“Become one with the peanut!”
I looked at a small salted peanut sitting on a blue china saucer before me. “How exactly do I do that? “I asked Shinzen, my ‘guru.’
“Imagine it growing underground, in the dark, from a tiny seed, forming in a shell with its companion.”
“I thought they grew on trees, like spaghetti!”
Shinzen ignored my attempt at humour. “Now imagine it grown, being pulled from its hiding place and exposed to the sun and the air. Feeling the warmth of the sun for the first time in its life, seeing the sunlight penetrating through its thin shell.”
“Peanuts can’t see!”
“You must imagine!” he said, adjusting his round, silver-rimmed spectacles and brushing a hand over his bald pate, as if trying to remember what hair felt like. “Now, after drying in the sun for a few days, it is harvested. See it being spun in huge drums, the shells splintering and the nuts dropping down onto conveyor belts.”
“I didn’t know they did that. I thought it was starving kids, allergic to peanuts, who de-shelled them.”
Shinzen sighed. “Be serious now, Stephen, imagine you are that peanut!”
That was kind of difficult to do but I didn’t want to spoil his fun, so I kept schtum.
“Now imagine huge ovens roasting mountains of peanuts. Can you smell that smell?”
I closed my eyes and visualised enormous ovens, tended by black men in straw hats. I had no idea why. But I could smell roasting peanuts, an earthy, pungent, oily odour. Then the nuts on conveyor belts, salt sprinkling onto them from chutes, poured into boxes. More men in straw hats loading the boxes into trucks. The vehicles roared off down sandy roads, throwing up clouds of dust. I heard them shouting. “Hey Pablo, how’s Maria?” “She’s fine man, another one on the way!” “Another one man, you should have that operation!” Raucous laughter, the men slapping each other on their faded blue denim backs.
Shinzen brought me back to the room. “Now examine the peanut. Look at every line on its surface, see the tiny grains of salt clinging to it. Regard its shape. Except for the little nub on the end, almost perfectly oval.”
I did so, feeling a new respect for the humble nut.
“When you are ready, eat it!”
I looked at the peanut closely for a while, then, eyes closed, reverently put in my mouth, feeling its shape and size and weight with my tongue. The salt tasted tangier than I ever remembered. Finally, I crunched down and my senses were overwhelmed with earthy, wooden, plasticky, oily flavours. I chewed and chewed like a man possessed as it turned into mush and I swallowed it bit by bit. Finally, I opened my eyes. “Wow!”
Shinzen beamed. “Now wasn’t that the best peanut you’ve ever eaten!”
I laughed. “Yes!”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’d done the exact same exercise with a raisin five years earlier.
Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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