Today, as I scrolled through my Instagram feed, I saw a photo of two Balinese wooden bowls of crushed Granola, dry fruits, and three fresh raspberries placed in the center of each of them. The blue and white ceramic kitchen tiles that was set as the backdrop caught my attention and made me stop to read the caption. It said:
"Quarantine life: I discovered we had a kitchen."
Several, if not all of us, have tried new things and returned to old ones while in quarantine. Like many during this time, I have personally made a grand entrance to the kitchen too. On the 4th of April, 2020, I chose to bring out the recipe for the chocolate chip cookies that I used to bake and sneak into school back in the days. Let's admit it; these cookies do have a history of being snuck into places and to my belief - other than their soft texture and hazelnut like taste - it could be the reason why they have remained memorable till this very day.
As the famous saying goes: "Forbidden fruit is sweet!!" And in this case, my forbidden cookies were exactly so!
During elementary school, I would spend a day in the kitchen preparing tender chocolate chip cookies for my friends and classmates. The two days that followed, I hid them in a Tupperware that I placed inside my backpack, then swallowed my fear as I entered through the doors of my very strict school at 7:00am. It was not a small Tupperware considering I made sure I had enough for the entire class, including the visitors that ran my way from other sections to have their shares.
It was funny seeing my classmates snatch bites of their cookies between their barely opened lips and behind napkins or hands they kept on their faces in an attempt to cover their crimes. Taking small bites was the technique most students used. The full and rich flavor was felt with bigger bites though; some risked it and went for this option. Those who chose the latter chewed quickly as the teacher faced the board, and when she turned her face back towards them, they paused and held the bites on one side of their mouths, hoping she would turn her back again and they would be able to swallow their cookies before they turned into dow (not that cookie dow is not delicious! *drooling here*). Some used their napkins to fake blowing their noses or cleaning their mouths as they swallowed their cookies in silence. The cherry on top was the moment one of them was selected to solve a math equation or complete a prose. The teacher would ask: "What do you have inside your mouth; is it a chewing gum?”
Not to spoil it for others, the girl would nod in agreement and rush to the bin by the entrance of the class to spit it. Of course, knowing it wasn't a chewing gum, rather a scrumptious cookie instead, you could only imagine how sacrificial that moment seemed to all of us witnesses.
Having now told you about my cookies' history, I not only baked those cookies on the 4th of April, but also chose to sneak out of my house to deliver them to a friend of mine minutes before the city's curfew was due.
I selected some chubby ones off the baking tray and packed them in a transparent Tupperware. I looked at the clock hanging on the kitchen wall; it was 2:30pm. Since the curfew was set for 3:00 during those days, I flipped the idea in my mind thoroughly while calculating the time needed to head out, drop the cookies, and drive back home. At an instant, I realized I was wasting time by doing that, and if anything, there was certainly no time to waste! If I didn't deliver them then, they would have to wait till the next morning. As I made up my mind, I reminded myself that I could not afford to get this wrong because it would cost me 10,000 Saudi riyals. No joke!
When the clock hands ticked 2:36pm, I had a pen in my hand and a pink sticky note under it, on which I was writing the following:
"Cookies During Quarantine... Gotta Run Home!" (",)
I threw my abaya on and as I waited in the driver's seat for the garage to slide open, I turned the Google Maps on on my phone and indicated my destination. Although in my head I imagined that I had time, I was not sure it was exact and sufficient! The map estimated I would need a seven minute drive to reach there, which - to my advantage - gave me a couple of minutes to chat with my friend whom I haven’t had seen for a long time (stopped counting the days to keep sane).
On my way there, I had a feeling I was partaking in a Survival’s show on TV. I dialed his number and put the phone on speaker as I delivered the next mission to my friend:
"Hey, hey! Please be outside in... four minutes."
He asked nonchalantly:
I giggled and responded:
"Your front door... in four minutes exactly."
When I reached his building, I opened the passenger's window and extended my right arm outside handing him the Tupperware. It was his face reaction that made me notice I needed to explain what was happening. I raised my shoulders playfully and said:
“Got you cookies..”
He took them from me and read the sticky note then looked inside; I could see they put a smile on his face. We didn't shake hands nor did I even unbuckle my seatbelt or move from my place. I already felt I was being sneaky and rebellious by journeying the streets of Jeddah at this time, so I committed to the social distancing rules. It was the least I could do at this point.
We looked around trying to make sense of the situation and our eyes met somewhere in the deserted streets ahead of us. I looked behind me through the rearview mirror and saw a similar view. A stray cat crossing the intersection reminded me of time and it made me forget about the minutes I had for a brief chat. Instead, I obstructed the moment by shifting gears and announcing:
"Gotta run home now!"
He took two steps back, then raised the Tupperware and thanked me for the unexpected cookies he was receiving, and I drove away.
On my way back, I looked at the drivers’ seats in cars next to me and felt them sitting on guard and impatiently waiting for the traffic light to turn green. When it did, I saw some passing by as we departed our own ways; those who were heading home to stay with no one but themselves and who no longer enjoyed preparing breakfast and eating it alone every morning. I also saw those who lived with parents they avoided communication with for years and years and were now confronted with this new reality. It seemed an irreplaceable and inevitable ingredient for their quarantining. Then I saw the ones who became a Montessori to their children, and who were on their way to discover emptied kitchen cabinets and living room walls painted in Crayons. I probably also glimpsed the ones who were in denial of their grandparents’ ages and avoided seeing them age, but could now see they were speaking, feeding, and playing like they were children again.
I took a left from that traffic light and headed towards my own way and my own inevitable truths and realities.
Two days ago, I read a story I received on The Other Story Podcast, where a woman was asking during her own time in quarantine: "Come on, how do I run away from my thoughts? I was shocked that I needed to face them. I was running away from them at work. I like to occupy myself until the last drop of the day so I do not think of everything that saddens me and hurts me, but where is the door now, where is the exit?"
I saw a police car parked under the bridge and I knew it would be there until the last one of us entered home. My eyes teared; the view of the empty streets had made me melancholic and the experience I put myself through made me taste more of the global pandemic we had been living. When I pressed on the remote and waited for the garage door to slide open, I cried even more, because I knew I would be spending the rest of the day munching on my forbidden cookies and that was a dangerous thought.
It was 2:49pm.
My forbidden cookies didn’t last for long.