Vantage point

Thursday, May 20, 2021

My Fossilized Meal

This is a short story. My attempt at a bit of sci-fi. 


It is rare for me to have three burners going when I'm cooking just for myself. But I was feeling a bit more tense than usual and cooking a lot relaxes me. Paying attention to all 3 dishes cooking at the same time helps take my mind off everything else.

So the ringing doorbell was an unnecessary distraction. I was not expecting any deliveries or visitors so this had to be someone selling either a religion or a political candidate. Notice how hardly anyone is selling anything commercial door to door these days? It's either religion or politics.

I thought that just ignoring the bell would make the person go away and kept tossing the ingredients in my wok while keeping an eye on the simmering poaching broth.

But the ringing was persistent and it got too annoying. So I took the four steps from the kitchen to the front door and opened it, ready to slam it shut soon.

It was a young woman, very eager and keen looking.

"Mr. Naik?" 

"Yes?" I said tentatively, also worried about the hot wok.

"May I ask you a few questions for my homework please? I'm what you might call a graduate student."

Huh? This was different from religion or politics or even vacuum cleaners. This was something completely new, right down to the accent. Living in New York, you hear almost all accents possible, but this one seemed strangely alien.

"Listen, could you come back in a while? I'm cooking!"

"Oh so very good!"

And this wiry tall young woman, about 6 ft 4, just stepped inside my apartment and stared at my kitchen fascinated.

"It is truly so good to see this, Mr. Naik. Is that garlic burning?"

It indeed was! I rushed past her towering but lithe figure into our tiny Manhattan kitchen, unsure about what to make of this unexpected visitor. She did not seem dangerous or deranged. She had more of a girls scouts selling cookies type personality. But still, here she was, in my kitchen, staring at me trying to salvage the noodles.

"Are you new to the building?" I asked, sniffing the poaching broth and gently pouring oil in the 4 holes in the thalipeeth.

Our building doormen did a thorough job of enforcing the no soliciting rule. So if she was here, she was either a thief or a resident.

"It's so much fun to see this kind of fire." she stared at my burners with fascination.

"You have an electric coil? Induction?" 

"No." she distractedly replied, while tapping her forehead with her right index finger every couple of seconds.


"Oh I could not possibly explain to you how we cook, Mr. Naik. It's almost impossible in such a short time!"

"Why not? I'm an intelligent man, they tell me. Try me. And also please tell me why you are here. Ah fuck!" I could smell that some garlic was indeed burnt. I opened the window and started the exhaust fan.

"How would you explain..." she tapped her forehead a couple of times "...An iPhone to Queen Victoria?"

That question was bizarrely specific enough for me to ignore my food for a few seconds.

"Are you calling me Queen Victoria?"

"No, I'm saying I'm from the future!" she impatiently crowded into the kitchen with me and started noticing and murmuring the ingredients while tapping her forehead.

"You're from the future? Well that explains the accent, haha." I tried some humor.

"Exactly." was her earnest response.

And then she just kept looking all over the kitchen and making mental notes, literally! I thought she would give some fantastical explanation. But she really was more interested in inventorying my kitchen.

At this point, I thought about turning the stove off and calling building security, maybe even 911. Sure, she seemed harmless enough, but this was a young woman of indeterminate ethnicity and a strange accent claiming to be from the future. In my apartment. Saying she was from the future.

"So when in the future are you from?" I asked.

"What pancake is that? That's the one my assignment is stuck on!" she was pointing at the thalipeeth.

"Bajri.... pearl millet." I was having trouble keeping up with her rapid topic transitions.

She repeated what I said while tapping her forehead. I later told the men from the government that it might have been like an implant for her to look up or note information. Like invoking Siri or Alexa but from the future.

"Oh, thank you. It's a grain native to....Asia, right?" she was staring at the thalipeeth fascinated.

"Could you move a little?" I clicked my tongue in annoyance, because I had to flip the thalipeeth and I didn't want to splatter hot oil on this weird new neighbor.

"Oh, sorry." she said, and kept tapping her forehead. At that time, I thought, someone with a disorder of some kind, but harmless. I now think she was taking pictures for her assignment.

"You didn't answer my question. When in the future are you from?" I tried to get her back on track.

"I could tell you, but it won't work." she said, peering into my box of Indian spices.

"Try me." I said.

"Okay." She said. Then her lips moved but I only heard 


"How did you do that?" I was stunned enough to stand there holding a ramiken with a raw egg in my hand.

"Do what?" I could hear her again.

"The beep sound! It sounded like on TV when something is beeped. But in my ear! How did you do that?" I was barely able to keep my wits about me at this point. It did not feel like a dream. But what was that?

"That's not me, Mr. Naik. That's the Time Travel Censors." she shrugged and stared at a black cardamom pod on the counter.


"I'm so sorry!" she suddenly turned and said. "I have been so distracted by your kitchen. I should have told you this before. I'm a graduate student here for a research approved project through chronal causality proof time travel, regulated by the Time Travel Censors."

I keep a small foot stool in the kitchen. I sat on it as I felt a little light headed.

"Sorry, the first realization of time travel existing can cause that. But please let me finish. I'm working on a research project on ancient meal fossils found in major cities at the time of global crises. This meal you are cooking is one of the fossils assigned to me."

I stared back at her wondering if I should be freaked out more by her imagination or her equanimity. She was telling me all this like it was today's weather.

"Our chemical analyses were inconclusive about the pancake. So I applied for a CCPTT ticket. We can make strictly regulated and censored time travel trips of limited durations for research purposes. And the systems make sure we are staying true to the past and not altering the future. My present."

This made the sci-fi nerd in me come out.

"But by just telling me that you're from the future, haven't you altered it?"

"Nah, that's what the censors are there for."

"I'm sorry, you keep saying censors. Do you mean sensors?"

"No, no, censors. Who will make sure that I can't give you any information that you could use like a..." she tapped her forehead a couple of times "..a Biff Tannen. I don't know what that means. Do you?"

"Back to the Future?"

Tap. Tap.

 "Yes. So anything I say that could alter the timeline is strictly regulated and censored. The information flow can be only one way. Like me learning that this pancake was not actually indigenous to North America, but was something made by an immigrant from across the globe! Thank you! This is going to be big at our presentations!"

"Glad to be of help." 

She suddenly shuddered, frowned, and smiled. 

"Mr. Naik, that's my 2 minute warning. Thank you for your help. If you have any questions, I can answer them. And the censors will decide what you hear."

She tapped her forehead once, held it, and blinked. Was this real? It felt real. I should tweet this!

"What if I tell people about this? Post it on social media?"

"Oh you will. You have to. Or I could not be here!"

"What do you mean?"

"The Time Travel Department only approves travel to instances where historical archaeological social media databases note someone mentioning a visit from someone from the future. The only way my visit here was approved was if you posted...Or will post... Something on social media about this. If historical records have no mention of a time traveler, those moments are off limits."

"So wait, you came here to research this meal which is.... fossilized? So I don't eat any of this?"

"Well, not exactly, it's just that BEEEEEEE..Am I beeping again?"

"Yes!" I put my pinky in my ear to get rid of the ringing.

"I guess they are really thorough about not wanting to tamper with the timeline."

"So what am I supposed to post on social media that will let you know in the future?"

"I don't know. I didn't see your posts. I just said this is the fossil I have, from this person, and the brain searches the databases and if you made a record, it's approved. They also have the chronolinnaeus records."

"The what?"

"Oh right, early 21st century." she blinked hard. "Okay, I'll be going soon. Thank you for this info. Could I maybe get a taste of that bajri pancake? I don't know if it's allowed but it smells so good."

"Sure." I turned around. "OWWW!"

I burnt my finger as I pulled it off the stove. I turned around. She was gone. My door was still locked. The apartment empty.

How do I post on social media about this without sounding like a nutcase? It would be a paradox if I did not. But if I do, how do I get anyone to take me seriously? If I don't, how will there be a record for her to get approval in the future?

Maybe I should write it as a short story on my blog and tweet about it!