Annapurna feeds her sourdough starter twice daily, with the same routine regularity she cleans her teeth, but it isn’t a chore. The starter’s frothy, enthusiastic greeting always surprises her. The bubbles breathe, swelling and deflating to the rhythm of her lungs. Sharp vinegary notes fizz in her nostrils, clear her head.
The alchemy shocks Annapurna into activity. She whisks the starter briskly in its glass jar with a fork. She strokes the thickening palette of cloud colours, playing the artist she had always been too timid to become.
She weighs ingredients with a calculated precision she has never been able to emulate in her everyday life.
The flour puffs, tired as it lands in the basin in soft powdery mounds. The salt is giddier, settling like fine spring hail. The warm water splatters from the jug in bursts of machine-gun fire. It is soothed only by the slow unwinding of an amber ribbon of honey, falling from the spoon into the mix. Then the starter sings its magic in a soprano of fermentation.
Annapurna washes her hands slowly, encouraging the lifeline creases on her palms to etch deeper. The sourdough is warm elastic as she stretches it thin and transparent. A windowpane framing her small, square world. She moulds the dough in envelope folds, forming the letters she always meant to send but never did.
The sourdough has the smooth gleam of skin, the sort she’d always aspired to have but was never able to achieve, even as a young woman. There is a sadness in hiding the dough within the depths of a dark oiled bowl. It is covered with a damp tea towel.
She makes a pot of coffee, puts her feet up and reads a novel. The hours of her day brew slowly.
Annapurna’s limbs are stiff when she rises and tips the sourdough onto her kitchen table. She sculpts the dough into two large balls, pressing her index finger gently into the top of each one. Belly buttons on the powdered tummies of the babies she hasn’t birthed. She lines a bowl with a floured cloth and lays the balls in its protective nest.
Annapurna turns the central heating up, the sourdough justifies her extravagance, and settles back in her chair. The dough’s rising comforts her, provides a companion for afternoon tea.
Steaming with humid warmth alongside her preheated oven, Annapurna places the round loaves on a hot baking tray. She scores their tops with a sharp knife and bakes them. An aroma of summer fields, of ripening, swaying grain rises with the bread.
Annapurna knows baking sourdough bread, like living, is not about a recipe. It’s about an understanding.
That night, before she climbs into her creaking bed, Annapurna draws the curtains back so she can catch the first light of a new dawn.