“Good day at work?” Kaka asked as soon as he entered the kitchen. Three cooks worked behind him, moving fluidly between deep fryers, pans sitting on induction hobs, and the tandoor oven in the corner. Even though Kaka was the oldest of them, physically he appeared significantly younger. His brown skin was several shades darker than Danny’s and curly locks hung all the way down to his neck. Unlike the staff behind him, Kaka’s chef whites were immaculate, too, even though he had started preparing ingredients and getting sauces ready long before the others started their day.
“Had three classes and a couple of clients,” Danny answered. “Can’t complain, really.”
“Then why do you look disappointed?”
Instead of replying, Danny glanced past his uncle. One of the cooks had slowed. Even though the recently immigrated Indian man didn’t look at them, Danny didn’t doubt he was eavesdropping. Kaka followed Danny’s line of sight and sighed.
“Arun, we don’t have many orders left. Are you okay to finish up and then close?”
“Yes, chef,” the man answered, in a thick Bengali accent.
“Alright then, I’m going to have dinner with my nephew,” Kaka said. He paused by the door and pointed at a button on the intercom. “Ring the bell if you need me. I don’t want you coming upstairs again, alright?”
Arun glared at Kaka and Danny for a moment before nodding. He turned around and returned to work.
“He doesn’t have the best attitude, does he?” Danny asked, following Kaka up the stairs.
“Arun? He’s fresh off the boat and has a lot to prove. His resume claims he was a head chef in India until catching the ire of a villain.”
“So he sold everything and moved four time zones to get away from them?”
“Pretty much,” Kaka answered. “I can trust him to do the ordering and run things when I’m gone. It gives me more free time.”
“But do you trust him?”
“Enough to close up. I wouldn’t want to leave an entire evening to him yet, and I’m double checking all of his paperwork, too. That’s not important. You look pissed off. What’s up, Danny?”
“Sal is taking half of my classes and giving them away to a new Personal Trainer. I don’t get to pick up any new Bruiser-four or higher classes either.”
“Please. I don’t need a ‘told you so.”
The dumbwaiter in the dining room dinged. Kaka slid the little elevator open and retrieved a humble dinner of daal—lentil soup, tandoor-grilled lamb, and rice. Danny wished the meal had more vegetables, but didn’t complain. On most nights, dinner consisted of whatever didn’t sell in the restaurant.
“I just don’t want you getting hurt, son.” Kaka sighed. “If you work for me full time I’ll let you work as my number two and ensure the earnings are far more than the gym is paying you.”
“Most of my money comes from self-defence classes and personal training and that still pays reasonably well—”
“Do you have much left after fixing yourself up?” Danny didn’t have an answer to Kaka’s question. “The anti-scarring sprays and gels can’t be cheap. I bet the bone mending treatments set you back a fair bit, too.” Kaka paused. “I know what you’re trying, Danny, and you won’t be the first. I had a friend once that attempted the same—took his body to the brink and forcibly induce an awakening. You know where it landed him?”
“In a wheelchair,” Danny replied. “You’ve told me this story before, Kaka.”
“He went from his physical peak to paralysed from the neck down. Kalapura asked for euthanasia, but the doctors deemed him lacking the mental capacity for such a decision.”
“And now he’s in an asylum somewhere. A fading mind stuck in an uncooperative shell.” Danny finished the story for Kaka, focusing on the meal in front of him.
“I just wish you’d set aside this silly dream and make something with what you have on hand,” Kaka said. “Our people aren’t meant to pursue super heroics.”
Even though the chicken and its creamy sauce beckoned to him, Danny started with the black daal. The lentils Kaka used for the dish started off a dark, marshy green. He mixed them with dried kidney beans in a four-to-one ratio before dumping them in a pan with copious amounts of water. After the last orders of the night went out, he’d get the chef operating the tandoor oven to cut off the oxygen supply, leaving the coals to slowly die. Then he’d seal the circular top by putting the giant pan of water and lentils over it. They’d stew slowly overnight as the oven cooled.
The next day, he’d cook them further before the lentils and beans were on the verge of breaking down, and then finish it with a tempering of whole and ground spices, onions, tomatoes, garlic and ginger. For those who wanted a richer version, he’d add butter and cream to the mix along with dried fenugreek leaves. Danny didn’t care for the rich version. He preferred it when Kaka dumped a bowl of beaten eggs into the pan while heating up his portion. The eggs would cook off the lentil’s heat, scrambling as Kaka stirred. He’d done just that, and Danny had to resist filling his belly with the mix.
By the time he reached the chicken, Danny’s mood had considerably improved, and he was ready to continue the conversation.
“What about Vish, Kaka?” Danny asked. “He obviously has Indian blood, and he’s as big as heroes get.” Kaka didn’t respond. Everyone knew Vish. He sat in the league’s European council. The second-generation immigrant Hero gave people like him hope. “Then there is Surya in the States and Bheem dominating in multiple Super Sport categories.”
Kaka focused on his food and continued eating.
He knows I’m right.
Danny understood Kaka’s concern. Even though they had a cordial uncle-nephew relationship, Kaka had taken care of Danny ever since his parents got caught in a hero-villain conflict. The official records claimed a car crash had claimed their lives, but Kaka let the truth slip during Danny’s late teen years. Danny understood that Kaka wanted what was best for him. He didn’t come from a place of pity or selfish gain like Jose or Sal. After all, Kaka was a powerless, too. Danny had to remind himself not to get angry at Kaka. He needed to channel it all somewhere, but Kaka wasn’t the right person for it.
“I know the chances of me awakening a power is lower than everyone else’s. I just hoped it would be different because of Mum.” Kaka always called Danny’s obsession with heroes and villains unhealthy. However, locked away in his successful Indian takeaway, Kaka rarely experienced the streets as a powerless, dark-skinned man. “There was Rakshasa too. Do you remember him?”
Kaka looked up from his food at the mention of the former villain. Danny knew from the look in his uncle’s eyes that he’d gone too far. It was Vish that took down Rakshasa. Danny was just a toddler then. The London borough of Harrow had suffered devastating property damage during the battle. The city’s Indian and Sri Lankan communities mostly occupied the area and hundreds had died during the chaos or because of injuries after it.
The incident had birthed resentment towards supers of the ethnicity and resulted in years of hate crimes afterwards. Kaka hated talking about the incident. Danny wondered whether their family was among the people killed during the time. Kaka refused to confirm his suspicions, but the timing made it probable.
“I know this is going to sound harsh, Danny, but honestly, I’ve had enough of this super nonsense. You’re an adult now. Embrace reality and move on with your life.” Kaka put down his fork and stared at Danny. “You have a degree in Maths and Economics, and teaching qualifications, but you’re not doing anything with them? Why did you even bother with those four years? Was it to just shut me up?”
Danny had no reply for Kaka. He stared back into his uncle’s eyes, convincing himself not to explode.
“Either start looking for something in your field, or join me in the kitchen full-time,” Kaka said.
“I’ll think about it,” Danny replied after finishing his meal. He cleared the cleared utensils, cutlery, and plates into the dumbwaiter before retiring to his room.
Once in the shower, Danny let his frustrations run free. His clenched fists bashed the wet tiles under the showerhead, cracking a few and once again marking his head healed knuckles. Danny didn’t care. He felt helpless and angry. The powerless had no genuine prospects in London or anywhere in the world. He hated being one of them. Danny wanted more, and he believed he’d find it working with the League. After letting his frustration out, Danny calmed himself with deep breathing.
Kaka hadn’t set a time limit on the ultimatum, but Danny was sure it would follow after he continued working for Sal. Moving out was, of course, an option, but he didn’t want to cut and run after Kaka gave up his twenties and most of his thirties raising him. The thought filled him with guilt.
By the time Danny climbed into bed, he had decided and steeled his resolve.
Danny: I thought about it.
Danny: Set up a meeting. I’ll talk to the Power Merchant and see what he’s got to offer.
Jose: That’s brilliant news, mate. I’ll get back to you by the morning.