Ravi's day began early this morning. He was dusting the house, fluffing the cushions, setting the table, and most importantly; he was baking cookies: strawberry, peppermint, walnut, and chocochip. His mother wasn't a good cook. She prioritized feeding her son something rather than being an expert cook. But what she lacked in cooking, she made up by baking the most delicious peppermint cookies. It was unfortunate though that Ravi couldn't enjoy the peppermint cookies even when she was alive.
He tasted the peppermint cookies hoping it awakens a forgotten memory. Nah, cookies lacked the little bursts of peppermints that flooded the ravisher's soul with coolness and harmony. The bite was at his throat when he remembered that these special cookies had a greater purpose and were not meant for his consumption. He spat the cookie and rinsed his mouth to remove every bit and piece.
"Uncle V, can I have a cookie, please? I have brushed my teeth," eight-year-old Amna stood in front of her uncle showing him her tiny teeth which were missing an incisor.
He had no reason to disbelieve her as toothpaste froth lingered at the corners of her mouth. If Amna was anything like her mom and himself when they were kids, she would have applied toothpaste around her mouth to give the impression of immaculate morning habits. He bent to her height and she blew her minty breath on him.
"Nice brushing, Amna. You have won yourself a cookie. Stay away from the green ones. Those are adult cookies. If little kids eat them, their teeth would fall off." This would ensure that Amna wouldn't go near the peppermint cookie.
Amna was Ravi's cousin's kid. When Ravi's mother died while he was in his last year of school, Diya's parents had taken him in. Even before that the cousins were close. Diya was Ravi's role model and he would do everything to emulate Diya. It turns out that Diya was very weird and he by imitating Diya added a second coating of weirdness to his already existing one. Ravi never resented Diya over it. Today Ravi had volunteered to host a cookie exchange party for Amna and her friends in place of Diya, who couldn't find the time. He helps out Diya actively in taking care of Amna. So his cousin had no reason to doubt his enthusiasm over a cookie exchange party.
"Can I have a second one, please…I ate this one too quickly and didn't get to taste it."
"Knock yourself out. I want to remain your favorite uncle for as long as I can. You will soon hate your mother very much. It would be best if you have some adult in your life."
"I don't hate mommy."
"Don't worry. It happens to the best of them" He signed and handed Amna her second cookie.
Ravi wished he had treated his mother better in her last years. He would have if he had known she was at the end of her course. But poverty and a bitter school life brought the worst out of him. Poverty gripped his mother too. They would engage in shouting matches listing each other's many shortcomings and their self sacrifices.
"Can I have another one? I wanted the pink one but you gave me the chocochip. It would have been rude to say no to you." Amma tugged his apron.
"Only if you dress for the guests right now. Julian and his mom will be here in another hour," said Ravi chirpily.
"So will Jerry and Alice and Diamond with their moms and dads."
"I like Julian and family the best. Very authentic and cheerful. Don't you think?"
Amna had no clue to what her uncle was implying, she was happily munching her cookie.
"I bet they would be the first to arrive." At least an hour before the other guests. He took into accord Grace's lackadaisical attitude towards time when he sent her the invitation a little different than that of the others. So, an hour would place Grace and son at his home ahead of the other guests.
Ravi was slammed to the wall by Grace Dudley and her minions. This was the daily ritual at the high school and Ravi silently endured the torment. He had tried resisting in grade six. His bullies seemed delighted by his reaction and it was with great pleasure that Ravi ignored their antics. Slowly his oppressors trickled away except for Grace Dudley. She was persistent and though she never attacked him physically, her words scarred him, and her stares skinned him. He was foolish enough to believe his friends when they said that Grace probably likes him and is confused by the feelings. So, the next time Grace was making him do her grub work, he timidly asked about the matter. That day he made Grace Dudley cry. Her cries of laughter still resonate deep in his head. He does not hold 'not liking him' against her. Most of the girls at their high school didn't like him and Grace to her credit had gone out of her way to prove that point by bullying him.
"I smell cookie…" sang Grace at his ear, "Don't fight it, dear, your cookies had belonged to me for a very long time."
Ravi loosened his grip on the backpack. Grace snatched it and with great ease navigated through his backpack to locate the cookies. She took a huge bite and with her mouth full she said,"Don't forget to thank your mother for me."
He had held the lost cookies against her.
Ravi hoped she likes the peppermint cookies as much as she did in high school.
When he met Grace after many years while picking Amna from school, he greeted her with the same enthusiasm he would have mustered for any friend of his. Grace was glad to meet a friendly parent as she was new in town and neither she nor Julian had made any friends yet. But she had no recollection of Ravi and that stung. He had wished that they could joke about their past troubled relationship and the stolen cookies, exchange stories, and build a new friendship. Grace's forgetfulness made the humiliation and pain he had endured a thousand times worse. Suddenly his every failure, botched relationships, and distasteful choices seemed to be fouled by the dark shadow of Grace Dudley. All he wanted was his agony and its grounds acknowledged. If she wasn't forthcoming with it, he would have to force her.
Ravi felt like an overzealous teenager. He had not felt as contented with himself for a while. Feeling proud, he went over his course of action once more. Grace and Julian would be here at any moment. She will enter her marauder's home, unsuspecting.
"Looks like we were the first to arrive. That feels good. It is good to know the people of this town have a worse sense of time than me. I am planning to make some comments on the matter," she would say amicably, "I better not do that, I hope to make some friends for mine and Julian's sake."
Ravi would smile graciously. He wouldn't delay any longer. He would offer the strawberry cookies to Julian and the peppermint ones to Grace. He would bend to her and say with a chuckle, "There is a bit of gin in that one. I wouldn't share that with the kids."
She would smile and munch on the cookie. Rest of the act called for spectators.It was only fair that way as Grace savored an audience whenever she teased him . He had every bit of confidence in his potion-making capabilities. He inherited the skill from his grandmother. And the truth serum recipe he followed was extremely potent. He had some uncomfortable questions to ask Grace and he knew that she would never find even a slightly agreeable answer. The other parents would see her for the vile being she was; something his fellow high schoolers failed to see.
"Julian is here. I will bring them in, V" cried out Amna. She had been looking out of the window for their guests. Ravi peered out. Grace and Julian were still a house away. He takes his time to tidy himself up and fluffed the pillows once more. He picked his tray of peppermint cookies and walked out to greet his guests.
"Why did you not invite me to the party, chicken head. I will see you in school," said Billy, an unpleasant kid in Ravi's neighborhood, "you will be sorry for this."
"I will ask my uncle. We have enough cookies for all of us. Please leave me alone," said Amna meekly.
"Cookies, you say, I love them. Why don't you get me some, right now?" said the bully sneeringly.
Amna turned to run into the house when Julian stopped her. "Get your own cookies," he said to Billy, " If you want to be invited the next time, try being nicer to Amna."
Ravi did not know that Amna had her own bully. He watched the exchange between the kids behind the half-opened front door. He had been advised by Diya to let kids untangle their issues among themselves. Billy was outnumbered when Amna too told him off and he soon scurried away. Ravi brought his cookie tray to his head, and jammed it quietly to his head a few times, causing a few cookies to fall off. What was he thinking? This was a stupid plan and to think he was proud of it. Amna would lose her friend and Diya would cut all ties with him. He would lose his remaining family and any jubilance over Grace's humiliation would amount to nothing. Grace did not matter to him but Diya and Amna did. He emptied the tray into the trash.
Grace was unloading her baskets packed with cookies. She might have gone a little overboard but she badly wanted to impress the other parents. She had made some special lime cookies with some cleverly disguised orange peel. In high school, Ravi's voice used to go squeaky whenever he had an orange slice. He might be the only person to have a reaction to an orange! He was a weird one.
At the peak of his squeakiness, Grace would jump out and reveal that she knew him all along. It would be a good laugh. Like good old times. She was disturbed from her thoughts by a little commotion from the front of the house. Grace felt proud of her little boy. He was standing up to a bully for his friend. But she saw little of herself in her son and to her shock, Amna looked like a young Ravi during their interactions. That would make her Billy and she did not like that boy. Maybe Ravi never enjoyed her pulling his leg. Then he might not appreciate the prank she was about to play on him, probably not at all. The cookies were best left in her car.
Grace carries the rest of the cookies to the house. She is greeted by Ravi, who takes one of the baskets.
He says, " You are early, which is good. I need some help to set the table."