You’re lying on your back on the hard floor of an empty house. The ancient furnace in the basement rumbles to life. It’s an unfamiliar noise, and the sound reverberating off the walls is disconcerting. Kind of like the basement is about to explode. Before you know it, it’ll be comforting, Ben told you. Right.
Yesterday, you signed papers to make the house yours. Yours, second person plural. Well, yours in trust of the bank. Yours, asterisked with a very large debt that is meant to be paid off over a span of time longer than the years you have actually lived on the green earth.
When you first walked through the house, you liked it enough to walk through it again. The second time, you sneaked off to a corner of the seven acres and peed on it, like a dog, marking it. But the other morning, the papers signed, the wire transfer received, the realtor asked, “Aren’t you excited?” and you laughed, nervously.
Because you don’t really know what you are. 2015 has been a blur of work and travel and things like obtaining a mortgage in post-recession America, which are, by their very nature, nerve-wracking and second-guess inspiring and bang-your-head-against-a-wall-worthy. Not to mention the large party you’re supposed to be planning to celebrate your impending marriage to someone with whom you just purchased a house.
Yourself of ten years ago would not have believed that you’d be where you are right now, both figuratively and literally. She’d be pleased to know that all the nights she spent dreaming about going to faraway places were not silly; would be amazed to know that this year has had you on planes to Kabul and Accra and Bangkok in the span of two months. She would have laughed and probably stormed out of the room if you told her that, in the span of another two months, you will be marrying a particular person who used to ride the bus to middle school with her. She simply wouldn’t comprehend the fact that you really, really wish you could stay put for more than two weeks, and that your idea of a nice night right now would be staying in and drinking a Sierra Nevada while you paint the walls of your new house. White.
You sigh and pick up your phone from next to you and scroll through social media, because that’s what 21st century people do when they’re alone and deflated. Tara has posted a link to a cauliflower cake.
The cauliflower cake looks really, really good, and is from a cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi, the Jerusalem-born British chef whose beautiful cooking has caused totally normal people everywhere to start buying strange things like nigella seeds online. You’d bet this recipe has them, too.
So you go to Amazon to order the nigella seeds. Amazon is confused because all you’ve been ordering lately are millions of tiny globe lights to string around the perimeter of a huge tent, or a thousand small clear votive candle holders. Don’t you want to order two hundred more cloth napkins? it asks you. Do you want to add nigella seeds to your registry? You are being bride-algorithmed. You wonder what you could order to break it. Snow tires?
Days later, the nigella seeds arrive. What the hell are nigella seeds, anyway? You don’t know. You buy two heads of cauliflower. You leave for Bangkok before you have time to unpack the kitchen, and the cauliflower cake doesn’t get made.
. . .
A week later, in Thailand, you run into an Afghan colleague. You went to Afghanistan for the first time in January, and while you didn’t get to go out much, you did get to eat. And your very favorite thing to eat was beautiful, freshly baked naan bread, pricked in a pattern with the tines of a fork. You remind him about the bread, and how you had it every morning with sweet tea, sprinkled in the middle with sesame and little aromatic black seeds. He tells you the word for the seeds in Dari. You Wikipedia it.
Oh. It turns out you know a lot about nigella seeds.
In your hotel room, you look up the cauliflower cake recipe again. You remember that Ben proposed to you in an Ottolenghi restaurant, a fancy night out, in London last year. You weren’t really sure you wanted to get engaged, but he pulled an airmail envelope out of his pocket, ripped it open, and dumped a little ring that was your mom’s out onto the table in front of you.
All these tenuous threads, connecting things that don’t even make sense: they comfort you. The ring and your mom and the chef and the sun rising over the only view you saw from your window in Kabul and the uncooked recipe and the pound of nigella seeds waiting on the counter of the house with the loud furnace that isn’t quite yet home.
They’re not much, but they’re something to hold onto. You weave them around your fingers as you stand an ocean away, as you round the next corner, as you make the next leap.