Photo credit: 
Sushant Sinha
Jordhana Rempel's picture
Jordhana Rempel
August 11, 2016
Two friends walk into a tea room

The sign read Madame Rosa’s Palmistry, Tarot Cards, and Tasseography in purple cursive, and was incongruous with the brown stucco home behind it.

“Why did I agree to this?” I asked as we stood on the porch.

“Because you’re a good friend and it’ll be fun,” Lisa said.

Madame Rosa greeted us at the door. “Come in,” she said. “Lisa and Morgan? You’re right on time.” I had expected copious amounts of carnival gypsy costume jewellery. Yet Rosa limited her mysticism to crystal pendants and white feathers woven into her hair.

Her kitchen was clean and spacious. Two china teacups and a box filled with various loose teas were laid out on the island. “Pick any kind you like,” Rosa said. She gave us a hostess smile. “Then I’ll take you through and we’ll do a private reading.”

Lisa went first. She chatted with Rosa, choosing a rooibos tea and tossing excited glances my way. “Drink with your left hand,” Rosa instructed. “Clear your mind of all concerns.” Clearing her mind required silence, something Lisa wasn’t wholly comfortable with. I could feel her shift on the bar stool beside me. She drank her tea so fast that I doubted she even tasted it.

Rosa told her to swirl the dregs around three times and dump them into the saucer. They then walked into the private reading room—an office with purple curtains drawn over the window—and I was left alone.

I got started on my own tea while I waited. Picking my usual favourite of Earl Grey, I set the kitchen timer to let it steep for three minutes—like a proper cup of tea, according to my mother. I held the warm china in my hands and breathed in the lavender and bergamot. While I thought the whole tea-reading business was bunk, at least I was getting a good cup of tea out of it. I allowed my mind to wander; unlike Lisa, I found silence relaxing. It was a difference between us that was becoming more drastic as we got older.

I read the spines of Rosa’s cookbooks while straining the loose leaves through my teeth. The reading would be worthless if I swallowed all the material.

It felt peaceful. Until the timer dinged and I jumped, upsetting the cup.

Luckily, it was almost empty. I cursed and grabbed a sponge from the sink to mop up the spilt tea. I grumbled about Lisa’s choice of venue for our monthly meetup. Even having tea in a stranger’s house seemed to be too much for me. I inspected the cup to make sure there weren’t any chips and saw that most of the leaves had survived.

It was just a wet lump of plant matter. I rolled my eyes at the thought of reading anything from this, let alone the future. A large clump at the bottom was shaped like an L: that one was obvious. Madame Rosa would definitely comment on my friendship with Lisa.

One spot near the handle looked a bit like a wine glass. It reminded me of wild nights with Lisa when we were still in university. That was the start of our adventures. We did everything together back then. A couple of parallel lines could be a road; that would probably be the trip Lisa and I took to the Rocky Mountains one summer. We were a real Thelma-and-Louise story.

A wave of nostalgia hit me. Lisa and I had been drifting apart for a while. The heyday of university was long behind us. I had a house, a job, a mortgage and car payments. Lisa said we had become boring, hence the foray into trying new things. But I didn’t feel bored. I didn’t feel trapped by ennui like my friends said I would when I turned thirty. Lisa was the one who wanted to hang on to those days and spend life running from thrill to thrill. I wondered how she really felt about her life and realised that I had never actually asked her.

The scent of Earl Grey lingered in the leaves. It was a safe smell, one that reminded me of cool days and warm blankets draped over armchairs. The rooibos Lisa used had a rougher, red scent. It was something for drinking outside a cafe in a humid, wet climate—a place far away from here.

Lisa needed to experience things outside herself to be happy. Those adventures suited her. I was better off with my quiet, thoughtful cup of tea.

I sent Lisa a text as I picked up my coat, saying that I had been called away for work and promised to make it up to her. We both needed to recognise who we were.

This story belongs to the first volume of the Binge food fiction series. To find out what happens next, wait to read the sequel.