“The best cookies are the ones that melt on your tongue like butter on a hot bread.” – Sahitya recalled the note that came along with the butterscotch cookies on her twentieth birthday. Every year on her birthday, she would receive a basket full of cookies along with a note that shared a secret to baking the best cookies. She had safely locked every note she had ever received in her safe box. ‘The day I bake the best cookies, the mother who gave birth to me shall come to me, forever’ - Sahitya thought to herself. Over the past twenty years of her life, Sahitya had lived in many houses; her foster parents no longer cared about her. No matter how many miles away she was from her previous house, she would find the cookies at her doorstep every birthday. She would spend two months savouring the cookies and the rest of the months trying to bake better cookies by applying her birth mother’s secrets.
Ten days before her twenty-first birthday, Sahitya was standing near her oven; ten seconds to beep. ‘When she is able to find my house year after year, she will definitely find that I am hosting a cookie exchange.’ Brought back to reality by the beep of the oven, she took out the steaming cookie tray and waited until the steam subsided. Once done, she took the first bite of her Caramel-Cashew cookie. ‘Crispy outer layer... But greasy. Too much butter!’ She made some quick notes on her notepad and bottled the cookies in a jar. ‘Not bad for a first bake! I have ten more days to perfect it!’
Sahitya had moved to her new flat last month. She was hosting a cookie exchange party on her birthday, to develop a rapport with her neighbours; at least, that was what the invitation said - “Let’s create bonds by sharing some butter and batter.” But her real intention for hosting the party was different – she was tired. Tired of the questions that came back to her during sleep. ‘Why did she leave me? How does she find where I live, year after year? Does she know how I look? Why doesn’t she come to me?’ Well, she was going to find the answers soon.
On the second day of her trial baking session, she repeated the same recipe with lesser butter. ‘The cashews are cooked perfectly. Flavour of caramel is just as desired. But a bit dry and crumbly... Too much flour!’ Once again, she jotted down some measurements and bottled the cookies. On the eight day, ‘Golden cashews, caramelized brown sugar enhancing the flavour, the smell of butter beat to a creamy perfection with the sugar…! Now the most important test of quality – crispy outer layer and…’ Sahitya took a bite off her cookies and closed her eyes, waiting for the moment ‘melts on the tongue like butter on hot bread! A perfect cookie! Just like my mother’s!’
The day of the party finally arrived. Sahitya was clad in a pink floral gown with a pearl necklace perched on her neck. ‘The guests would start arriving in a few minutes.’ Having baked the cookies perfectly, Sahitya had spared the previous day for decorating her house. Paper flowers of different colours were placed on the tables, marking the boundary between two cookie jars. Balloons and festoons hung from the wall, dancing to the breeze and giving life to the room. Just near the entrance, she had placed a glass jar with beautiful welcome cards that read funny cookie quotes; her favourite one being “Want silence from your hubby? Just drop him a cookie.” Most of her guests would be middle-aged women, presumably married. ‘The age of gossip. Perfect choice for a far and fast reach.’
When the clock struck six that evening, the first set of guests arrived, bringing with them not only proud cookie recipes, but also anxiety for Sahitya. Sahitya welcomed them with a smile and guided them to the neatly arranged tables, where they placed their cookie jars and waited for the others to arrive. ‘After all, one of these shiny flamboyant women in their elegant dresses could be my mother.’
By six-thirty, the room was already bubbling with neighbourhood women who had little to do but attend parties and display their husbands’ fortunes. The table was almost full with cookie jars. Near each jar was a name tag and the address of the guest who had brought it.
The room was already saturated with the smell of butter and sugar. Cacophonic chatter and giggles echoed from every corner. The guests were clad in clothes too colourful for the sensitive eye; some of them had chosen to wear dresses that matched the colour of their cookies. “I was a worried that the cinnamon would be over powering, but it turned out just fine,” said a woman who was clad in a saree, the colour of a tree bark.
“I baked some strawberry and mango flavoured cookies with some real dried fruit chunks. My daughter loved it! She wouldn’t allow me bring them to the party!” guffawed a tall and stout woman dressed in a pink salwar.
Sahitya threw random words of welcome to every guest who had arrived. ‘Could it be her?’ She tasted every cookie and evaluated them one by one; none of them were even near the mark! She went on to the next table and tasted a peanut butter cookie. ´Too much salt!’
She then moved on and took a bite off a ginger cookie. ‘Nearly there! But the colour looks a little bit pale.’
She went on rejecting the cookies one by one until she reached the last cookie jar. It was a classic vanilla Choco-chip cookie. ‘This is the last shot.’ With the hope that she was finally eating the right cookie, she took a nervous bite. A pearl of sweat appeared on her forehead. ‘Oh my God! Unbaked centre! What was this woman even thinking!’ She spat the cookie from her mouth. ‘She hasn’t turned up.’
Her anxiety turned into worry. The guests were all leaving one by one until there were only a handful left. “Do you any help cleaning up dear?” asked a lady who looked a little over middle-age. “Looks like we did manage make up quite a mess.”
“It’s alright ma’am, I can handle it.”
‘However, there is something else that I cannot handle.’
When the last of guests left the room, Sahitya turned off the party lights and cleared off into the store room to bring a broom. In the darkness, when the last noise of the departing guests faded, Sahitya wiped off a tear that escaped involuntarily. ‘Next time, I shall bake better cookies.’
Once the floor was clean and walkable, Sahitya fetched the basket that customarily arrived at her doorstep in the morning. Almond and raisin cookies. ‘These are the best cookies I had today.’
Just then the doorbell rang. ’Must be the security, probably expecting a few cookies.’ She returned with an assortment of cookies and open the door.
A black dog, indistinguishable from the dark, stared at her. Accompanying the dog was a woman who was in her sixties. The dog took a sniff and barked at her. “Are you sure you are at the right house, ma’am?”
“Oh yes, dear! Indeed, I am! I smell the cookies.”
Sahitya then realised that the woman was holding a cookie jar. “I am really sorry ma’am, the party just got over. But you are always welcome! Please come in and make yourself comfortable!”
Guiding the woman to the sofa, Sahitya brought some of the Caramel-Cashew cookies she had baked.
The woman gave one to her dog and had one for herself. The dog released a whine of pleasure. “Do you like them Betty?” asked the woman. “The are perfect, aren’t they?”
“Now, here, you should have some of mine too,” said woman, handing over the jar to the Sahitya. “Vanilla-Raisin.”
Sahitya obliged to the request and took a bite. ‘Could it be true? The cookie just melted before I could even realise.’ She took another closer look at the cookie. ´Perfectly golden! Smells just like the birthday baskets.’
Sahitya looked at the woman who had arrived, properly for the first time. ´The eyes. They are just like mine.’ The more she studied the woman, the more her features revealed. “Mom?”
The woman beamed. “It’s me dear.”
“But why, mom?” asked Sahitya, her voice shaking.
“We have a life-time to discuss.”
They cried. They hugged. For the first time in her life, Sahitya went to bed without any questions.