Once upon a time I had an aunt called Maria inhabiting a rural house in the country with husband,daughter and son-in-law. Maria's hair was curly and her mood sociable. A good housewife with sense of empathy,she never missed a funeral. With good nature she visited the neighbours and the groves. With a positive disposition she took part in weddings,christenings,illnesses and even infelicities.
"Did Maria not come ? I am sure she's gonna be here soon". My grandmother asked first when we had bad occurrences.
Her physical presence was reassuring and a comfort to be seen. She ploughed and tendered her own garden. Even with the use of spade and dry lines on her palms, I grew up with my classmates fantasising about remains of sensuality in her figure. Her stay-at-home husband, living on subsidies from the car industry ,was of not much help. My uncle, a silent man with cropped hair and an amputated finger in one hand was cynical. He interacted with the world just via sarcasm. He made bad jokes about dying goats ,while Maria was standing on dry stone walls like an open sunflower. She had to attend the needs of the olive trees on her own.
They customarily grow over there and she would gather all the olives. But was not her artisanal olive oil what she used in the mould of the famous doughnuts.
"Who do you prepare them for? I cannot have any. I am sure Maria is gonna bring us some" My grandmother said in April . Easter, Jesuses are crucified, celebratory cakes are baked, deep fried dough balls are the local delicacy. In a kitchen with tiles on the walls, the white cooker had a big pot on the gas, the vegetable oil spurring the aluminium in the vessel above tongues of fire, ready to make Maria's doughnuts crispy and golden. It was believed that Maria's works were peerless because of the special dough made by her son- in-law.
Her daughter was short and curious. Distinguished for attracting older men, accidentally at college ended up with a big grownup baker. After marriage, they turned a side of the house into an abusive bakehouse,because Maria's son-in-law dreamed big. Vegetable oil started to make them all fat but life was prosperous.
This story would not happen without the secret ingredient and the mysticism in Maria's doughnuts: the son-in-law's artisanal dough. The texture was gooey and sticky in the crispy golden rings of Maria.
"Maria is an angel.Those are acts of real love... I cannot stop it... I cannot stop eating them. None makes them better. God knows. " The priest was beaming in greasy face in front of the church at around 8:30, chattering to worshippers, when my aunt died.
His skin made him look much younger and It was understood he had several affairs in the village. The priest's words leavened the envy of the ladies. The farmers' daughters credited the edge in Maria's doughnuts to the fortune of marriage.
"Maria's brother in law has got better recipes. He comes from the city. He tastes everything....He's scrupulous" The ladies said.
He had adipose tissues growing on his buttocks. Appearing from the back like a pear on the supermarket shelves in autumn, the baker's ambition was dripping from the sides of the mouth. A natural cost-cutter born in an urban surrounding, his commercial mind was very keen on the affordable. Vegetable oil is cheap. Used in copious amount, chemistry made Maria's doughnuts enticing.
The first week of Pentecost, after a routine doctor's visit, she was diagnosed with pancreatitis. She had a nasty sense of bloating, an unsupportive husband whilst the son in law had euros piled up by the cooking pot.
One damp Sunday morning I received a call from my sister. They had taken my aunt to the hospital but she died.
The wise men say that if they had used olive oil she would still be alive.
Few months later. Back home from abroad for the first time since the doughnuts accident, my uncle was working his fingers to the bone at the olive oil mill. His hands appeared bigger handling discs of pomace . He hustled, toiled like the bastard dog my grandmother gifted him after Easter. Merciful, I asked his unshaved face: "How is it going?".
"How is it going.... ". He replied.