I have a photographic memory – but only for food. Many of my relationships are mapped to meals. I remember exactly which lover I was with, what we ate, what we went through. My friends and I feast together to celebrate any occasion, whether sharing a meal in celebration or grazing in sorrow.
The cacio e pepe and insalata verde via Via Carota celebrating birthday, tender lambhaneeth and one Ramadan night, neverending chai at Yemen Cafe is a vegan italian that three girlfriends cook every Sunday in their apartment in Chinatown noodle. The two lovers of Awash tear and feed each other sourinjera pieces. Plates of hilib ari and rice wiped off by the family at home. Enjoy a vibrant and indulgent mango tres leches cake with an old friend in the shade of Gjusta.
But in life, you never know when it will be the last thing on your mind. When my friend Halimo was brutally murdered at 2017, the first memories of her that surfaced – after an initial wave of shock and grief – were shared at Saffron Grill Last Meal, Saffron Grill is a popular Indian restaurant in North Seattle. In my mind, she’s forever sitting across from me in a warmly lit backseat, plates of spicy chicken curry and savory goat roti before us.
The place where you last saw a person belongs to them. A part of their spirit lives there forever. Whenever I go back to Saffron, I immediately have a sense of déjà vu. My eyes flick instinctively to the back cubicle, hoping to find Halimo waiting there, ready to share food and gossip. In these spaces we occupy together, time stands still. She’s still alive, and we’ve been together for a while.
But Halimore is elsewhere too. I saw her sitting next to her husband eating mustard yassa jeun across from me at Joloff, a beloved Senegalese restaurant in Brooklyn. She’s kneeling in the dirt next to me in my garden near Seattle’s Madison Beach, her hands carefully pulling out the mint that’s encroaching on the tomatoes.
We’re dining in the staff lounge at the public high school we both worked at in South Seattle, assembling individual snacks like puzzle pieces into a great lunch. Halimo in my kitchen, in the last house I lived in before I went to New York; telling me her ugali with me in her singing Kenyan-Somali accent The soor, when we chopped up a huge pile of freshly harvested spinach and kale for dinner.