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General

Author's note: Hey, guys! As promised, Part 3, the final one, is out.

Just wanted to say that this story actually has nothing to do with the prompt. It's part of a slightly long story I've written and I just wanted some feedback. Judges, unless you're looking for a fun read, please ignore this. It doesn't relate.

It mostly won't be approved, as it is unrelated, but hopefully you'll enjoy it.

My opponent’s tasting, though, happened to be far more interesting and engrossing than mine.

Ranjith took the first plate – the starters. He bent close to the plate and sniffed at it, nose almost touching the food. He closed his eyes, breathing regularly and deeply for a few minutes. Then he opened his eyes and took a small spoonful of the dish. He brought it close to his nose again, and then placed it in his mouth. He didn’t chew, he didn’t swallow. He just kept the food inside.

I heard the crunch of the crisp bread crumbs, as he took his first true bite. He didn’t take another soon; he kept his jaws clenched and his eyes closed. I saw, with fascination, as a small part of the food rolled down his throat. His Adam’s apple stood out, and then drew back, as the food disappeared down the oesophagus.

Peristalsis, scientists called it. The movement of the muscles in the oesophagus or food pipe to push the food down into the stomach.

This movement was very pronounced in Ranjith; I could make out every time he swallowed just by watching his Adam’s apple. I didn’t even have to see it very carefully. It was like watching a snake. A snake that skims along quietly, but commands the attention of everyone in the vicinity. I shuddered when Ranjith swallowed again.

He picked up little bits of food here and there and placed him on his spoon. He closed one eye and inspected the assortment before him, sniffing occasionally. Then satisfied, he tilted his head back and poured it into his mouth. One by one, each of the pieces he had put on his spoon was pushed down the food pipe, eventually disappearing down into the stomach.

He repeated this curious practice three more times, then placed his spoon down. He produced a napkin from his suit pocket with a flourish, and dabbed gently at the corners of his mouth.

He had a strange little smile on his face, one that didn’t quite raise both corners of the lips evenly, one that didn’t quite reach his cold eyes.

“I’ll start with the basic, obvious ingredients. Salt, bread, sugar, potatoes. I also believe there was a little bit of pepper in that. Some saffron,” he said, as he bent low and sniffed at the plate once more. “There’s also a hint of cumin, sesame, some chilli powder. There’s a very brief tang in the middle of the spoonful, so I’m guessing there’s a few drops of lemon.”

I frowned. I hadn’t tasted any lemon. Ranchod was, for the first time, completely silent. He watched, as did everyone else, and marvelled at the brilliance of the man who was speaking. I have to admit, his taste buds did seem much more refined than mine.

In two minutes, Ranjith had correctly identified all fifty-four of the ingredients in the soup. The five of us, as dutiful audience, burst into applause. I clapped a little less excitedly than the others, wondering where I had gone wrong. Ranjith was a food critic, and I knew he was good, but somehow, I could not fathom the idea of losing to the man. It sickened me.

“Now, the main course,” Ranjith ordered, snapping his fingers. The two plates of main course were passed around to him.

He picked up his spoon and again placed just a few bits of the dish onto it. Again, he tipped it into his mouth, after careful sniffing, and just held it there. Again, I saw a little part of the food slide down into his food pipe, which then proceeded to push it down slowly into the stomach. Ranjith closed his eyes and concentrated. After twelve minutes and thirty seconds of repeating this procedure, he placed his spoon down. “My dear Ranchod, I really must commend you on this one. It’s beyond delicious. Amazing, just amazing. Heaven on my tongue.” He cleared his throat. “Now, to business. Again, let’s start with the obvious ones. There’s salt, potatoes, onions, spinach,” he waved his hands carelessly over the large pieces of each of the vegetables as he said their names, “and there’s rice. Then there’s some pepper, mustard seeds, vegetable oil, and some innovative paste. I have some slight doubt in that.” He ate a few more grains of plain rice. “Yes, it’s turmeric-bean paste, isn’t it? Surprisingly good.”

I started. Turmeric-bean paste? What an awful combination! I would have definitely tasted it if it was there. Ranjith smiled at me. “You missed that one didn’t you?”

“Perhaps,” I said, not wanting to prove his supremacy outright. Ranjith continued to rattle off the remaining ingredients, with a bored look on his face, only pausing occasionally to taste the food again quickly. The man was really a genius.

Soon after he was done, and we had all congratulated him on getting a whopping fifty on sixty, Ranchod pushed over the dessert plate, and Ranjith went to work again. He oozed the same confidence and arrogance that he had maintained throughout the entire tasting, which I found commendable; he didn’t show even a little loss of composure.

He counted off the easily identifiable ingredients on his fingers, smiling delightedly at me after every two or so. “There’s also, if I’m not wrong-”

“And why would you be?” interjected Ranchod, laughing. He had downed several glasses of wine during the course of Ranjith’s performance, and now had two happy reddish pink patches steadily growing on his cheeks. I sank lower in my seat, annoyed at his remark.

Ranjith accepted the compliment gracefully. “Thank you, Ranchod, but I assure you, I may be wrong sometimes. Anyway, as I was saying, there’s a hint of honey in this, isn’t there? But it’s not plain honey, there’s another taste that accompanies it every time the honey comes, which leads me to believe they’re probably together. Almond-honey, perhaps? Or kola nut-honey?” He paused, closing his eyes. A few seconds of silence, as everyone waited expectantly. “No,” he said, opening his eyes. “No, the almonds are bitter. That’s why I thought it was kola nuts.”

At this point, it was too much for Ranchod. He got up, violently knocking his chair down, clapping with the enthusiasm of a kindergartener. “Wonderful, Ranjith! Absolutely wonderful! You really have a gift!” He quickly consulted a sheet of paper that had the ingredients listed on it. “Forty-five on forty-seven! Amazing! You, my good sir,” he said, shaking his head and walking over to Ranjith, “are the clear winner. Abhishek, old friend, better luck next time. Ranjith proved to be too much of a challenge, eh?”

I wanted to retort, but Ranchod was extremely drunk, so I let it go. Instead, I gave Ranjith a grudging clap, a sick feeling forming in the pit of my stomach.

“Here,” said Ranchod, staggering over to a crate in the corner. With a loud grunt, he lifted it and brought it to the table. “Here’s your prize. Sixty-five-year-old wine.”

“My dear Ranchod, there’s really no need. The victory in itself is a prize. Bigger than anything else.”

This statement annoyed me to the extent of wanting to bash the speaker’s head in with a bottle, but I took a hold of myself. “Here, man,” I said to myself. “You’re acting like a child. Pull yourself together.”

Ranchod forced the wine on Ranjith, who in the end accepted it, not without a hungry light in his eyes, though he kept it well-hidden.

The rest of the meal was a decently pleasant one, though neither Ranjith nor I spoke to each other, and very rarely made eye contact.

Towards the end, we packed up all the bottles and crates, except for three bottles of the 1922 Chateau Talbot, which Ranchod insisted wouldn’t be drinkable if it sat there any longer.

The opening ceremony was just about to begin, so Ranchod and Elena ran off to get everything ready. Mohan and Irina went to the tent, where they tried to mingle with the other guests. As for Ranjith and I, we just walked around, and it was evident from both our demeanours that we were thinking about the recent contest we had.

After a few minutes, I got tired of pacing and sat next to a old woman, who was enthusiastically debating with her other neighbour over the merits and demerits of no-alcohol wine. Ranjith sat down behind me.

The speakers hummed with feedback and I turned to see Ranchod stepping up to the podium. He tapped the microphone and cleared his throat.

“Ladies and gentlemen, as you all probably already know, I am Ranchod Sharma. This is Elena Ivanova,” He gestured to the lady, who stepped up beside him. “We are here to give you a very warm welcome to the grand opening of our vineyard.”

There was a polite smattering of applause. A few people whistled.

“I am sorry for the delay in this welcome. You have been here for almost an hour and a half. It’s not really a welcome.”

Snickers from the audience.

“But,” Ranchod continued. His voice still slurred from the alcohol in his system. I stifled a chuckle. I looked over at Mohan and Irina and saw that they were doing the same. “I hope it was an enjoyable wait. I hope you have taken the tour, had enough wine and food to keep you content. I know I have.”

I laughed aloud, earning glares from my neighbours.

Ranchod continued, “It’s a pleasure for me to finally be able to open this vineyard. It’s been a long-standing dream of ours, mine and Elena’s, ever since we got married. I’m so proud to see it fulfilled…”

I felt a gust of wind and looked back, scratching my neck. Suddenly, I realized Ranjith was gone. “Huh?” I muttered under my breath.

Then I spotted him. He was slinking along the edge of the vineyard, occasionally glancing at the tent. I was puzzled. What was he doing?

He suddenly turned and disappeared into the vines. It was a risk, but I made up my mind to follow him. I jogged into the vines, hoping I hadn’t lost him. I hadn’t. He was walking slower now, just ambling along. For a few minutes I followed him, all the while getting more and more confused. Where did this lead?

It turned out to be the open-air kitchen. A line of stoves and ovens and pans were set up over a large area, just after the main vineyard ended. About fifty people were hurrying around, checking in on this pot, on that pan.

“How’s the soup?”

“This needs more salt?”

“Where’s the goddamn thyme?”

The place was heaven for my olfactory senses. A brilliant mix of smells rose from every vessel and plate, awakening the hormone that stimulated hunger, even though I had eaten less than an hour ago.

Ranjith was quickly walking along the periphery of the kitchen. He seemed to be searching for something. It was my luck that he still hadn’t noticed me.

I kept a watch on him from just inside the vines. Then a young woman joined him, and they stood there for a minute, chatting. Then they turned and strode away.

I followed them, curiosity growing. They walked to a side-gate that I hadn’t noticed was there. The woman said something to the watchman, and they left. I hurried to follow. The watchman was, at first, disinclined to let me go, but I convinced him that I was with them, and he finally opened the gate.

I followed the couple further down to a park, where they seated themselves on a bench and began to talk.

I pulled my jacket to cover part of my face and lounged around behind them, pretending to be immersed in the yellow glow of the afternoon sun. To add some authenticity, I pulled out a pen and began sketching on my hand.

“… I really must commend you, my dear,” Ranjith was saying. “The food was absolutely delicious.”

 “You liked it, did you?”

“Every little bit. You really surpassed yourself with the main course.”

So the woman with him is the chef, I thought.

“Thank you,” she said. “Anyway, did you do it?”

Ranjith looked around. I became absorbed in finishing the portrait of the sun.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said coolly. She nudged him playfully. “Come on, you can tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“Ranjith! I helped you. Don’t forget that.”

“All right,” Ranjith said. He leaned in close to her. “It went off fabulously. I enjoyed every little moment of it.” He spoke slowly, relishing each word. “The poor guy is actually really good.”

With a jolt, I realized they were talking about me.

“He really has a gift,” Ranjith said. The chef nodded.

“In the main course, though, he faltered.”

Ranjith spoke in the same calm, arrogant tone that he used during the contest. I shifted a little closer to hear him better.

“And you would’ve too, if it weren’t for me,” the chef said.

“Come on, darling, don’t have such a low opinion of me.”

She laughed. “I’m telling you, if I hadn’t given you the list of ingredients, you would never have done so well. Especially with the almond-honey.”

It took a full minute for the true meaning of her words to sink in. I blinked. The sick feeling was back in the pit of my stomach. I gripped the pole. “That cheating b…” I trailed off.

The two stood up and looked around. Immediately, I turned to my drawing, inwardly fuming. I don’t know why, but I stood rooted to the spot, when I should have gone and finished my sentence loud enough for Ranjith to hear.

“Well,” he said, “I guess we better head back before anyone notices.”

“Yes. We should.” The chef linked her arm with his, and just like that, without another glance at the artist hard at work on the setting sun, they walked off, through the gates of the park, down the road and back into the vineyard.

August 23, 2020 09:23

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13 comments

Amogh Kasat
12:51 Aug 24, 2020

It's a wonderful story! Please read my latest story The Secret Organisation { Part 2 }

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Nandan Prasad
12:58 Aug 24, 2020

Thanks so much! Be sure to like the previous parts to this too!

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Amogh Kasat
12:59 Aug 24, 2020

I will do when I am free

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Rambling Beth
18:45 Aug 23, 2020

I can't believe it's done! I wanted to read on and on. Your writing style is beautiful. :)

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Nandan Prasad
01:57 Aug 24, 2020

Aw, thank you so much!

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. .
01:10 Aug 24, 2020

I would assume the series is over? If it is it was really good with a beautiful finish, if not I can't wait to see more!

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Nandan Prasad
01:57 Aug 24, 2020

Yes, it's done. Thanks for reading!

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. .
02:10 Aug 24, 2020

Wow, it was really good! I do hope to see more short series because wee, sometimes I just can't stop reading.

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Nandan Prasad
05:41 Aug 24, 2020

Aw, thanks so much!

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The Cold Ice
07:16 Sep 11, 2020

You ask me to read your story.So,I came here.Super story.It was a wonderful story.Great job keep it up.Keep writing.

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Nandan Prasad
08:38 Sep 11, 2020

Thanks so much!

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The Cold Ice
08:55 Sep 11, 2020

(Would you mind commenting my story)

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Nandan Prasad
14:00 Sep 11, 2020

Sure, I'll do it soon.

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