We had a lunch date. Luis offered to clear the table and wash the dishes. Earlier, he had volunteered to prepare a salad and didn’t wait for my green light: “Who is this man?” I thought, destabilised. However, his resolution, and the familiarity with which he moved around the confined space of my kitchen, was too endearing to fight or question. So I slumped on my sofa with a half-full glass of dark rum and Coke in hand. From there, I saw him crashing with ease the invisible barricade standing between the living room and the kitchen. Again, I felt invaded, but for once, I was surprisingly comfortable with the notion of surrendering to a stranger that didn’t feel like one.
The different rooms in my flat represent my various states of mind. I associate my living room with relaxation and socialising, my bedroom with abandon and regeneration. My kitchen equals control. In different degrees, my guests manage to cross imaginary borders and make it to my living room or bedroom, but my kitchen remains off-limit. The kitchen is a metaphor for my life. It incorporates my need for control where I don’t have any, which is in matters of the heart. The food I cook reflects my feelings and the love I have inside me. Cooking enables me to share the goodness of my heart with the people I care for without having to make a statement about it. I CAN BE in my kitchen. My kitchen lets me control the bottled hurricane of emotions swirling inside me safely. I knew I liked him when I saw him trespassing my defences and filling the void previously occupied only by control. The OCD-ish quality he displayed when he tackled the task of cutting salad leaves, one by one, in the same width made him relatable and suggested a need for control much more significant than mine.
I am a sponge.
Humans are creatures of habit. Besides the extreme ends of the spectrum where pathology overcomes sanity and madness rule our senses, we are all a complementing reflection of each other’s insecurities. As time goes by, I’ve learned to recognise the different shades and colours between the black and white of our lives. I developed empathising qualities I wasn’t even aware I possessed, and I came to terms with the notion that my heart was unlocked, unsecured, and wide open. I am a frail, wooden Victorian window with millions of tiny cracks from where the agents filter as they please. I am a sponge. I absorb the human condition. I experience it, make it mine, and cannot ignore it or turn away from it. So, in a selfless moment, on an unusually sunny afternoon in November last year, I gave up my kitchen to someone who needed it more than I did, to someone who isn’t in control of his personal life.
Twenty-seven-year-old Luis came to England from South America when he married a 59-year-old man and applied for a UK work visa to escape poverty. He met his now-husband in a chat room. They spoke for two years, making promises and telling lies. The line between love and delusion is as thin as the paper we use to cover the walls of our consciousness. We refuse to see. We make informed choices to dive into darkness because we secretly hope the light will follow. Unfortunately, life in London didn’t turn out as he thought. In love with the idea of security, Luis is now the prisoner of a bitter man who threatens to divorce him and deport him back to Colombia. Luis depends on his persecutor for two more years until his visa becomes permanent. Until then, someone he now fears will be in control of his being, his choices, and his life.
On the sofa.
Today Luis could make a salad and then clean the dishes. He could control this moment, and so I let him. A few hours later, I walked into my kitchen to regain control, but I found his essence instead, lingering in the yellow cloth he used to dry the dishes, which he left perfectly folded and aligned to the sink. I can still see him clearly, as I close my eyes two months later. There, with his back straight and his head slightly bowed, with his right hand resting on top of the cloth, giving a final check to everything, the moment before he turned to join me on the sofa.
He has been in the kitchen ever since.