"Lilly," I heard a voice, "are you in there?"
“Yes, I am,” I said, as my older sister, Winnie, walked into my room.
“You know,” she said, “Philip and Richard shall be here by noon.”
Philip and Richard were our cousins. Neither Winnie nor I had visited them often, which was a little unusual. This was going to be the first we were seeing of them, in a long time.
I supposed it would be something of a change.
* * *
“Okay now, where next?” asked I, as Richard, Winnie, Philip, and I made our way through the shops of the summer carnival.
“We’re done with everything interesting.” Said Philip, peering at the food corner, “Or not.”
It had been a day since our cousins had arrived, and what I’d learned about Philip was that he was a foodie. He wouldn’t let go of a chance to taste something different. Now, the whole lot of walking had made him famished.
“We can always stop by.” Said Winnie.
It was around four in the afternoon. The sun shone into my eyes, a sharp white orb, although it wasn’t so intense right now. It had been two hours already, since Winnie and I had brought our cousins to visit the annual carnival. Till now, the visit was going smoothly. Yet, we were like strangers. Not at all like cousins.
Most of the time, our surroundings would be enveloped in awkward silence. It felt like we had been thrown in together, with nothing in common at all.
As we hadn’t a lot of allowance left, we ordered cookies and sat around a table. Philip immediately cupped a few cookies in his hand, which made Richard immediately start off with a story of how Philip’s cookie craze had once saved him. Winnie listened to it, enraptured, a half-bitten cookie in her own hand, while I started daydreaming.
Before I could lose myself completely, an attractive banner put up a few blocks away caught my eye. Intrigued as to what it could be about, I turned to look at it. It read:
‘TRYOUTS* FOR BAKING THE LARGEST COOKIE EVER!
Sign up before it’s too late!
*Selected teams will be informed prior about the competition date’
It took a few seconds for the message to sink in.
“Guys,” I began slowly, “have a look at the banner there.”
The others caught sight of the poster, and a look of bafflement crossed their faces. Philip was the first to respond.
“Cool!” He nearly jumped out of his seat. He looked even more ecstatic than I thought he would be, “It seems fun. Why don’t we sign up for it?”
That hit me like a bowling ball, and I was at a loss for words. A few seconds went by before I could speak again.
“Certainly.” I said, not because I knew for sure we’d succeed, but because I wanted to try out something daring, “Let’s try it out.”
Richard snorted, “You think we’re going to win? Who knows if we’ll even get selected?”
His scorn ignited a flame inside me. Suddenly, my uncertainty was replaced by confidence. I didn’t have any qualms.
“Why not?” I asked, “If we put in our effort and believe in ourselves, we stand a tremendous chance to pass the tryouts.”
Richard seemed surprised at my outburst, for, till now, I had been fairly quiet in front of them.
“Well, then.” He said, “As you and Philip appear to be so zealous, I believe I’m in, too.”
“Winnie?” I asked. Reading her expression was always hard, but I was sure she would have opted out the moment she got a chance.
“I’m in, too.” She said in her calm manner, “We’d better have a look at the details, though. We don’t want to plunge into this unawares.”
“Of course,” I said, as we got up from our seats. Winnie was still counting on something to change our minds. She never really liked trying out these kinds of things.
Don’t worry, Winnie, I thought, no matter what happens, we are going to be a part of this. We are going to try.
* * *
Twelve days later:
This is crazy, I told myself.
This is not true.
What will we possibly do?
It had almost been a week since we’d participated in the tryouts. It wasn’t as hard as the real competition’s going to be. We all had to bake a platter of ordinary cookies, and the teams would be selected based on the overall quality of their cookies.
They’d have a fortnight to prepare for the final competition which was now in eight days. All the essentials like cookie dough, spatula would be arranged for them, provided they specified what exactly was wanted.
We had signed up for the tryouts that day, trying to joke around. We all figured out we were too inexperienced to be considered.
Too bad we didn’t know to predict the future.
Too bad they decided to create a specific category for kids.
Too bad we were the only ‘kids’ who had signed up for this.
“What are we supposed to do now?” Richard paced the floor, “Imagine trying to bake in front of crowds of people. We’d be a laughing stock because we don’t really know how to bake!”
“I do.” Philip chimed, “A little.”
“Of course you don’t.” said Richard, particularly nasty, “None of us do!”
“We need a plan.” I spoke up, “A proper plan.”
“Tell us.” Said Richard, his arms folded, “It was you who saw the poster in the first place.”
I clenched my fists, “You know, we can’t bet on our luck again. If we didn’t know baking before, we need to now! This won’t be easy.”
“Sure then.” Richard said, a faint presence of mockery in his voice, “Let’s learn how to bake.”
* * *
Two days before the competition:
“We’re almost set!” I was glad my decision to learn baking was working. It didn’t seem so hopeless now, after all.
“Hey everyone,” Winnie appeared at the door. She’d gone to check with the details one last time, “There’s been a change in plans.”
Richard, Philip, and I whirled around to face her. I felt the blood drain from my face.
“That’s true.” She pulled out a cushion and sat on it, “For the competition, we will need to bake something different. A type which isn’t very well known.”
“Wasn’t that always expected?” I asked. Of course, they’d need to introduce something foolhardy when the competition was approaching. This would make it tougher for everyone. I imagined the people right now, scrambling to unearth a rare recipe. Maybe even invent something.
“What do we do?” demanded Richard, cutting my train of thoughts.
Unfortunately, I had no saver plan.
“I know!” said Philip, “I’ve seen this person a few times. She was selling cookies at the carnival, and they were scrumptious, you’ve got to believe me!”
I cut in, “Wait, do you mean Rita?”
“I’ve don’t know.” Said Philip, “But she lives in your neighborhood, too. I asked her about those cookies, and she was reluctant to go into details. All I heard was it was there in her family since her grandmother.”
“Likely story.” Murmured Richard, but I was interested.
“Didn’t she say anything else?” I urged. I wasn’t too familiar with Rita. I only knew she had moved into our neighborhood recently, but I hadn’t spoken to her yet. She wouldn’t have known my name, either.
“That was it.” Philip asserted, “But I sure want to taste those cookies again. Maybe we could ask her for the recipe?”
“No way!” scoffed Richard before I could intervene, “Why would she share a top-secret family recipe with pure strangers?”
“But let’s try.” Said Winnie, speaking up, “I think she wouldn’t mind.” Winnie didn’t explain how she’d managed to read Rita’s mind, but that wasn’t my main concern.
If there was something that could save our competition, it would be Rita and her family recipe.
* * *
The four of us sought the earliest chance we could, to approach Rita and start up a friendly conversation. I was obstinate that Winnie be the first one to talk to her, as Winnie could be extremely pleasant to just about anyone.
Winnie and Rita’s conversation went smoother than we could hope. Rita opened up and talked about the history of her cookie recipe. Rita’s main motive was to spread the recipe far and wide, which was why she’d decided to start selling a few at the annual fair. It was good because it meant she would be more willing to let us borrow her recipe for the competition.
When the rest of us introduced ourselves and announced our intentions, she was so pleased she couldn’t help grinning from ear to ear. She had dozens of questions to ask, admitting that she’d thought it was silly at first. Winnie then suggested Rita join us. Rita couldn’t find any words to express her joy, and she agreed to show us a little bit of the recipe, although not the entire thing.
I can’t believe this is happening, I thought, as we, along with Rita, assembled at the competition grounds sharp at dawn, on the big day. The other teams were there too, grim and serious. I felt shivers race up my spine when I scoured the spectacle in front of us. We had enough time and resources to get going. We just had to take care that none of us lost spirit.
I looked at the gigantic mound of cookie dough in front of our team. How much could this be weighing? How many normal cookies could’ve been made using this instead? How many people would it have served?
I averted my gaze. There was no way I could start getting second thoughts now.
Right when it struck seven, we were intimated to begin. The five of us scrambled to our own places and began like clockwork. None of us gave a glance at any of the other teams and their progress, but I was certain they were going at their own pace, too. The audience stared at us, enraptured. The judges were present, too, though not as amazed as the spectators.
When the main part came, Rita took charge. She told each of us, from bare memory, the specific steps in their order. I was amazed at her authority and the simplicity of the recipe. To see that such a scrumptious cookie needed nothing out of the ordinary to be made!
Our cookie wasn’t very huge. Certainly not as large as the current world record holder cookie. We didn’t mind, though. This competition was getting really exciting, and we were almost laughing as we darted around, getting our work done. I felt like beaming when I realized our team was organized, and at the same time, enjoying it. Over the past few days, we’d been dreading this day, but it was now that I realized how fun it could all be. All of a sudden, the worry that had overwhelmed us the past week didn’t seem to be so necessary.
The cookies from all the teams were urged into the mammoth-like oven. Its aroma swirled in the cool air, reaching our noses and making us sigh. I could barely, just barely, distinguish the one we’d made because it sent such strong waves of fragrance. I took in a few deep breaths, loving the sweetness of the air. The cookies were turning a gentle golden-brown under the sunlight as they baked. Ours was simple, yet looked so delicious, so crispy. I was glad we didn’t include too much frosting or other ingredients. It was just as special as it could be, in its own way.
The cookies were removed from the oven and we almost went flying to greet ours. It glimmered in the daylight, steaming and smelling so good. Philip looked as if he wanted to leap at it and grab a piece, but we all knew we had to wait for the judges to inspect our cookies. And for the declaration of the winner.
I didn’t feel disheartened even after seeing that a couple of cookies were even bigger than ours. The possibility of winning had been slim even from the beginning, anyway. Seeing pleasure dancing in Rita’s eyes was good enough for me. And I suppose it was the same, for Winnie, Philip, and Richard, too.
All I cared now was for making this experience a memorable one, so I would be able to cherish it years henceforth.
When they announced, “The prize for the biggest cookie goes to team 2!”, I didn’t bend my head in disappointment. I held my chin high because what really mattered to me was not winning. It was making this day special. I looked at the others. Rita looked on top of the world, of course. Philip and Richard were applauding for the winners with good spirits, and Winnie was standing by, a smile on her face.
I was glad. Pleased for the other team that they’d won. They had put in so much effort, too, and they absolutely deserved it. Maybe even more than us.
Rita had wanted to spread the recipe to many people, and I was certain that was going to happen. She’d finally be able to share it with the world, for, it turned out that we had been noticed after all.
The crowd loved her recipe. They actually came back for more.
In fact, this wasn’t as off-putting as I thought it to be. Perhaps, for us, it was actually much better than winning the competition.