence in their mouths—feelings of contentment both for them and me.

I seize this chance to melt into their senses. I travel to their brains—make my way through the frontal cortices to the parietal lobes. I record that their feelings are alike, irrespective of the brain I’m in at that moment. This speaks volumes about Master’s success. He has lent them an experience so uniform that it causes them to lose their identities. To no longer remain who they were in their real lives. Become someone else. Someone who had always secretly pined to taste this dish, unknowingly.

Things start to change when I reach the temporal lobes, or more specifically, as I pour into their amygdalas.

In the memory of Mme Soandso, a scene plays out. She is driving a car at full pace. Revelling in the glory of speed. Drinking it. Much like the bottle of vodka she had guzzled a little while earlier. Speed doubles her intoxication. Compliments her freedom. Until she hits something with her car. A boy, roughly eight years old, now covered in blood, lying beside the road. Empty roads. The child pleading for help. Her car drives on.

Monsignor Papal calls a little boy in his chambers. But I can’t tell the exact age of the child. It’s too dark in there. Monsignor makes the boy sit on his lap. There are muffled voices. Followed by silence and Monsignor hastily leaving the chamber. The bells toll but the little boy never hears it.

Sergeant John Doe is pulling a little boy by the wrist. The boy screams. “I want my ma and pa.” But the little boy’s voice is not as powerful as the Sergeant’s arm. The child is dragged, dragged away. From himself and his past. His feet bleeding, digging into the earth, an earth that belongs to him. Or should have. Without borders. Without being tagged an illegal immigrant. His feet refusing to move, trying to become a tree, set his roots so his parents could find him. He screams and screams and screams. But the Sergeant shoves him into a van with a flock of other children, all screaming just like him, for their parents.

Different but similar memories for each guest. Each involving a child in need of help. But denied.

I don’t understand. How is it that they all have memories of some helpless little boys in common? Why are these their last memories?

No time to decipher. I’m drowning in their collective memories. I want to rise. See my master one last time. Say goodbye. But all I remember are lines from the rhyme he had been singing –

Snips and snails

And puppy-dogs tails

That’s what little boys are made of

And then, a single teardrop splashes into a bowl containing only dregs of me. It smells of Master. Oh, Master! The unmistakable aroma of his memories. But something odd about it. The memory is not his own. Belongs to a little boy who calls him ‘dad’. It starts with green, green grass. The little boy lying on the grass, carelessly, in his school uniform. “Dad, it hurts.” The little boy thinks of Master. Tries to forget the discord of gunshots still looming in the air above him. Staring down at him. Unlike his dad. “Where are you, dad?” he mumbles. Strains of blood from his body drench the green grass, bleach it red. There are other children, just like him, bleeding, strewn across the field of what most probably looks like a school playground. And they each mumble something.

In the memory of this little boy, however, is a meal his dad had cooked one afternoon. No, not for the guests. Just for him that time. For his son.

The little boy wants to taste it again.

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