All my adolescence I spent here. In Mauritius. This island is more home to me than any other place I’ve been. Not that I prefer it or anything of that sort but in the sense that it’s where I’ve stayed longest. I’ve come to sometimes wish we’d never leave. I hate good-byes. And till now I still haven’t returned back to any of the places we’ve lived before. I thus don’t know and ain’t sure I am going to see my present friends soon, if ever, if we leave. Not that I am seeing them that much anyway.

My friends are all married. Most of them, anyway. Those that aren’t yet are either committed or engaged.

Whenever I go visit a friend, the mother, aunt or grandmother asks me: “Are you single?” I answer, “No, I am FitEena.”

Of course I don’t say that, but I wish I could. Too bad I am such a polite, good-mannered girl (sigh).

I worry them. They ask me “Why? You’re a girl. You must marry!” I sigh again and shrug. I quit sighing the day they started thinking I was desperate because no one proposed to me. Now I scowl and shrug.

Some grandmas call me a spinster. I am 24 years old. Hilarious really, if it wasn’t so irritatingly sad.

I had this friend. B. was her name. We did three classes together. From form 2 (back when I was English ignorant) up to form 4. In form 3 we get to choose our subjects. In form 4 some of us go to either science, literature, or accounts sections. I was in no particular section.

I took English, French, Math — which are compulsory — Arabic, Commerce, Economy, Accounts, and Home Economics. What Home Economics had to do with all the other subjects, I don’t know; I just loved eating and cooking and wanted to know what I shouldn’t be eating in order to lose weight put on from eating the food I loved cooking.

Anyway, B. and I were in Home Economics together. We did mock exams every two weeks to help us cope with the pressure of the real exams and also to master time management to make good use of the two hours allotted to us to do our cooking, setting up, serving, and washing up.

We were assigned questions such as, “Your mother is sick. She has a deficiency of calcium and suffers from high blood pressure. Prepare and serve her an appropriate breakfast.”

I hated those questions. My favorites were the ones where we were asked to prepare stuff for a birthday party or a summer buffet. Those were great. You cook almost whatever you want. Home Economics was super.

We had to start and end it all in two hours. Not a minute more. You lost marks if you took more time.

So, B once had an easy question. She had to prepare a meal for four teenagers. All she had to do was to bear in mind the fact that they were in the process of growing up and needed extra proteins, etc. Her Time Plan (we have to submit it prior to the cooking) was fine. Mrs. O., the teacher, said, “Go,” and we started.

I baked a cake that day. A sponge cake. Finger-licking good fruit-and-whipped cream sponge cake. That was the dessert. For the meal I prepared a salade de couscous, grilled spicy chicken, tomato chutney, creamed lentils, and a fruit cocktail. Mrs. O. beamed at me when she came over to my already-set table. And I’d already done all my washing up. “Bravo,” she said to me. I went to sit and watch my fellow classmates at work.

What was B. doing? I learned it soon enough. Mrs. O. started yelling at poor B. Why? Because B. was still in step 1 of part 1 of her first dish — not meal, dish! She was deep-frying a drumstick. You won’t believe this (even I couldn’t), but this girl had been frying chicken the whole two hours and done nothing, nada, zilch apart from that. And some of it was burnt.

You know what? The year after, she did not come to school. She’d gotten married during the holidays. Unbelievable.

I wonder sometimes what her husband, if he’s still alive and hasn’t starved to death, looks like.

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