A friend in school once told me that the most active thing he’d ever seen me do was sneeze. I might have spent Games periods hiding in a luggage storage area and reading, but that apart, it was a downright calumnious thing to say, and I held it against him for a couple of decades. But he would enjoy seeing me now when, thanks to a busted ankle, the most active thing I’ve done in a week and a half is wonder if I should think about sneezing, then reject thinking as too strenuous an option.
Since I’m laid up, I decided that I should have a few friends over, and that I should even cook for them. (When the cook took off on his annual summer vacation recently, my brush with starvation caused me to bestir myself to take some cooking classes with a family friend who is a goddess in the kitchen. She is so good a cook, and so good a teacher, that she had me believing that I could pull it off. However, I took no chances and got the cook to make pretty much everything serious, including dessert.)
My mother decided she would mark the event by leaving the house for more salubrious climes. She sailed out with a single, completely sincere instruction: “Have a wonderful time, and if any drunken louts spill anything on my carpets, I’ll be back at 9.30 to kill them.” I reminded her that my friends, most of whom she hasn’t met, are now aged between 30 and 40 and very unlikely to get falling-over drunk.
I said it gently, because I know that her benchmark is the permanent scar in her heart caused by the parties that my brother used to throw when he was in college, for which he would roll up the carpets, take the art off the walls, haul all the furniture upstairs or to the side, and greet his guests with “Hello, all puking outside please” or something like that. My mother would organise kebabs and brownies or whatever, and find them all untouched in the fridge the next day, because by the time dinnertime rolled around, he had deemed his guests unfit to feed. That was then, I said, and by now even his friends would have grown up.
Accordingly a few people lurched in around seven and immediately cracked open the beer and wine and proceeded to get trashed. A few of us began to make vegetarian pasta, which was the only thing I was up to making. One guest chopped what looked like fifty peppers (I was scaling the recipe up and erring on the side of caution). I cut up garlic, someone else soaked the sundried tomatoes. It was a civilised, cooperative effort, punctuated by the odd smoke and a rotating population.
My mother returned at 9.30 as promised, to find six people standing at the stove all waving their limbs, sometimes with kitchen knives attached, and shouting constructive cooking suggestions at once. Someone threw in some vodka, someone tossed in red wine, someone else an indeterminate quantity of beer.
She greeted everyone in her most charming manner, but I could see her third eye darting about here and there in its beadiest avatar, inspecting the place for vomit or boogers or whatever other emissions she suspects middle-aged people of leaving in their friends’ houses. She even sat with us for a while, which was clearly an attempt to get a closer look at the carpet.
But all in all, it was a merry old evening. The trick is to make everyone cook the food, all the while plying them with alcohol so that they don’t notice how bad it tastes. And that, my friends, is what growing up is all about.