Ellie met Ejaz in her third and final year of university. Her course friend, Tabby, had suggested a blind date so that Ellie would have someone to cry on as she wrote her dissertation, and Ellie good-naturedly agreed. After the customary awkward hello hug and blind jokes were out of the way, Ejaz took Ellie to one of the many coffee-houses that lined the streets by the university. They weren't often
frequented by students, who preferred the clubs in town, and were instead owned and patronised by the local Pakistani community. After squeezing into a tiny booth tucked at the back of the shop, Ejaz ordered for both of them, convincing Ellie she probably no idea how anything in the shop would taste. Ellie had a coffee with cinnamon and cardamom which was faintly sweet and creamy despite the
bitter overtones of the dark roasted beans. Ejaz chose a beaten coffee - a cappuccino with sugar and cream all combined to give the drink its distinct taste and texture. After trying some of her date's drink, Ellie confessed that she preferred his to hers, and so they swapped. To complement the coffees, Ejaz had picked meethi tikkiyan, a coconut-cardamon cookie, jalebi, deep fried strings of batter that were
then soaked in sugar syrup, and sooji halwa, a mix of semolina, sugar and cardamom and a speciality of the coffee house. Faced with such choice Ellie decided that they should try each dish in succession and she would try to divine all the ingredients that went into each one. Where she got an ingredient wrong or missed one out, Ejaz would correct her and describe the remaining ingredients to her exactly so
that she could locate them on her next bite. Later, when Ejaz walked her back to her halls, Ellie admitted that she had imagined her date would be blond. The young man laughed and said that no one in his family had ever been blond. Ellie asked if she might feel his face so she could picture him in her mind. Again he laughed and said that no one in his family had ever had their face felt in such a way, but he was happy
to be the first. He had a long nose with a bump in the middle, as if it had been broken years ago. His nostrils held a permanent flare that met with the crevasses of his dimples when he smiled. His cheeks were scarred from the acne of puberty and he tried his best to hide them with a scraggy beard that extended from his sideburns, down his jowls, and across his chin. He also had a moustache that no one,
especially his mother, liked. The hair on the top of his head was coarse and thick and not blond. He liked to style it so that it was drawn up from his forehead in a quiff. Bizarrely, Ejaz smelt of chocolate wafers to Ellie, despite him eating them only on the rarest occasions. It was later in their relationship that Ellie told him he definitely did not taste of them.
The night before Ellie's wedding, she stayed in her old room at her parent's house. She and Ejaz had decided it would be easiest if they had their nuptials at the local registrar's office and later blessed by a reverend and listen to the holy words of an Imam. The wedding banquet would have foods from both of their cultures, but pride of place would be the meethi tikkiyan, jalebi, and sooji halwa
that the pair had had on their first date. Preparing for bed on the eve of her marriage, Ellie stroked the walls of her room lovingly. Memories flooded back to her. That was where she had tripped and broken her arm, there was where she had played tea party with a bemused David, in that corner was where she had pretended kitten was a...but where was
kitten? After all those years, Ellie had forgotten her faithful companion that had kept her company. Waves of remorse washed over her, and she called to Kate to help her find the toy. Had it been packed away? Was it given to a new baby to enjoy? Ellie prayed that the little velvet thing had not been thrown carelessly away. Kate, now with greying hair and aching knees helped her daughter tear her room apart in
search of the kitten. Eventually he was found, exactly where Ellie had thrown him in her rage at seventeen. He was dusty and smelt faintly of mildew, but seemed no worse off for his exile to beneath the wardrobe. Sobbing, Ellie carefully washed him herself, but for once, subjecting the toy to a bath brought forth not tears of sorrow, but of joy.