Rice Contract

by ursavoice

Elizabeth Levy
J.D. Candidate 2013, UCI Law

Years of haggling with my internal organs have shown me that good health is not a gift, but rather something that must be perpetually bargained for. My body functions like a federation of cellular labor unions, with each organ agreeing to work only under conditions that have been negotiated through many screaming rounds of collective bargaining. In order to forestall a stomach strike, I avoid dairy. To appease my pancreas, I consume a low-glycemic index, fun-free diet. My vasculature has agreed to function as long as I keep my hands and feet warm, but not too warm.

Following an acute cardiac event some years ago, I have had difficulty reaching an amicable arrangement with my heart. Despite endless rounds of negotiations, several terms of our mutual existence remain disputed. Shall I choose caffeine addiction, or herbal sobriety? Get extra sleep, or go for sunrise jogs? Drink tap water, or pricey electrolyte-enhanced coconut holy water? Long-simmering tensions between me and “the pump” finally boiled over this year, after I rejected its demands for additional break time, and it called a strike. For hours a day, I could feel its off-kilter rhythm as it chanted angry, incoherent slogans beneath my sternum.

One afternoon, during the worst of the cardiac revolt, a quiet knock on my door revealed my very tiny, very elderly Armenian neighbor. Earlier that morning, I had helped her carry a bag of groceries to her apartment.

Smiling warmly at me, she quietly held up a ceramic plate piled to the heavens with golden basmati rice, raisins, and carrots. The fragrant spices and oil made me nearly swoon.

“Oh, no,” I refused, shaking my head. “That’s so very thoughtful for you to offer, but I can’t. I’m on a special diet,” I stammered, “so I can’t—I can’t eat this. But thank you.”

Ignoring my rejection of her attempted payment, she held the plate higher, bowing her head slightly. “Tehnk you,” she sang.

Realizing that further attempts to debate would be futile and that there would be no further negotiations, I smiled and accepted the rice. “Thank you,” I said.

Wistfully, I closed the door and walked to the kitchen. I scooped the rice into a container, inhaling deeply, and thought of my husband. Adam will love it, I thought.

Later that evening, my heart’s protestations escalated to a frightening intensity. If I did not take immediate action, I worried, my myocardium might just quit altogether. Ok, ok, you win, I thought. I’ll give you whatever you want. But what do you want?

Suddenly, I knew the answer. I quickly ran to the refrigerator, grabbed the container of my neighbor’s rice and tore off the lid. Clutching a large serving spoon, I ravenously devoured several mouthfuls. It was sweet and delicately spicy, with cardamom and cinnamon.

And then, just like that, the chanting stopped. My shoulders became airy, as though I had just set down a heavy backpack. I inhaled and exhaled, marveling at how effortless it was. I picked up the spoon and slowly savored a few more bites.

How did she know? I wondered.

I scrawled “bakery—cookies” on the shopping list. “I won’t return an empty plate,” I promised out loud, for anyone who could hear. Really. I’ll do anything, I silently bargained. Just let me be healthy. For the moment, a settlement had been reached. The strike had been called off, and my heart was working quietly on the job once again.