Memory from childhood: I bring a steaming cup of sugared Ceylon Orange Pekoe to my mother’s bed. Her room is dark and silent; a faint bluish light filters through the closed drapes and blinds and a damp facecloth covers her eyes.

She removes it and props her upper body against the pillows. She sips the tea, very slowly, so she can hold it down. She is having a “liver crisis”, as we call it.

As an adult, I will get those when I drink too much, but she hardly drinks at all, and she is not sick in the conventional sense either. She stresses, though, and keeps it all in. She never talks about how she feels – perhaps she does not even know. Her intense pride condemns her to always keep up an unimpeachable front; not once in my life have I heard her apologize.

So this is the poison she fights with black Ceylon tea. Some mysterious property allows it to grab onto the stomach lining and stay down, sip after tiny sip, rehydrating her body worn out from vomiting the bitter bile her liver has produced (hence the term  “liver crisis”). At least, this is how I picture the magic of this tea, as it comes alive with a healing strength of its own.

The violent vomiting has burst blood vessels in my mother’s swollen eyes. She applies cataplasmas of this same tea, steeped and wrapped in cheesecloth, over her eyelids, and it magically shrinks them to a quasi-normal appearance.

Being a child, I use the tea to dye doilies – it gives them a comforting vintage look with its lovely shade of “earth peach”. My mother is aghast: I have ruined both the tea and the doilies, which now look dirty and old, she says.

As a teen, I try to make my own Lapsang Souchong. I hold a sieveful of loose black tea over a burning tire – that is how it is done, I am told. The experiment fails. I choke from the stenchy smoke, my eyes tear up, I drop the tea and the sieve into the tire, and I run for a hose.

Later, I will come to appreciate the loveliness of that steaming cup of tea when I too succumb to stress and have my own “liver crisis”, which decommissions me for a solid forty-eight hours. Later still, I learn to release the stress, but the cup of tea remains a symbol of loving comfort, the sweet, hot, tangy liquid dripping into my thankful body, strangely akin to the soothing feel of a cool hand on a feverish forehead.

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