Belize Survivor, part 39

A dismal November arrived with cold rain and driving winds. As the days shortened and temperatures dropped, so did Alexis' spirit. Nothing was green anymore. The once-bright autumn leaves now lay in soggy heaps and a cowardly sun stayed hidden behind a dull gray veil. After the years of sunshine in Key West and California, it seemed that life was devoid of color, both inside and out. Even as a child Alexis had hated winter. Now her depression grew daily as she felt the world closing in. Each day started in the cold darkness before dawn. The alarm clock rang rudely, and Alexis shivered as she padded barefoot across the floor to put on warm clothes. The fluorescent light in the kitchen was brutally white, like that of a prison. The clock on the kitchen wall ticked defiantly as she put on the kettle. When the tea was on the table, Max came in and sat down. He drank it in silence, his mind focused only on the day ahead. Then the chores began.

First Max fed and checked the cattle, turning out the ones that would pasture for the day. He talked to the ranch hands and laid out the daily work schedule. Then he inspected the progress on the new barn. It was anybody's guess as to whether the new one would be completed before the old one fell down. Max fretted over the rotted flooring and termite-eaten beams groaning under the weight of the tons of alfalfa hay. He topped-up the oil on the tractor, checked the tires, and welded a weak spot on the dozer. Wood repairs were needed on the horse corral and the watering trough had a bad leak, making it necessary to refill the tank every day. The three-year old horses had to be shod and he made a mental note to call the ferrier. Also, a veterinary check would be necessary for the several cats that were supposed to be controlling the rats in the barns. Max cursed softly as he noted the chewed ropes and gnawed leather in the tack room.

Meanwhile, Alexis was busy with her share. Max insisted that everything be done a certain way. After washing the dishes and cleaning the house, she glanced over at the cranky old washing machine and opted to ignore the pile of dirty clothes temporarily. Instead, she decided to go into town and stock up on groceries. Max was so fussy about what foods he ate and how they were prepared.

On the way to town she remembered the lecture that Max had given her the day before about the proper way to make tea.

"What have you done to this tea, Alexis?" he had said.

"What do you mean? Is there something wrong with it?"

"Yeah. It doesn't have the right flavor, like you left out one of the steps."

"I made it like I always do. I boiled the water, used loose tea instead of bags, steeped it in the teapot, and put one-and-a half spoons of sugar and a little cream."

"Hmmm. Tastes like you boiled the water too long. Either that or you didn't let it steep long enough."

"Shit, Max."

"What do you mean – shit? Is it too damn much to have you make me a decent cup of tea? Didn't your mother teach you how to do that either?"

"Look if you want it different, just tell me. Leave my mother out of it."

"Okay, little Miss Shit-for-brains. Since this is one more thing you never learned, let's start at the beginning. First, you let the cold water run for at least fifteen seconds. And don't forget to rinse out the kettle first. Then you fill it with fresh cold water. Put in just enough for the number of cups you're making, plus one extra cup; if you put in too much water, then I have to wait unnecessarily. You must stand there and watch it come to a boil. As soon as the steam shoots from the spout, lift it off the burner at that precise moment. Not before, and certainly not after. Over boiling affects the flavor and makes it bitter. Then you warm the pot."

"What do you mean warm the pot? Warm it how? Heat it up in the oven?"

"Damn, you are a lost cause, aren't you? No wonder it never tastes right. ‘Warming the pot’ means that you pour a little of the boiling water into the teapot, swirl it around, and dump it out. Then you put one rounded teaspoon of loose tea for each cup you're making and one for the pot, and pour the boiling water on top of the leaves. Give it a quick stir, put the lid on the pot and let it steep for exactly five minutes. You should really put a cozy on it too, but we don't have one."

"A what?"

"A cozy. It's a little cloth cover that fits over the teapot to keep the heat in. I'll show you what it looks like. It won't take you long to make one on the sewing machine. Now, where was I? Oh yeah. After five minutes, you open the teapot and give it one more quick stir. The tea will be floating and if it's been steeped properly it will sink to the bottom after you stir it. Pour it into the cup through the tea strainer, and make sure to put in the sugar first, and then the cream. That way the sugar melts completely and mixes with the tea before the cream cools it off too much. Actually, the English way would be to put in the cream and sugar first and then pour the tea onto it, but I like it better this way."

Alexis winced as she remembered how she’d had stood there, dumbfounded. Surely the man couldn't be serious. Yet he was staring at her like he'd just awarded her with critical scientific information. It was tea, not rocket science. She didn't know how to respond.

"Okay, Max," she said. "I'll do my best in the future."

"Don't do your best, Ntombi. Just do it right."

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