THE HAPPINESS OF KATI
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Excerpts from The Happiness of Kati
Pan and Spatula
Mother never promised to return.
The clatter of the spatula against the pan woke Kati that morning as it had many mornings past. To tell the truth, the warm scent of the freshly cooked rice played its part, not to mention the smoke from the stove and the smell of crispy fried eggs. But it was the sound of the spatula hitting the side of the pan that finally broke into Kati’s slumber and roused her from her dreams.
Kati never took long to wash her face and get dressed. Grandpa used to joke that she just waved at the wash basin as she raced past. Grandma turned to look at Kati when she came into the kitchen. Grandma seldom smiled or greeted her. Grandpa said Grandma’s smiles were so rare they should be preserved and canned for export overseas, like top quality produce.
Kati ladled the rice into a silver bowl. The white of the rice matched the freshness of the morning air. The warm steam from the rice bowl cradled against her seemed to rise and fill her chest and her heart which began to beat faster and harder as she set off at a run for the pier. Grandpa was already waiting there with the tray of food - their daily merit offering to the monks - reading his newspaper, as always.
Before long there was the sound of oars slapping the water and the bows of a boat appeared from round the bend. The vermilion robes of the venerable abbot added a bright touch to the occasion. The venerable abbot’s pupil and nephew, Tong, flashed his teeth in a smile that could be seen from afar. Grandpa said Tong should join an acting troupe and go into Comedy Theatre. His smile was contagious. Smiles sent straight from his cheerful heart, made for his lips and twinkling eyes, sending out ripples like a stone dropped in a pool, so that people around him were affected too.
Under the big banyan tree Grandpa poured water from one little brass vessel on to the ground, completing the offering to the monks. Like a river flowing from the mountains to the sea, the water symbolized the passing of the merit they had earned to departed loved ones. Kati joined her prayers to Grandpa's in making the merit offering and prayed silently that her own wishes would be granted.
Breakfast was set out waiting for them at home. They had a big meal like this every morning. Grandpa took the boiled vegetables with the pungent chili sauce for his share leaving the stir-fried vegetables and fried fish almost entirely to Kati. Grandpa avoided fried foods of all kinds. He complained behind Grandma’s back that eating Grandma’s cooking was like eating everything coated in varnish and that one day he was going to donate Grandma’s pan and spatula to the army to melt down for a canon for King and Country when the time came. If Grandma heard him she would make such a racket with her spatula and pan that it would seem a miracle that they were still able to perform their duty the following day.