Consider the Feast follows Talia through the streets of The Quarter, where every imaginable delicacy is made and devoured, every unspeakable hunger is fulfilled. But the privileged patrons who feast there, and the third-world laborers who feed them—the haves and have-nots—are about to face a reckoning. Below is an exclusive excerpt from the novel.
The morning after India, I could tell from the house’s echoes that Aiden was already gone for his run. I took the phone from my bedside table and scrolled through the messages. One from my parents: Did you land safely? Another from my parents: Call us when you get up. Another from an unknown number: Did you think about it? –Philip. I ignored the others, but at the third message from my parents, I realized there would be no avoiding it: I’m coming by, I texted back.
Aiden returned home to get ready for the day, but he was not interested in seeing his grandparents. “They were at camp last week visiting. Plus I have plans. Can you drop me at The Quarter?” he asked. “I’m meeting people.”
I showered and dressed and slid into my car. He hopped in next to me and we drove in silence. I had been for all intents and purposes on another planet these past few weeks, but my body recognized the familiar car seat and routine at once. That same cool leather, that same old sticky wheel, the same soundless drive with him as he balled up and looked at his phone screen. Driving through my neighborhood, blinking into the sunlight, it felt like a Hollywood set after India, stark and clean and strangely unchanged, though how could it possibly still be here exactly as I’d left it, still humming obliviously?
We passed out of our neighborhood and the small commercial square at its edge and then drove the main road toward The Quarter. The street gradually went from green and spread out to a more congested, urban crowding, until we reached the top corner of The Quarter, which jutted northward and touched our street. The corner had both a bus stop and subway stop with a large train station below ground, but sometimes I just walked all the way there for the exercise.
This commercial edge of The Quarter was really all I knew. The Quarter itself extended a mile or so further downtown and was wide from side to side, having taken over large segments of several neighborhoods. I had never really entered beyond the farmers’ market or seen its extent. But I had shopped at the market every week since it opened years ago, and I’d seen the posh coffee shops and restaurants while passing. So I knew the energy that buzzed around this place.
There were the eclectic eateries of course, most devoted to some micro focus: just High Tea and cucumber sandwiches and scones in one spot, another place had a wall of drawers with nothing but coffee beans from Kona and Antigua and the Ivory Coast—all over the world, so you could hand select every single bean, and mix and match if needed, until you had enough for a cup which would be carefully collected and ground and brewed into the steaming cup you desired. There were famous restaurants I had heard of, and famous restaurants I had not heard of but which people said existed behind doorways in underground labyrinths or nearly hidden between popsicle shops or mustard boutiques.
Milling around the streets, there were tourists, of course—one was wearing a Chef Yorkie t-shirt that showed him all skater-wild and covered in frosting with his catch-phrase Let Them Eat Cake. There were the bloggers, chronicling their market visit, uploading videos, announcing to their fans, “The cherries are in!” and posting their daily Top Ten lists. There were the recipe nerds, meticulously hunting down the exact color, ripeness, plumpness of ingredients.
There was the street performer I had mentioned to Philip, wearing just a single nude stocking over his body and part of his face and an old-fashioned curly blond wig and pearls. All day he sat silently at one corner of the farmers’ market, spraying whipped cream into pie tins and eating it with a wooden kitchen spoon.
The Pie Eater received a steady clink of change in a separate pie tin, and every now and then one of the tourists put his own face close to the pie man and took a photo with him. The Pie Eater appeared not to notice and continued to fill the tins and eat the pies, gracefully and solemnly. Maybe he was accustomed to the tourists. Or maybe he was just caught up in his art.
At the far edge, there were the hippies, wearing plain linen smocks and sandals. They often slept on that corner. A pierced boy strummed a guitar and chanted quietly. A girl with flat braids passed around a wooden bowl with some heady yellow saffron tea. In the middle of the group sat a big crate of soft nectarines. Every now and then, someone would reach for a nectarine, open it with one juicy bite and then pass it around to the others, dipping the flesh into a packet of fine-cut pink salt.
“By the museum is good,” Aiden suggested. I pulled in to an open parking spot right in front of the building dedicated to the history of food in The Quarter. He started to get out.
“Are your friends here yet?” I looked around.
“No. But you don’t have to wait.”
“I’m waiting,” I insisted. He shrugged and settled back into his seat. I pointed to the museum. “I brought you here once, when you were a baby. Soon after it was built, when The Quarter expanded.” It was always strange to return to places with Aiden where we had once been intertwined—me, a mother saddled with diapers and he, a dependent squashy baby, smelling of milk. Now we were just two big beings, side by side. “I think you’d fallen asleep in the stroller while I was shopping at the farmers’ market, so I pushed you in here, sacks of produce tucked in around you, and I wandered for ten minutes before you woke up bawling.”
Aiden only shrugged now. “Well, I’m not a baby anymore.” I knew how to see through his cool demeanor. This big towering boy was still under my protection, vulnerable, looking to me for guidance, despite his large paws and feet that dwarfed mine. And yet, his compass was also shifting, it was starting to dawn on him that the real thing was out there, not in here with me. Despite all my fussing and homemaking, I was just his stopping point en route to the other place. All the millions of moments I—and Jack—had given to him, museums, changing diapers and singing lullabies and holding him up to see an animal at the zoo—were imprinted in some subconscious corner, yet long forgotten, and never truly retained by him. Meanwhile, for me, they were locked and crucial in my memory. Such an ugly and beautiful truth, that a child never knows how much a parent has given, and only knows enough to expect it.