I went to bed angry. I’d logged off in disgust after reading the agenda for the morning meeting. I just could not believe my boss. She must be completely socially and psychologically tone deaf. There was no other reason for setting an agenda that would start with a contentious item before our first cups of coffee had a chance to get cold. Since women were hired as ‘consensus managers’ she was obviously a throw back to the time when women in business aimed for a ‘male’ (AKA confrontational) approach.
It was going to be a long day.
I set the alarm on my phone for six. That would give me ample time for a little yoga before a quick shower and the F train to work. As soon as I lay down, I became to conscious of the hum of air conditioners and fans. It adds a layer of sound — an irritating version of white noise — to the usual city soundtrack. A car passed by on the street blaring hip hop, a woman shouted, a dog barked, a truck rumbled down the avenue. It was going to be a long night, and an even longer morning, if I didn’t mange to get some sleep.
I checked the clock: midnight.
I tossed and turned for what seemed like hours: 12:28.
Eventually I fell into a deep and dreamless, sleep. Waking to a blissfully silent morning. No alarm chiming on the iPhone, no buzz of the laptop booting up, no rush of water from the neighbor’s bathroom upstairs, no gurgling in the coffeemaker… not even the hum of air conditioners. It was a silent morning.
I pushed the coarse linens off my legs and, without thinking, began what felt like a perfectly normal morning ritual. I splashed my face with room temperature water from a basin by the bed and rose, pulling dress over the cotton chemise I had worn while sleeping. I pushed my feet into wooden shoes and clumped toward the hearth. A black caldron hung above the ashes. I poked about with a stick, finding a still glowing ember, which I fed with kindling and blew on until it blazed. I selected a piece of hard, dry, split tree branch and nestled it by the ember, patiently waiting until I saw the wood start to singe. Only then did I take a bucket outside into the cool summer morning air.
I relieved myself in the dank outhouse. Then I lowered the bucket into the well, tugging on the scratchy rope, and bringing up cool water. I washed my hands, splashed my face, again, and tasted minerals on my lips. I took the bucket back into the kitchen and poured most of the water into the caldron to heat over the fire.
I looked around the room and felt at ease with my surroundings. The straw-filled mattress on the floor (my bed), six pots and four frying pans (my tools), a large knife (my pride and joy) and a paring knife (my legacy), my larder (filled with my homemade preserved vegetables and fruits), my precious staples (flour, sugar, beer, salt, cider, a round of cheese and a yeast bread sour), my luxuries (tins of tea, dried fruits and nuts), fresh eggs and milk (my pleasure), wild game (my challenge), the smokehouse (my science), the axe for filling chickens (my terror), my key (the symbol of trust that opened the cellar with spirits and wine) and the tricks of my trade (spices and dried herbs).
The water began to boil and I prepared a morning tea tray, carrying it to the master’s rooms in the front of the house. I left it on a table by his closed door and knocked twice, before returning to the kitchen to make porridge for the other servants and prepare the breakfast for the master’s family.
It was still a silent morning until I sighed as I returned to the kitchen to once again, face another day of cooking. The lady of the house never rose in time for breakfast at the table. I’d have to prepare a boiled egg and tea and send it upstairs with her ladies maid. The young sons were bottomless pits, wanting food at all hours and their father was a miser wanting to squeeze the last crumb from every loaf of bread.
I punched the bread dough down and left it to rest under a kitchen towel. It would be ready to bake by the time the oven was heated through. I heard footsteps at the kitchen doorway and …
I woke up.
The alarm on my iPhone chimed electronic church bells and I rose to the hum of a million air conditioners across the city. I switched on the TV and got the local weather — going back up to 94 today, but with the humidity it will feel like 100. I turned it off, pulled on my sweats and did my sun salutations.
I had a boss who was a pain in the butt, deadlines looming, a charity function to attend and plans for the weekend with friends from out of town. I sighed and held a tree pose. So much to do, so many choices…
It was going to be a tough morning, but NOT a silent one.