In my humble suburb there is a chippery. In fact, a more humble chippery couldn’t be found: a simple roughcast building with a slop of paint applied to its walls and only an ‘A’ certificate to reassure customers it’s safe to eat there. It’s nearing lunch time and I’m feeling a mite peckish. The chip man springs to attention behind the counter as if expecting me.
“I saw you coming,” he says.
“A scoop of chips, please,” I say, and hand over my two dollars.
His face lights up as if my order is a big one, not a tiny little one. As soon as the chips hit the singing fat he starts telling me a story, not a story to stimulate the appetite, mind, but one to cast a spell …
“I was diagnosed with liver cancer when I was only 26, which meant my bones were never destined to get old. I was started on chemotherapy but it made me feel so awful. I asked my doctor, will this chemo make me feel bad for the rest of my fore-shortened life? Yup, expect to feel pretty gross, answered the medic. To hell with that, I thought. I threw in the chemo and went to Thailand. In Thailand I came across someone who knew a practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine. I spent a long time eating only fruit. I learned to meditate. I had to work up to it – ”
He hops from behind the counter to demonstrate a soft reverential footfall that gives thanks to the earth for being there to support its every step. The chip man is dancing before my eyes. His light footstep and his lyrical hands, gesturing at the end of his ascetic-thin arms, speak of a sustained practice or discipline of some kind.
He talks on. Finally my chips are crispy and calling to be wrapped in plain white paper. Still he talks. The package waits on the counter but I am conscious not to move a muscle and risk ending the story prematurely.
“I’m now 56,” says the chip man, delightedly.
Then, suddenly realising that my hot packet and me have yet to be united, he takes it carefully in his hands, crosses the distance between counter and seating area and delivers two dollars worth of chips into my hands as if it were the crown jewels. “Interesting, eh,” he says.
“Do you still do it?” I ask.
“But what about all this?” I nod toward the fish ’n’ chip and hamburger-making paraphernalia.
“Three times a week,” he says.
“You can do that when your body and soul is in alignment, but alignment must come first,” says the sage.
And I take my leave feeling not so guilty about polluting my temple of a body with hot chips. Before Enlightenment: cook chips. After Enlightenment: cook chips … but perhaps tweak the seasoning a bit with crumbled feta and a scattering of dried oregano instead of salt and pepper. And also, perhaps, dance.
Annette Rose is a registered nurse, doctor’s wife, mother & grandmother, social anthropologist, creative entrepreneur & storyteller. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.