A friend of mine warned me recently: “beware, baking is addictive.” I looked blankly at the roast chicken a la Jamie Oliver I’d prepared for us and replied, “but I roasted.” She just smirked. “Roasting, baking, grilling — whatever you call it. Just as long as you use your oven.”
I wasn’t sure where she was going with the oven metaphor and I didn’t ask.
My friend knew that I rarely used my oven, but had roasted at least three chickens in the past couple of weeks since my lover had been away. And she wasn’t the only one to notice.
A few days later, a male friend looked up from yet another roast chicken at my dinner table and got straight to the point. “Is this some kind of psychological thing?” he asked. “Does roast chicken represent your lover or something?”
“No, it does not,” I answered abruptly.
But the question was planted in my head. To make myself feel better, I decided to try making lasagna for a change, and invited my friends to taste it. But those Freudian friends of mine hadn’t given up.
“I told you baking is addictive,” my girl friend told me smugly, over her second hot slice.
“So everything is alright now? no more chicken?” my other friend teased.
“Yes, everything is alright!” I shouted. “With or without chicken! case closed!” But my friends weren’t about to give up that easily.
“You should not cling to anyone, for any reason. Free yourself,” one of them said.
I stared at the pair of them as they munched away on my cooking. Was i roasting from my subconscious?
The question lingered in my mind, and I decided to take a long, hard look at my new habit.
I bought another chicken one morning and put it in the freezer, then took it out at midnight and waited for it to defrost.
The first question arose as I sat there staring at the icy poultry in the dark: why did I choose to roast at midnight?
It didn’t take long for me to conclude that it was because midnight was the loneliest hour, when everybody, including the dog, was asleep. Even the cable tv programs weren’t as interesting as they had been earlier in the evening, and I had nothing to do and no one to share my time with.
I prepared the spices and vegetables for the chicken while it continued to defrost. This made me realise that I always need a distraction while I’m in between things. Preparing the ingredients was not only a necessary step but also a distraction from the slowly defrosting chicken.
The next step was to rub the chicken all over with olive oil and spices, and stuff the hole with a whole lemon, stabbed deep into the carcass.
As I felt my fingers slide into the wet cavity, I realised that my friends may have been onto something — it was almost like having sex!
Then came the most exciting yet excruciating part: putting the chicken into the hot oven and, again, waiting.
That feeling, waiting. I suddenly realised that my roasting urge seemed to arise whenever my lover was not online.
I sat myself down in front of the oven and felt a familiar anxiety fill my chest. I lit a cigarette and smoked. One, two, three cigarettes.
I got up to eat some yogurt, then sat back down in the chair. I watched the chicken change color through the glass window of the oven.
One more cigarette — again: a distraction.
Was that what this whole chicken thing was about? Just a distraction? Or was it a release? I fell asleep thinking about all these things.
The next time I roasted, my lover was there. I asked him the same questions that had disturbed me all along: is roasting mental — does it represent you?
He laughed and replied with another question: is sex mental?
To my surprise, I answered confidently: tell me, what is not mental about human actions?
“There you go,” he said, “you’re the shrink.”
I smiled and felt relieved and, somehow, content.
He continued, “you’re roasting now. so does the chicken represent another lover?”
I just laughed. this time, the question didn’t bother me at all.
(this piece was published in The Jakarta Globe, 2011)