As soon as Djuku passes the door of the restaurant, she is welcomed by a small bonacheirão man, the boss, Mr. Isidoro, who almost immediately accepts her as a cook.
Almost soon, because you ask her before if she knows “distinguish salt from pepper, you know, I have clients who are not easy at all!”. And then tell him, showing the menu:
– Well, it’s all there, it’s not complicated and from now on you are the chef!
“Besides,” he corrects, “you are the head of supply, and you are the head of seasoning, of course, as well as going to the market.”
In the weeks that followed, seeing Mr. Isidoro so often at the door of the restaurant, Djuku understood his air of satisfaction as he told him all this. Mr. Isidoro loves to take a nap at BARRIGA DA BALEIA.
Djuku took advantage of this position to provide cooking for new condiments: coriander, cumin, fennel, mint, rosemary. And to modify the dishes by cooking or seasoning differently the meats, the vegetables, the fish. Not everyone liked it.
“Help, I have a burning throat,” a customer would shout out from time to time.
– They want to poison me, call the police! Shouted others.
But Mr. Isidoro was not convinced, and said nothing, because most customers approved of the move and Djuku was able to make juicy dishes.
A new life was beginning for Djuku at BARRIGA DA BALEIA.
If anything attracted Mr. Isidoro’s attention was Djuku’s hands. In fact, over the months Djuku spent working at BARRIGA DA BALEIA, things came down to this: for him and the regular diner customers, Djuku was just two hands, a brilliant left, a fabulous right. .
It’s good to know that during the day Djuku didn’t show up in the restaurant room, and since she came to work early in the morning, only leaving long after closing, no one knew for sure who she was, how she was. Only his hands were known to the “public”.
It was a spectacle, how to say, real, to see those hands raising a plate through the opening that separates the kitchen from the dining room. Djuku, in a word tossed to the serving man, announced the dish, but his voice is too sweet to hear. On stage were just his hands.
Customers who asked, whether it was a qualulu or a chicken with peanut sauce, spent the next few minutes staring at the opening. Not a few more nervous ones even bit their nails.
“They should have asked for a ticket too,” Mr. Isidoro always advised them.
Djuku’s hands are his tools and his treasure. They will not be what we call beautiful: the palm is wide, the thin fingers of medium size and well set, the long nails treated. The skin on this part of the body looks like parchment, and in her case is streaked with small scars (perhaps the price of a distraction at the time of learning).
It’s really the grace of their gestures, the agility, that delights the customers of BARRIGA DA BALEIA. Hands dance around the plates until delivery. It sometimes happens to rest on the edge of the opening. Are they gazing contentedly at the noisy life of the restaurant room? Or are they expecting someone or something? It is hard to know. They always start suddenly, bouncing, to shake around the stoves.
– Wow, this cold freezes my hands and Mr. Isidoro who never comes again! You must be in bed, everything serves as an excuse to get in there! – notes Djuku amused when opening the doors of the Whale Belly.
Not that you need your boss to start the kitchen, she already knows the ritual. Immediately, get down to business because you have a lot to do. He lights the ovens, takes the food out of the freezer, and soon his fingers are tired, peeling vegetables, mashing the pastes, preparing the broths, making the desserts. All morning Djuku will not have a minute’s rest, but as soon as noon arrives, the first customers arrive, everything is ready. At this point, the village is far away. Djuku doesn’t even dream.
At noon the starting shot goes off! All customers flock to lunch. Confusion threatens. But Commander Djuku is at the helm, and the Whale Belly does not adhere and continues its route.
Then comes the calm of the afternoon. Djuku has a well-deserved home. But more and more often, it is assaulted by old, uncomfortable images like turbulent children sitting too long at the table and needing to stretch their legs.
“Before,” he thinks, “everyone knew who Djuku was, now I’m a passing shadow, going to work in the morning and returning at night. Here nobody knows me, I’m a shadow with no history.”
She looks around and what she sees makes her smile: she imagines the village, the savannah, the rice fields, the warm sun in her little kitchen!
Why on earth won’t that be possible? One day, he thinks, it will be necessary for what I lived to marry what I live, for the restaurant to become engaged to the village.
A funny idea that made her laugh first and then cry.
It’s night. The restaurant is closed. One by one, all the customers are gone. Even Mr. Isidoro has already gone to his house. Djuku was alone. Sitting, she looks at her palms, the geography of the wrinkles on her skin, perhaps looking for a way forward.
Everything is calm in the kitchen. But Djuku hears a huge noise. The objects, padded inside it, are there, agitated, noisy, and want to escape at all costs.
“Your place is not here,” Djuku pleads, “let yourself be quiet.” They didn’t want to hear anything and continued with their terrible din. Then, once again, Djuku tells the story to herself. Aloud it invokes the village and its people, the warmth it gets when the sun reaches its zenith, the smell of the charcoal, the fish that has been dried on the roofs of houses, the dust that invades everything.
Absolutely decided, enter the restaurant.
Her memory, so vivid, gradually fades away. When everything seems to be back in order and peace has settled in it again, Djuku leaves the restaurant and goes home to rest.
When Djuku cooks, everything else loses importance.
Customers in the room can talk loudly and loudly, radio and television may well blow a blow, which Djuku devotes himself to his task in such a way that he only listens to the servant’s orders. She is like a queen in her kingdom, and each of her things, pots, pans, plates, cutlery, spices, plates, or stoves, protects her from the clutter, keeping her at the center of that fort, the kitchen. Not even Mr. Isidoro can enter there.
One day, however, a strange projectile hit Djuku hard: it was a word.
A word that had escaped the television presenter’s mouth. Djuku dropped the potato and knife he held in his hands and literally let himself invade. The word grew on her, gained swing, hurricane, explosion. It eventually flooded it, leaving only an empty, disoriented, fragile shell.
Djuku came into the room and went, mesmerized, to the television. Seeing her with tears in her eyes, the customers all fell silent, looked at each other and questioned Mr Isidoro with that same look.
The latter, seated in the usual place, asked in an uneasy voice:
– Is everything okay, Djuku?
She did not answer. He blew his nose with his fist. I sobbed.
“Must have burned his fingers,” thinks one client.
“My lady, the stew was making it, I devoured it all!” Look at my plate here, ”another one tells him.
– But what’s up today? All customers suddenly asked in one voice.
For the first time since Djuku’s arrival, BARRIGA DA BALEIA’s customers saw and truly looked at her.
The word, meaningless to them, was the name of the village of Djuku.
Mr. Isidoro grabbed her by the shoulders and made her sit down.
– Dry your tears, Djuku. Tell us what happened to you.
Then the following happened. Djuku, who had already caught her breath, began to count, and the objects that had been in her for so long came out of her mouth to punctuate her speech: the departure from the village, the journey, the arrival in the city, and to Whale Belly, the work and its great solitude. The clients and Mr. Isidoro picked up the objects as they arose.
Quecuto’s old guitar came out of his body with the perfumes of the songs so often heard, and a client picked it up to play it.
The sloping palm tree and lake baobab came out of his body, and a customer took them and set them by the entrance to the restaurant.
Nho-Nho’s cauldron came out of his body and a client placed him in the middle of the room.
Pepito’s house came out of his body and the customers took possession of it to clean the room.
Benvindo’s barge and fishing nets came out of his body, and the clients placed them in the shadow of the baobab.
Yes, right after that Djuku felt relieved and at peace. He saw the things that were firmly bound there as a ship’s cargo shared by all. He immediately realized that the village had married the restaurant.
Now everyone knew the history of Djuku.
– We can’t stay here! Said someone.
“You have to celebrate this,” said another, “as in the village!” Note to the reader After this famous day, the partition that separated the kitchen from the dining room was torn down by Mr. Isidoro with his own hands. Reader, if you want to go to Baleia Belly to enjoy the best dishes there, be sure to exchange two fingers of conversation with Djuku now that she cooks among them. And by the way, please ask me for news from the village. Alain Corbel The Travel of Djuku Lisbon, The Way, 2003