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Pete’s Verz Herring

 

The boat ride on Mols-Linien line from Ystad to Bornholm was exciting for Udoadiamkpo, (Udo for short). He loved the sheer size of the ferry. He loved removing his trainers and feeling the soft rug of the passenger coach. He enjoyed taking a walk to the front deck and letting the breeze rip his face to pieces. Udo was in love with the Baltic Sea. On his first trip to the Baltic Sea, he lost his fez. He had bought that fez from Tesco’s for four quid. Unannounced a fresh surge of wind swept the deck and up it went with his fez. The sea did a little dance, more of a thank you dance and Udo was sad.

Udo’s second time on Mols-Linien ferry was even more dramatic. A man, his daughter and supposedly other family members were sitting around the table adjacent to him. They were having a nice conversation. The daughter, who must have been about 17 years old, was tapping the father incessantly on the shoulder. What thrilled Udo was the way the father handled the daughter. He tactically ignored her while maintaining her sense of security that ‘I am with you.’ The girl turned around the man in circles and kept trying to attract the man’s attention. It was then that it dawned on Udo that, he didn’t have to deal with that sort of scenario in his life. He was thankful and cupped his hands in thankfulness.

Udo decided to step out to the deck to spend the last 30 minutes of the journey. Udo made sure that he did not step out with any clothing accessory. He stood by the railing and watched the sea and all the sea life. Few fishes darted across the sea. Some seemed to be following the ferry. He stood in awe as the sea raged and the wind blew ferociously. He was glad that he had nothing to lose this time around. He spotted a school of fish travel parallel to the ferry and in great admiration. He enjoyed watching the ferry berth at Ronne. The seamen hauled out the anchors and ropes and then, the disembarking process. It always gave his mind so much to chew on.

Twenty minutes after disembarking, Udo was in a taxi that took him to Novotel where he would spend the rest of his days in Bornholm Island. This trip was a crucial trip as he had named it the ‘trip of restitution.’

Exactly two years ago, when he had first visited Bornholm Island, he had met a gentleman, Peter. Peter sat next to him. The ferry was crowded and it was a busy summer. It looked as if Europe had conspired with the rest of the world to invade Bornholm Island.

“Hello” the freckle faced gentleman said.

“Hi” Udo responded.

“First time here?”

“Yes and you?”

“I was born and raised here. I now own a restaurant in Sandvig.”

“Oh fantastic.”

“So what do you do for a living?”

“I am a minstrel.”

“Wow, I have never heard of this word. What does it mean?”

“I am a poet. A resident poet in one of the royal houses in the warrior tribe of Ibiaku Uruan.”

“That sounds exciting, even though I have no clue where this place is.”

“Yes it is. I perform thrice a week to the king and his wives after dinner. These are the days the king, mates with his wives. So, I sing melodious tunes that will relax the king and his wives before he retreats into the privacy of his chamber.”

Peter burst into a hilarious fit as he blurted, “I have never heard of this.”

“What do you intend to do while in Ronne?” Peter quizzed the minstrel.

“I will cycle the entire breadth and length of Ronne. I will explore the old railway track that is now a cycling path. I will stop in between beaches to do some photography, swim and laze about.”

“Fantastic! I would like to invite you to my restaurant. Please be my guest on Wednesday night. It is the night of my signature food.”

“Thanks very much. I am going to take you on that.”

Numbers were exchanged. Peter showed Udo on the map where Pete’s kitchen was located.

At Ronne, they disembarked and went separate ways.

Wednesday 7pm. A short stocky gentleman butted into Pete’s Kitchen. There was a queue of about ten people waiting to be seated. The night was a little nippy even though it was summer. The wait was long. The music was blaring from the speakers and Udo liked the selection. The music of Kasper Bjorke was the first in line. Everybody seemed to waltz to this tune. Necks twisted and limbs shoved about. People puffed smoke into the air and the glasses were refilled. The queue moved a metre in about 10 minutes.

 

Old friends shook hands, village folks reminisced over the events of the day. Those who had travelled to the big cities like, Malmo, Stockhom, Copenhagen, Helsinki and London had come home for the summer. They wore a certain kind of look, that look of sophistication and exposure. They all laughed heartily, smoked, and drank.

The tune changed to that of Iceage – Forever. Folks stood up from their chairs and those who stood by the wall moved on to the concrete floor and danced. Udo was taking all this in. Peter’s words rang in Udo’s head. ‘Wednesday night is our busiest night in the week because of my signature dish – Pete Verz Herring.’

Udo looked at his watch, it was already 8pm. The taxi would be back in an hour’s time. He had not been seated yet. He had not eaten. He had not seen Peter. Was it worth it?

“Excuse me?”

“Yes!”

“Can I see Peter please?”

“Oh, he’s in the kitchen cooking.”

“If you would be kind enough to mention to him that Udoadiamkpo is here, I’ll really appreciate it.”

“You must be the guy he is expecting. You travelled with him from Ystad to Ronne?”

“Yes. Right. He has been expecting you. Please come with me.”

Udo berated himself for waiting in the queue for that length of time when he could have asked for Peter right from the moment he arrived.

“Hallo my friend, very good to see you. I have been expecting you” Peter stretched out his arms to Udo.

“Very good to see you too. I have been here for about twenty minutes.”

“Really?”

“Yes. You should have asked of me the moment you arrived. Remember I told you Wednesday night is our busiest night because of my signature dish.”

‘Yes, you said so.”

“Sit down sit down and let’s serve you. You must be hungry.”

Peter disappeared and reappeared twenty minutes later with Pete’s Verz Herring.

Udo was served drinks while he waited for his meal. He drank from a crystal clear glass, a mixture of soda and Spanish wine.

The bartender had never heard or seen such a combination. “It’s called diamkpo libation” Udo verbalized to the bartender when he saw the looks on his face.

Pete’s Verz Herring came in a big sized plate. It had two medium sized herring fish that was neatly gutted. It had sprinkled on it, some spices and seasoning that Udo did not recognize straight away. He however, smelt the vinegar and recognized the lemon that was put by the side of the fish dish. Seven freshly cut onion slices were arranged in a circle round the fish. Freshly cut tomatoes and cucumbers were placed in circles on the side of the dish. There was a little sauce like ointment in a little side dish and fries. Udo looked at the fish. It was raw and dressed. Not even a kilojoule of heat energy had touched it. Peter looked at Udo and laughed heartily.

“Finally, it’s here – Pete’s Verz Herring. Bon Appetit!”

“Thank you” Udo managed to say, all the while his eyes staring at the dish in front of him.

He glanced sideways and saw a couple devour the same plate with relish. Something must be wrong with him, he reckoned.

“Erm, Peter…”

“Yes Udo”, the music had just changed to Off Bloom and people cheered and made loud noises. It was hard to hear people talk. The atmosphere was charged with revellings.

“Peter, please can you warm the fish a little bit, just some smoke please”

“No my friend, no. This is the signature dish. Look around you. You see all these people. They come here because of this dish.”

“Peter, I do understand and you told me before. What I am requesting is, please just smoke the fish a little for me. I have never eaten raw fish before.”

“No, it’s not raw. It has been treated with spices and seasonings. It’s very nice. You have not even tasted it yet my friend?”

“I get you Peter. But please can you just smoke it a little for me?”

“My friend you are going to spoil business for me. What if people see the dish being served smoked? It will really spoil the reputation of the dish.”

“If you can do it for me, I will really appreciate it.”

Peter’s face dropped. His whole body’s demeanour changed. It looked as if some sad news had been broken to him. He walked away sad with the dish. People stretched forth their hands to grab the dish from him. He spun around and walked back to Udo’s table.

“I am sorry I can’t. Make another choice from the menu. We have smoked options but never will Pete’s Verz Herring signature dish be smoked in Peter’s Kitchen.”

“Peter I am really sorry. I understand that this is the attraction in the mount and I want to eat it.”

“Then bloody eat the damn food” Peter interrupted him.

“I guess, I should.”

By this time people had started looking at the little drama that was building up.

Peter tossed the plate in front of Udo. Udo stood up and went to the sink and washed his hands. He tore the first raw fish and some liquid spilt on his shirt. He dipped it in the sauce that was next to the fish. He took it to his mouth and chucked it in. He masticated it, keeping his eyes tightly shut, swallowed it and everybody was watching him in awe. It looked like a ritual, a spiritual event.  He took the tablecloth immediately and covered his mouth. That feeling aroused. He stood up quickly and ran into the toilet.

“Aaaaarghhhh” as he spewed everything out. He was in there for about twenty minutes.

The door rapped for a long time and he didn’t open the toilet door.

“Are you alright?” Peter asked.

No reply. The toilet door was forced open and laying on the floor was Udo. An ambulance was called and Udo was admitted into the emergency ward of the hospital. He ended up spending three days in the hospital because he could not retain anything in his stomach. He had to be fed intravenously. Udo’s brother had to fly in from the UK to come and look after Udo and after being discharged from the hospital he flew back to UK. The farewell was on mixed feelings.  His holidays had ended on a sour note. He blamed himself for allowing himself to be cajoled and coerced into eating something that ordinarily he would not try out.

Peter’s business suffered a dip for some time and Peter had to keep explaining to his customers that whatever Udo had suffered was as a reaction to the food. He had never eaten any food raw and his body just rejected it straightaway. He did not have the mechanism to cope with it and that was where it was a little dangerous.

Peter felt guilty for his actions of resisting Udo’s hesitations about eating the fish. In addition, he was not happy because of the losses his business sustained as a result of this incident.

Two years later, Udo was in a taxi that took him back to Pete’s kitchen hoping that the restaurant would still be there.

Wearing a pair of jeans, converse trainers, face cap and £8 t-shirt from Tesco’s, he stood at the restaurant waiting to be seated. He requested for a seat near the window, so he could view the lush greenery and vegetation. He tried to take in his environment observing what had changed from the last time since he visited the restaurant. The crowd was a lot less this evening. The music was less intense.

“Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me sir” the waiter said for the third time.

“Oh yes” Udo snapped back to life.

“Are you ready to place your order?”

“Yes please. Can I have Pete’s Verz Herring and soda on ice.”

Shock was written on the waiter’s face. Shock and surprise. In the last one and a half years, no one had placed an order for Pete’s Verz Herring. Yet he was happy as well.

Twenty minutes later, a plate of Pete’s Verz Herring was in front of him. He took the knife and sliced the herring into five pieces. He took each piece and dipped it in the sauce and ate it graciously. He downed his soda and waited patiently. A gentleman walked in with an apron and sat next to him.

“Hello sir!”

“Hello!”

“Where did you come from and what made you to order for Pete’s Verz Herring?”

“I come from Croydon. I was here two years ago on the invitation of Peter. He served me Pete’s Verz Herring that fateful night and it turned into a disaster. I was taken into the emergency room and I spent some days recuperating in the hospital. It was such a shame because Peter meant well but my system could not handle his signature dish. I have come back to see Peter and to eat Pete’s Verz Herring as my way of restitution.”

“Oh, I see. Sadly enough Peter is at home. After that episode, he went into a medical condition and has never come off it. He is at home. He barely talks to people. He talks to himself alone. He feels that all what he struggled to build all his life was lost as a result of that night’s event.”

Peter sat next to the fire as his chief cook narrated to him the event of the night. Peter for the first time in close to two years ignited an eye contact with a fellow human. For the first time in two years, Peter listened with attention to a person and for the first time in two years, had his eyes lit up. He didn’t speak a word but when he heard how Udo had eaten the whole plate of his signature dish, he smiled and went to sleep for the first time without his pills.

Nine am the next day, Udo was at the Piers, the residence of Peter. He walked in with the same set of clothes he wore the night before. That characteristic smell from the restaurant was still lingering on his garment. Instant recognition! A smile crept up across Peter’s lips. Peter extended his hands towards Udo. A firm handshake, then an embrace.

“How are you Peter?”

A nod from Peter.

“I went to your værtshus last night. I ate Pete’s Verz Herring. It was very nice. I enjoyed it. I am sorry about the drama that occured the last time I was here. I am also so sorry to hear about your ill health. Is there anything I can do to help?”

Nobody was particularly expecting a response from Peter.

“Thank you for coming back. Thank you for eating Pete’s Verz Herring. Thank you for coming to see me. I am ready to go back to my business. I shall resume making PVH.”

“What’s PVH?”

“Pete’s Verz Herring. My signature dish.”

“Oh yes!”

“I will start with you. I will make you a PVH dish. I shall smoke it for you. We shall have a variant of PVH, a smoked version.”

“I have eaten PVH original and shall eat PVH smoked edition too.”

 

 

Uwem Mbot Umana©2020

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