“Chili Peppers!”

DSC04435“CHILI PEPPERS, CAPPUCCINOS — AND A TIMELY SUNDAY TEXT”

We were at Cappuccino’s, the only establishment open that Sunday evening at the Brooklyn Mall, Pretoria. Their Romana pizza looked like the perfect end to the day.
But not so fast: under the pepperoni on this Romana lies a land mine of trouble. Chunks of hot chili pepper, seeds and all, ready to explode inside your mouth.
One such chunk lodged straight in the back of my throat, and started screaming, “Welcome to Cappuccino’s!!” I tried to answer back, but my voice was totally gone. Once a chunk of red hot chili pepper settles back there, it begins its gruesome work by cutting off the vocal chords. The victim is left speechless, arms flailing, eyes bulging, tears running. You hack, you rasp away, you bang the table — anything to get some help!
Of course the secret is to cough the infernal kernel up, into a napkin — or almost anywhere! On this day, no such luck. This one was dug in. Then suddenly, the assailant broke free and darted straight down the oesophagus!
This was actually worse! The villain had now spread his fiery attack from the region of the epiglottis to the stomach and across the chest. You start to think heart attack!
Surprisingly enough, no one at our table seemed interested. I was screaming, but no one was hearing! I looked for a man. Why was their no one to heed my paroxysms, those speechless cries for help, someone to stand in the gap, as it were, and pour a cup of cold water down the fiery channel? I might have been crashed out on the patio stones before my companions, well into their own mild slices and casual Sunday chat, would have noticed!
I lunged for a bowl of ice that mercifully had come with the drinks — and gulped down the freezing water in the bottom. Then I popped two small ice cubes, then four more. Eight, ten, twenty — every bite-sized chunk of ice was like a kind of frozen, heavenly manna. I scooped it up and sent it off on its fire-fighting mission.
Finally, when I stopped shaking, I placed an early order for the mango sorbet. Then I followed it up with a tiny slice of very mild Hawaiian pizza, double cheese, laced with lovely pineapple, the meekest and mildest of pizzas. The words of the psalmist came to mind: “I shall not die, but live!”
Mercy, I said, when I recovered my voice: it is getting to be a dangerous world out there. Chilli peppers, like other deadly things, lie concealed beneath the pepperoni. It’s one thing to moderate one’s pizza orders toward the mild side, which I now highly recommend: Four Seasons without the onions; Thika Chicken without the peri-peri; Ham, Green Peppers very mild, and Mushrooms. Mushrooms, mildest, assuaging ingredient — I now double mushrooms on everything.
But what about the larger issues of life? Do they not too often conceal a deadly kernel beneath a bland surface?
Indeed, for them I have adopted a text, that passed before my watery eyes at Cappuccino’s: “Shun the very appearance of evil.”

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