It was good; the coffee was good – as usual.
I love Costa coffee. Mashura knows. That is why she asked me to meet her at the Costa Coffee outlet in Dubai airport. I was transiting Dubai to go to Singapore. She was on her way home for her annual vacation. I looked at my watch. We had just over an hour before taking our respective flights.
‘Nice watch’ – she said.
‘You are becoming glamorous, over time’ – she said again.
I blinked and then, looked straight through to her eyes, to check if she was joking.
(She always describes this look of mine as ‘deep’).
She smiled and said – ‘the same d…..’ ; I completed – ‘d…. look’. And, both of us first chuckled and then let out two short laughs.
After that, she opened her chatter box and in about ten odd minutes, narrated all the important (to her) stories of her office. She mentioned that the present boss was just an irritating bloke to say the least, and that quite a few employees had to leave the job unable to cope with the oppression.
‘We miss you, in the office’ – she said, and banged the empty cup on the table after taking a brisk last sip.
Moments of silence.
‘Should I try to come back?’ I asked.
Moments of silence. Then, she sighed.
Strands of some of her curly hair were falling through her honey-coloured cheek-skin on to her lip. She bit the hair strands. I was watching – she noticed, and quickly said with a smile, “Sorry! I am seeing you after a long time; so….” She meant to say that she had forgotten to stop chewing her hair.
This pretty face, since I left Dubai, was photo-framed on my white wall of nothingness.
Mashura started telling me the second method of cooking lamb with chickpeas and couscous. This was her mother’s recipe. I wanted a simpler way and without couscous because I found couscous to be expensive in Europe. We were half way through her instruction when she abruptly stopped and asked,
“What would be the name of the story once you complete writing about this preparation?”
I smiled and said “Forget it”.
“Forget what?” she asked.
“There will be no story.” I said.
She did not believe me. She did not believe that I could try my hands in cooking a preparation based on some instructions generally received through email or BBM or WhatsApp, and after messing up the cooking for some reason or the other, I would not write a note (story, in her version) about the same.
The Philippine waitress coyly nodded before clearing the cups. Mashura’s boarding gate was a seven-minute walk and mine was about four minutes, but in the opposite direction. My boarding time was also ten minutes before hers. So, she followed me.
Through the crowded hall of Dubai airport, we were trying to match each other’s pace. I requested her to complete her mom’s cooking instruction of my favourite Australian lamb, but she would not.
“Sura’, I cajoled her, “I would have been dead by now without food, had you not been my guide”.
I continued, “You are the best teacher, I bet. Your recipes are just right for my kind of taste and so very easily cookable.”
She stopped the walk, threw a gaze into my eyes and then twitched twice. This meant she had known that I was manufacturing those words just for the situation.
I tried to make myself appear more trustworthy and said, “Yes, always; you have been a good teacher always . . . ummm . . . ummm….. excepting just once perhaps.”
I knew this would work.
If you need the attention, cut the trail of expectation – I told myself many a times. “Sura”, I said, “you know that the only problem was in that Yellow Tail episode.”
We resumed our walk. Mashura was looking vaguely at the duty free shops. Suddenly, she halted near the kiosk of Swatch watches and looked up at me. Questioningly, I looked back. She excused herself for the ladies’ room. “Hurry up, please”, I reminded her, “my boarding will start soon”.
Mashura had awesome recipes and I enjoyed every bit of her cooking instruction including when she used to handhold me through BBM and accompanied me through the steps and processes of the entire cooking. Meat used to come out tender, juicy and tasteful. She was the best – in my dictionary. It was after I got to know Mashura that I learnt finer details of different kinds of meat, their cooking style and a panoramic view of subtle tastes.
There was a ‘ting’ noise in my phone. It was a BBM. I noticed from the small Display Picture that the BBM was from Mashura, but I never realised that she had changed her DP. I communicated with her less than an hour ago before we met at the Costa’s. She was a bubbly and smiling lady in the picture.
I opened the message and found only one full stop. I smiled and waited for the next message, but it did not arrive. Nor did Mashura. The watch at my wrist was ticking the time away. I continued to smile in my head at her childishness, but my smile was drying up for the fear of missing the flight. I sent a BBM, “Sura, please . . .”
She was not particularly happy with the story I wrote after mis-cooking the yellow tail fish. She was not happy mainly because according to her, I did not follow the steps she had emailed me about three days prior to my cooking. She felt that I was possessed, during cooking, not by the fish but by some other alien thought of some alienated mortal. She was definitely not impressed that the description of the cooking guide in the story was not what she exactly was.
She knew about Rani.
Rani used to preach me why an egg should better be boiled instead of getting fried or made into an omelette. It was also through Rani’s guidance that I started to put macadamia and Brazil nuts in my yogurt/muesli mix so that it becomes heavy and stays in the stomach for a longer period of time.
Rani’s theory was that paucity of time in life demands that we must always strive for the simplest and the easiest way, and for a complicated and complex subject like the cooking, this theory would best be put in use.
I loved Rani’s recipes and hated when Mashura used to discard them thoroughly as ‘childish digs at one of the most intricate subjects (that is, cooking)’. Rani, according to Mashura, would fall a few kilometres behind the subject in which she would have done her post doctorate if instead of devoting her whole attention to her studies and teaching, she tried to cosy up on the subject of cooking.
Mashura did not like Rani tipping me at times on how to make some quick food at home. Rani, Mashura thought, sneaked in the Yellow Tail story through her intellectual dispensation.
“Sura, please …. I have to go”, I sent another BBM, and almost immediately received the reply – “Hello, where r u?” Second look at the screen – OMG, this was from Maya. What was Maya doing this late at night?
“Hi”, I responded.
“Where r u now?” Maya asked.
“I am at Dubai airport”.
“Yes, I know that you should be at Dubai airport now. Have you boarded?”
“I am moving towards the boarding gate”
I am not. I am not moving anywhere, but standing almost still, waiting for Mashura to return or respond.
“Mashura will be upset,” Maya had cautioned me earlier, “if she knows that the lady in the story who taught you the process of cooking the yellow tail fish was not herself.” I remembered that after reading the story, Mashura had sent me an emoticon of a blushing face. When I had asked her why she was blushing, she mentioned that she had never imagined that she was so very important to me that she would even be captured in my story of the yellow tail fish.
Mashura had clearly assumed that the lady guiding me in the story to cook the yellow tail fish was she herself. I had not imagined that the situation would turn out to be like that. Mashura was so very glad with the feeling of her importance in my cooking and story-telling that I thought it would be very rude of me to tell her anything otherwise.
But Maya created the problem.
Maya was creating the problem now as well. “Hello, have you boarded?? Maya’s message.
“No, not yet.” I replied.
“What’s wrong with you? Are you at the boarding gate? Is the flight on time?” Maya screamed through the BBM.
“Nothing/No/Yes” I replied.
“Go to the boarding gate at once” Maya ordered.
And I didn’t like that. So, I kept quiet. No reply.
“Are you going?” the BBM tinged. No reply from my end.
“Hellooooo…….”, Maya’s desperation.
I pressed the power button long and switched the phone off. Maya would be hurt, I knew. She would be angry, I knew.
Maya gets angry or upset just like that. She was the one who told me that I must marinate the fish in olive oil, lime juice and salt, but when I reported to her later after the cooking that the yellow tail had crumbled inside the cooking pot and became like a scrambled fish, she asked me if I had followed Mashura’s recipe and kept the fish in the steamer for over eight minutes. I told Maya that I had kept the steamer on for about twelve minutes. She became instantly upset for, according to her, I did not listen to her but in course of the cooking, swayed toward Mashura.
In that late afternoon, when the sun was present inside my room only by way of some gleaming rays of red patches, I had skyped Mashura in a light hearted manner, telling her that Maya thought my yellow tail was mis-cooked because I’d followed Mashura’s normal theory that slight over-steaming was better than under-steaming.
Mashura wasn’t impressed. She told me that she wished that Maya had maintained the decency of not bringing her in the relation between Maya and me and/or my cooking.Mashura was upset with The Yellow Tail story.
** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
“Hey!” Oops . . . that was a sudden jerk. “Why are my messages not being delivered? What happened to your phone?” asked Mashura. And then, grabbing my left hand she almost pulled me straight to my boarding gate. The Airline staff members at the boarding gate were calling out my name, I could hear. They did not even check my boarding pass, but pushed me inside the gate and rushed me off to the aeroplane. As I – the last passenger – sat on my aisle seat 12C, the announcement echoed inside the aircraft – “Please switch off your cell phones now.” I was happy that I had at least one less job to do – my phone was already switched off.