Oven Stones by Helen Moat

Dutch oven 1

Charles pulled the largest kitchen knife from his box of utensils and laid it on the trestle table. No point dwelling on what was out there – he had a job to do. He kicked around in the Serengeti dirt until he found four flat stones.

He cupped the stones in the palm of his hands as if they would slip through his fingers like water; then laid them out on the ground like an offering, the smallest first. He thought of Panya, his mouse. The second, rougher and larger, made him think of Mbita, born on a cold night. The third, pocked and dimpled, of Masika, born in the rainy season, his eldest child. And the last stone round as the full moon, Kamara, their mother.

Yes, no point dwelling on what was so far away – he had a job to do. Charles set to work, building a brushwood and log fire in the bush camp. While the wood burned, he prepared and poured a mixture into his battered crock. When the flames had died back and the wood glowed white, Charles held a calloused hand over the fire, pulling back sharply: It was time to set up the Dutch oven. He laid the stones on a metal ring and set the crock on top. Then using tongs, he placed a wall of logs all around the crock and over the top, building an oven, log by log; building a life, stone by stone.

As the sky haemorrhaged light, the overlanders returned to the chapattis Charles had cooked for them, charred and smoky from the campfire. Githeri too, the stewed beans and potatoes steaming. And last of all, the mango cake Charles had cooked on the Dutch oven for the English boy with his hair of flame and skin pale as the moon. Four years on the earth this day- like Mbita.

No point dwelling on what he couldn’t have – he had a job to do. He tidied the Dutch oven away and washed out the crock. He washed the stones too and wrapped them in cloth, placing them in his kitchen box to take on into the journey.

Published by helenmoat

Helen Moat is the author of Slow Travel The Peak District. part of the UK Slow Travel guide books and published by Bradt. The book is available from Amazon and the online Bradt shop, as well as major outlets. Helen Moat was born in Northern Ireland and spent her childhood travelling the length and breadth of the island in her Dad’s Morris Minor – or so it seemed: she still suffers from wanderlust. Helen studied German in England, living in Switzerland and Germany for extended periods. The author has since settled in the Peak District, her adopted home. She is constantly inspired by the local landscape, and the people and places shaped by the Peaks. A keen walker and cyclist, she’s happiest when outdoors and on the move. As a travel and fiction writer, she’s always on the hunt for a good story. The Peak District gives her plenty of material. -

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