The intoxicating aroma of freshly baked buns filled the enclosed space of the bakery. Tiya’s pale blue gaze scanned the neat and cozy bakery. Red and white checked linens covered the round glass table top. Transparent vases holding a pair of tulips were placed in the centre of each table. The coffee machine buzzed as it poured out sizzling cups of espresso. Tiya’s eyes came to rest on the perfectly baked golden crusted apple pie lying on the middle shelf of the glass case showcasing an array of pastries and breads. The intricate pattern atop the pie reminded her of her childhood knitted sweater, and her bow-shaped lips lifted in a serene smile. A rich blend of cinnamon and chocolate floated above her in puffs of clouds. Tiya closed her eyes and let the warm glow of fond memories flow thrown her:

“Granny, what’s baking?” A fourteen-year-old Tiya barged into her granny’s kitchen, leaving a trail of mud in her wake. “I got the whiff of it all the way to the garden.”

An over-enthusiastic Tiya skidded to a halt in front of the kitchen island. “Slowly sweetheart, I don’t want you breaking any bones.” Her granny let out a soft laugh, deepening the wrinkles around her mouth. “You’re growing like a weed.” Tiya rose on her toes and kissed her granny’s cheek, which smelled as fresh as a daisy.

Tiya sprang up and down in glee as she stared in awe at the pie dish that was ready to go into the oven. “Oh, Granny, thank you for making my favourite apple pie.” She wrapped her arms around her granny’s plum waist. Granny fondly tugged at her pigtails. The intoxicating scent of vanilla and chocolate made Tiya’s mouth water.

Granny slid the pie dish on the oven rack, set the timer, and shut the door. “What say we proceed with the bun dough till this beauty bakes?” Tiya nodded vigorously. Granny smiled and raised her arms and extracted ingredients from the overhead wooden cabinets. 

Tiya narrowed her eyes in observation as her granny assembled the ingredients one by one on the granite countertop. Her expert hands efficiently got to work. Tiya huffed impatiently as her granny sieved the flour for the third time. “Granny is it absolutely necessary to do this exercise three times?”

Granny trailed a flour-smeared finger down Tiya’s upturned nose. “Tiya darling, the most essential trait of an excellent baker is patience–lots of patience.” Her soft grey eyes brightened with laughter. “We need to ensure everything mentioned in the recipe is followed to the T.” Granny gestured for Tiya to follow her lead. “Every item needs to be measured and blended carefully, as per the prescribed technique.” Granny tutored, “Come now Tiya darling, you take over.” 

Moving to stand beside her granny, Tiya tentatively followed granny’s instructions and began mixing the dry ingredients in a glass blower. “Tiya baking teaches us a lot of life lessons,” Granny said. “Just as we mix many components in various proportions to get the perfect dish; similarly, every relation in our life comprises diverse emotions and feelings.” Granny continued in a soothing tone. “We need to measure our talks and actions in order to gain a happy and productive outcome.” Tiya’s brows shot together as she pondered over her granny’s words.

Time flew by as they got engrossed in preparing the buns. “Oh, Granny, my arms hurt.” Tiya huffed. “I’m exhausted with all the kneading.” 

Bending forward, granny planted a kiss on Tiya’s furrowed forehead. “Patience remember.” Tiya nibbled on her bottom lip and continued with the process. Granny gently moved aside a lock of her silver-streaked hair that fell to her forehead hair with the back of her hand. 

After what seemed like forever, and eager, but tired Tiya took off her yellow lace-bordered apron and plopped on the wooden stool beside the sink. “Thank God Granny, we are finally done!” Tiya exclaimed.

Granny turned her adoring gaze to Tiya. “That was a job well done, Tiya.” Granny smiled. “Now let’s arrange these soft dough balls on the baking tray and place them in the oven.”  

While the buns and pie baked, Tiya gathered the tray with two glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice out to the garden. Bright October sunlight filtered through the tall eucalyptus trees, engulfing the air with a soothing, balmy scent. They settled themselves on the cushioned cane chairs and silently sipped on their drinks. The chirping of the birds and the swooshing sounds of the breeze spread a wealth of calm over Tiya. Being in the company of her granny and learning the art of baking was her most beloved thing in the whole wide world.  

“Granny, it’s done!” Tiya jumped out of her chair as soon as she heard the buzzer go off. She charged into the kitchen as fast as her skinny legs could take her. Her granny trudged behind her.

“Don’t!” Granny warned, startling Tiya, who quickly pulled back her hand from the oven door. “Do not under any circumstance touch the baking tray without your mitten on.” Tiya bobbed her head and grabbed the mittens, hurriedly slipping them on. Granny hovered over her like a protective mother hen. “Granny, give me some room.” Tiya huffed as she carefully took out the baking trays one by one and placed them on the metal racks. With eyes the size of saucers, Tiya stared in awe at the results of her hard work. “Congratulations, Tiya!” Granny whispered in a honeyed tone. Tiya’s eyes swam with tears of joy. And on that exact day, Tiya discovered her flare and passion for baking. 

The ringing of the wind chimes above the entrance door pulled Tiya out of her reverie.

“Granny!” Tiya launched out of her chair and enveloped Granny in a warm tight hug. Think of the angel, and the angel appears. 

“Happy 25th birthday, darling.” Granny kissed Tiya’s smooth cheeks with adoration. She took out a gift-wrapped package and handed it over to Tiya. With a sparkle in her eyes, Tiya unwrapped the gift with childlike candor.  

“Oh, Granny! This is so beautiful.” Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes as Tiya hugged the burgundy knitted sweater to her chest. “Granny, you didn’t have to go through all this trouble.” Tiya’s eyes roved around the bakery. “You have already given me the most precious gift ever.” 

“I have passed on my legacy to my favourite grandchild.”

“I would like to hear you say that in front of them.” Tiya grinned and waved as she spotted her siblings out the window. Granny let out a deep laugh and gathered her in her arms. Her siblings entered the bakery and rushed to greet their Granny. 

“Granny, you don’t look a day over fifty.” Tiya’s older brother Rahul snapped a wink at granny, making the poor old lady blush.

“Happy birthday T.” Tiya’s younger sister Jiya wrapped her in a fierce hug and ravished her face with kisses.

“Alright, alright. We get the point. You love her.” Rahul nudged Jiya aside and bent his tall frame to hug Tiya. “Hey, sis, happy birthday.”

“Thank you so much for coming, guys. This truly means a lot.”

“We wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Rahul spoke on behalf of all. Tiya gestured for them to seat themselves at the table. “Just give me a moment.” Approaching the counter, Rahul leaned forward. “Morning Simran,” he purred. 

“Good morning,” Simran whispered a hurried greeting and rushed back to the kitchen.

“Don’t flirt with her, you jerk. She is the best coffee brewer in this part of the town.” Tiya playfully smacked Rahul on his arm. “I’d hate for you to intimidate her.” 

“Ouch! You wound me.” Rahul placed his palm over his heart and let out a dramatic sign. “Don’t ruin my reputation.” 

Tiya scoffed.

“Your reputation is already in shambles,” Jiya interjected. “You’re managing quite well on your own on that front.” 

“Children, children,” Granny chimed in. “Stop throwing snide remarks at each other.” 

Rahul laughed and occupied the vacant seat. “Let’s get this party started.”

“Cool. Guys, I would like for you to taste my new item on the menu-chocolate filled croissants.” Tiya placed a plate of croissants in front of each of them. She ran her hands through her curly brown shoulder-length hair and waited for their comments.

“Tiya darling, this is outstanding.” Granny closed her eyes and bit into the soft, gooey goodness. 

“T, the croissant is baked to perfection.”

“It’s alright,” Rahul said offhandedly while liking the chocolate off his fingers.

“Geez, thanks, Rahul. What would I have ever done without your support?” Rahul barked a devious laugh.  

“I learnt from the best.” Tiya’s gaze locked with Granny’s pale grey eyes. “I will always be indebted to you, Granny.” 

“Oh, sweetheart, the pleasure was all mine.”

“Has the party already begun?” Tiya turned around at the sound of her dad’s voice. She advanced toward her parents and hugged and kissed them.

“Happy birthday, darling.” They wished her in unison. 

“Here’s your favourite caramel cake.” Tiya’s mom lifted the lid of the box and the wonderful aroma of chocolate and caramel-filled her senses. “I too inherited some skills, you know,” she jested and moved to hug granny. 

“Oh, thank you, mom.” Tiya’s face brightened. The cake was a three-tier fresh cream caramel cake with swirls of chocolate ganache bordering the top and bottom of the cake. “I love you all so much.” 

“Love you too, sweetheart.” Tiya’s dad wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “I, for one, can’t wait to taste the cake. Your mom slapped my hand away every time I reached out for the box.” He hooted a laugh.

“Just in case you have forgotten, sugar ain’t no good for your diabetes,” Rahul spoke up just as he polished off his second croissant. His dad dismissed him with a wave of his hand.

“Today is a special day, and what is a celebration without a cake?” Jiya came to her dad’s defence. “Common T, let’s cut this cake and put dad out of his misery.” 

They all laughed. Tiya’s eyes sparkled with emotions as her gaze scanned each member of her family. She was so grateful to each of them for the love and support they bestowed upon her. 

Her entire staff joined them for the cake cutting. Tiya closed her eyes, made a wish and blew the candle.

“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you…”

And so Tiya rang in her birthday with the cheer of all her loved ones…

-Yukta Asrani

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