November 4, 2007

A Sugary Dinner

(a narrative, from wise guy)

although the kitchen was quite in a mess, i had to admit that sugar did a pretty good job preparing dinner: warm mushroom salad, beef stew with crusty bread, and she even made chocolate pudding for dessert. the only fly in the ointment was the constant calls of "sayang! tolong..!" through-out her time in the kitchen. now all i had to do was clean up after her. i also made a mental note to myself: praise my wife for a job well done. she had spent hours at the supermarket the day before, meticulously looking for her ingredients.

of course there was another thing on my mind: cookie. more specifically, the recent event that had happened to her. when she called me up, she was almost blabbering. all i heard and i could make out was that jumpers had unceremoniously dumped her. so i had told her to calm down, get some time out, and we'll talk later. sugar had noticed my concerned look after cookie's phone call, and had asked me why... which led to an 'interrogation' of sorts, with sugar asking me so many things about cookie. it wasn't that she was jealous: no, it was just her nature to be curious. she ended up sympathizing with cookie, and had asked me to invite cookie to dinner at our house. they have met before, but only in passing. it was at our wedding.

as i was finishing up cleaning the kitchen and sugar was busy making herself look good, the bell rang. i glanced at the time. it was just about a quarter past eight. that had to be cookie. from outside the kitchen i heard sugar calling out that she'll get the door. i washed my hands, dried them on a towel and went to greet our guest.

sugar had already invited cookie in, and now they stood at the doorway, giving the customary girly hug and kiss. cookie had brought a small basket of fruits. buah tangan, i thought. when sugar and her had exchanged pleasantries, she turned to me with a smile. she extended her hand; amusingly, behind her, sugar was mouthing and miming to me: give her a hug. it's okay. i resisted the temptation to laugh, instead i held out my arms and gave cookie a brief hug.

"it's been awhile, hasn't it..?", i said. cookie looked very pretty. she had short hair, and was dressed comfortably in a cardigan and jeans. she smiled warmly, but there were hints of sorrow in her eyes.

"yes..yeah..", cookie said. her eyes were a bit watery.

"well..let's hope you're hungry. or at least you have a metal stomach for what's coming tonight." i said and winked at sugar. the women exchanged smiles, and all of us went to the dinner table. they seated themselves as i offered to get their drinks and set the table. as the ladies chatted away, i thought about cookie. we had first started being friends back when we were in primary school. she was the quiet girl with a heart of gold...but it turned out she wasn't really quiet at all. sensitive, sweet but a good talker, we had spent hours just blabbering about ourselves, our friends, our teachers. it was a friendship that lasted well into high school. i told her about my crushes, and i once helped her get her own high school sweetheart. she was my only best friend who wasn't into sports or girls or girls who play sports in tight clothing. instead she seemed to love science; and i guess she was the only girl in school back then who was a geek and a hottie. but cookie never really got into a serious relationship until she had met jumpers 3 years ago. i met the guy once, in Sungei Wang. trendy guy with an air of cockiness around him. but cookie loved him, and at least she was happy. was.

we didn't see each other much after, mostly because we went to different colleges. but we had always maintained contact, no matter how little. and when she called me up yesterday, clearly in need of someone to speak to, i was more than willing to oblige. thankfully sugar was in the mood to be all sisterly too. i had told her to avoid the topic during dinner though.

i finished these thoughts and brought the ladies their drinks and set the table for dinner. being the only guy there, i plated the food for them, and topped up their drinks. sugar was being her graceful self, and cookie too, cheered up a bit. they talked like old friends, much to my pleasure. i wanted to join in, but instead let them get to know each other more. i did insert a one liner or two (i am called wise guy for a reason), which sugar would rebuff and cookie would laugh at.

"so," i said when there was a gap in their conversation. "how do you like my wife's cooking? did you bring the chi kitt teck auns?"

sugar made a face and cookie laughed.

"come on wise guy. you're not the only cook in the house okay? sugar did a great job. i love your beef stew!" cookie said to both of us.

"thank you! i was so worried it won't turn out nice. and all the time i was cooking i had someone watching over my shoulder and nagging." sugar said and looked at me.

"hey, who was the one who kept calling out 'tolong'?" i shot back. we all laughed. the food was good, and i was proud of my wife.

small talk went on until sugar brought out dessert (too sweet for me; but, as with me, sugar is known as sugar for a reason as well). cookie dutifully played her role as the smitten guest by cleaning every bit of pudding from her small bowl, although my 'cook sense' told me that she too, must have thought the pudding was a bit too sugary, pun intended. but she enjoyed her dinner; that i was sure of. sugar insisted on doing the dishes, so off she went. there was a moment of comfortable silence between cookie and me. it felt like a needed silence, to set the tone. she didn't come here just for dinner.

"so.." i said.

"so.." cookie said.

"you look pretty?" i said.

"haha. why is that a question wise guy?" she laughed.

"because i don't know how to start talking? ehehe. are you alright dear..?"

cookie smiled. "i guess i am. but i wanna talk about sugar first. i feel so bad that i don't know her as well as i should!"

"haha. nah its okay. we went to different colleges, you and i. so of course you haven't gotten the chance to know her."

"i remember you were always talking about the girl in glasses who likes sweets over the phone whenever i called. so you finally got the girl huh?"

"yes.." i smiled. "i took the chance and reaped the reward.."

"alhamdulillah." cookie said. "at your wedding both of you looked glowing. i was jealous, haha."

i just smiled again, nodding.

"4 years ago at that cafe near our campus; that was where i told her i loved her. and in the pouring rain a bit later on she told me she loved me too. i guess we never looked back ever since.and when i asked her to marry me.." i said. cookie smiled and nodded her understanding.

"the rest they say is history?" cookie said softly.

"well, yeah..haha.." i said. " was as if she was made for me, you know. i am so glad i took that chance. i am so glad we stood there in the rain.."

"you're a lucky bastard, wise guy" cookie said amiably and sighed. "i'm so happy for you.."

"thanks sweetheart.." i said, with sincere gratitude. just then sugar came back, carrying a tray with 3 mugs of, what else, hot chocolate and marshmallows and a small plate of oreos. i took the tray from her and motioned for the 3 of us to head to the living room to lounge around. i sensed that cookie was getting anxious; it was about time for her to pour her heart out. she didn't really get the chance when she called me.

we took our seats on the floor, where sugar and i had 4 of those big bean cushions laid out. sugar made herself comfortable beside me, and cookie sat cross-legged just in front. she made a comment on how she loved our little apartment. normally i would dismiss these remarks as 'general comments' but coming from cookie, i knew she meant it. the three of us went silent for awhile as we sipped and savored the chocolate. through our open balcony door, a cool breeze came into the living room. i decided to break the silence.

"cookie...what happened the other day?" i said.

she greeted this with silence, gathering her thoughts.

"cookie.." i coaxed. her lower lip started to quiver and she shifted her gaze to her hands; as if on cue, sugar reached out and took cookie's left hand in her own.

"you can tell us, cookie..", sugar said while holding cookie's hand. she broke down, crying. sugar instinctively went to sit beside her and put an arm over her shoulder. cookie rested her head on sugar's shoulder. i sat there in front of them, looking at how they were interacting. it struck me then that ladies seem to have a natural talent for comforting one another; a native sense, i guess. looking at cookie crying and my wife comforting her, two ladies whom i loved albeit in different ways, i could not help but feel touched. sugar and cookie seemed like they were long lost best friends.

cookie then managed to stifle her tears, and slowly told us what happened yesterday. she told us how jumpers had dismissed her as if she was some sort of rubbish. how jumpers had ended a seemingly happy 3 year relationship with all the complexity of flushing down the toilet. when she finished, i had half a mind to drive out, find jumpers and give him a straight right hand to the face. we let her dry her tears before she continued. sugar was still holding her hand.

"i never thought it would end.." cookie said. sugar and i exchanged a look that meant: let her talk. cookie went on.

"i mean, since the day we met at that kenduri and exchanged phone numbers, we never had any major disagreements or sorts.. he was understanding, he was compassionate to me. he was in love with me..! he did so much for me..he gave me everything i ever when i heard him say the things he said.." cookie choked a little here. "..when i heard him say those things, i was..i was so shocked, so scared. and he said it all with a poker he had been anticipating that moment all this time.."

cookie wiped her eyes, which were leaking tears again. a look of realization crossed her face. she went on.

"...and he was after all, i guess. for the last few weeks we haven't been seeing each other much..i'm teaching part time at the school, and him being a travelling sort of person, i just assumed he was off..somewhere doing something..but not cheating on me! god..!!!"

cookie was almost losing it; but sugar held her close, and i guess it calmed cookie down.

"the thing that hurt me the most was that even as he was saying those mean things yesterday i was still so damned in love with him. part of me still wanted to beg and plead so that he wouldn't leave me just like that.. then he showed me a picture of him and that..that.."

cookie broke down and cried again, sobbing hoarsely. i gathered my thoughts.

"cookie.." i called to her. i shifted myself closer to her, and i took her free hand in mine. cookie looked up at me, her eyes red and glazed.

"cookie.. i want you to forget that damned jackass; he does not deserve you." i said to cookie. she looked surprised, but did not say anything. sugar, with all the tenderness of a sister, wiped away cookie's tears.

"you're a wonderful and beautiful person..since he had the guts to treat you like that, it's clear that he doesn't have the heart to truly love you", i said. "so i want you to forget him. you deserve much better."

cookie rubbed her eyes. "thanks..thanks. i needed someone to tell me that. to tell me that all isn't lost for me.. wise guy, you know how i can be...i'm a softie.." she said with a sweet but sad smile. i smiled back at her.

"you always were. remember back in high school when you found out that guy you had a crush on already had a girlfriend..?" i said.

she suddenly burst into laughter. sugar looked puzzled, but also relieved that cookie wasn't sobbing anymore.

"that guy! god i almost forgot... i know when i found out i actually didn't come to school the next day because i had been crying the night before and my eyes were puffy and swollen..!" cookie said. we all broke into much needed laughter. sugar made cookie drink her chocolate and eat some oreos. that was typical of sugar; sometimes she seems like so simple a person, who thinks that any problem can be solved with sweets. but i know for a fact she has a beautiful mind... she just doesn't advertise at as much as she should, maybe.

we were quiet again. cookie seemed lost in her thoughts. i was thinking about what to say when sugar asked cookie what was she going to do next.

"well.." cookie said. "i guess nothing... it's not like i'll go on a man-hunt looking for the next mr. right straight away you know.."

sugar did not say anything but smiled at cookie.

"it's better that way for you.." i said to cookie. "and trust me, jumpers will soon realize what a mistake he made, dumping you."

cookie nodded. "it's funny how fast things change, kan..?" she said.

"maybe for the better.." this time sugar spoke. "maybe, insyaallah, this is a fortunate misfortune. i mean, maybe God has a better path laid out for you. a better way.. so fate intervened and made jumpers leave you so that you'd find someone who would truly love you for all time". although the words were spoken to cookie, sugar was looking at me as she said them. cookie noticed this, and looked down at her mug of chocolate as if she had suddenly interrupted a private moment.

"i don't get why some guys do this.." i said. this time both cookie and sugar looked at me.

"i mean, if you didn't love the girl, why be with her in the first place? it can't be just about trying to get some right?"

it was cookie who answered me. "it's because they want to be 'made'. they want to have a reputation.."

"and they think that by being with and dumping girls, they'd be known as a stud or something", sugar finished for cookie. they exchanged an understanding look.

"i've never even thought about doing it before.." i said.

"that's because you're not like other guys, wise guy.."

it was cookie who said that. she went on.

"wise guy, i guess i've never really told you this before... but i think you're probably the most honest guy when it comes to love i know. you're so true." cookie said. she turned to sugar. "you know what? back when he had a crush on you, he wouldn't stop talking about you to me whenever we chat on the phone. it was like 24/7 sugar sugar sugar. but when i told him to go for it, he would say 'i have a crush on her; i don't love her yet'".

sugar gave me a look of surprise. i raised my eyebrows at her.

"so when did you fall in love with me?" sugar asked.

" was when i fell in love with you, of course" i answered with a smile. sugar punched me on the thigh. "did he tell you when..?" she asked cookie.

"yes. i think it was a month before you guys actually started dating. he called me up and said 'cookie, i think i love sugar'. i was like "yay! then go for it!'", cookie said.

sugar put her head on my shoulder. i looked at cookie and she looked at me warmly.

"how much," cookie asked. "do you think is up to Fate when it comes to love..? i believe that fate and God has a plan for us, but don't people say that you can choose the path your love is going to take?"

"i believe it too", i said. "and that's why love, i think, is ultimately about choices and sacrifices. you'll always be sacrificing something when it comes to love; that's the part when you choose which path you wanna take your heart through..then only Fate and God will decide if the path you chose was a happy one..or just another path that would lead you to the path".

"and it's funny that you never actually really choose who you love.." sugar said. "i mean, i did not choose to love this monkey beside me, it just happened, and my choice was that i tell him that i loved him too when he told me he loved me..and it wasn't your choice, cookie, to fall in love with jumpers; you just did, and it's not your fault he hurt you.."

"thanks sugar.." cookie said. she was silent for a moment before she said: "was jumpers right...when he said that love is overrated..? he told me that i was weak because i loved too much.."

"no!" sugar answered quickly, almost in defiance. "love is not overrated."

"commercialized, maybe.." i interrupted.

"wise guy! not the time for jokes..!" sugar scolded me. "cookie, love is not overrated. that was just jumpers' excuse to make you feel bad. love is beautiful. love is what makes everything all right. it may not buy you your dream house or car, but what it does is make you feel that you belong. that your place on earth has meaning...your love will make someone happy, and it's love that makes people happy.."

i smiled, the way i usually do when sugar reveals her more philosophical side. cookie nodded slowly.

"and love," sugar continued, "does not make you weak. what is strength anyway? strength is the force and power within you; that love actually makes you stronger"

cookie seemed to get sugar's point. "because when you love, and when you believe in love, it means that you believe in a better hope, and it means that love will give you strength to protect and cherish your loved ones.." cookie said. sugar squeezed cookie's hand.

"there'll always be sadness and heart-break.." sugar said. she looked at me; she wanted me to finish the sentence. so i did.

"..but if you believe in love, there'll always be promise for a better tomorrow", i said.i could finish that line because sugar once wrote it to me on a RM10 bill, after we had a fight once, about a year ago. it has been her 'mantra' ever since.

"you know what's ironic..?" i asked the ladies. "i always used to think about this back then; why are there so many girls who say 'i'm looking for someone sincere' but when they meet these sincere guys, they won't fall for them. instead they'll always end up with jackasses; no offence to you cookie.."

"none taken, haha!" cookie said. "maybe it's because the jerks far outnumber the sweethearts, so they, eclipse them, you know?"

"it's like a paradox.." i said.

"it's unfair but that's the way it is..~" sugar said to me. i took her hand and kissed it.

the three of us talked late until the night. we talked about what sugar and i were planning for the future, what cookie would be planning now; mostly though cookie and i exchanged stories from our school days, reminiscing. we talked about the time i broke my leg playing basketball and how my ankle was bent at a 90 degree angle outwards; we talked about how cookie would score near perfect scores in Science and Maths and how i used to call her 'nerdina'; we talked about our high school crushes and we told sugar all sorts of stories involving our friends and teachers and our 'adventures' back then. sugar listened with great interests, and laughed hard when cookie told her that i once stumbled clumsily on stage while accepting an award for, of all things, most books read during that year. sugar listened in to these stories, and i thanked cookie sarcastically for revealing past embarrassments. in turn i told sugar that cookie once had a boy 3 years our junior proclaim his love for her because "kak cookie telah menawan cinta hati saya".

when it was almost midnight cookie said she should go. sugar offered that i should walk cookie to her car, and i obliged. cookie thanked sugar and once again they exchanged the customary girly kiss and hug. they made promises to go out shopping or lunch together, to which i joked that now i would have 2 ladies talking about me behind my back. finally they said their goodbyes and i walked cookie to the parking lot of our apartment complex.

we were silent for a while, walking slowly.

"you're such a lucky bastard, wise guy.." cookie said.

"i know; you told me that" i said.

"well i meant it. she's an amazing girl.. you two were made for each other.. fate?"

"i guess.. maybe i had a hand in that too.."

cookie smiled at me. "thanks..for tonight.." she said.

"it was nothing.." i shrugged.

" meant so much to me. i needed you to come through for me. no one else would have told me to forget about one else would have made me laugh tonight.."

"you're welcome you're gonna be okay..?" we had arrived at her car now. she unlocked it and opened the door; she stood there for a moment.

"i will be. you may not have noticed, but i was looking at sugar and you the whole night.." she said.

"i know. why..?"

"you two are beautiful together." she said with such utter confidence, i believed it. "take good care of her wise guy; angels don't always appear on earth you know.." i stood there nodding.

"hey wise guy.." she called out to me.


"i'll get through this right?", she asked.

"sure you will.. it'll take patience and maybe it'll be hard.. but you'll find the strength. you'll get through this." i answered. she stepped away from her car towards me and gave me a hug. "i'll see you around" she said. she went back to her car, got in the seat and fired the engine up. as she backed out of the parking space and was about ready to go, i tapped her window. she rolled it down.



"there'll always be sadness and heart-break, you know..?" i said.

she looked at me and smiled. it was her who finished the line this time.

"but if you believe in love there'll always be a promise of a better tomorrow.."

cookie rolled up her window, waved goodbye, and drove off into the night.

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