My oldest friend’s little girl’s third birthday party was in full swing. The birthday girl was beaming in her lacy fairy dress. She posed with her magic wand. She twirled the pretty frills on her dress. Irresistibly cute and totally aware of it. The cynosure of all eyes and loving it.
There was only one thing in the world that could make me tear my eyes off the gorgeous pink thing. The buffet table. And it did. The pizza, dripping cheese. The pasta, all melt-in-the-mouth creamy. The juice in the pitcher, topped with chunks of ice. They all seemed to be in some sort of sadistic competition to break down all my self-control. But what made me hover on the verge of screaming out in agony “Oh, for God’s sake, get over with your cake-cutting already, so we can EAT!” were the cupcakes.
My friend had pulled out all stops for her girl’s birthday this time. Each cupcake was unique. Each one carefully chosen and especially customized. While Winnie the Pooh smiled up from one, one was half mango, half chocolate. While one showed off the family pug Duma’s puckered-up face, another was strawberry cheesecake with vanilla cream filling. The variety was endless.
Finally – though it seemed to take forever – dinner was announced. It took me all my resolve to keep myself from racing to the table with the other kids and stuffing into my mouth whatever I could lay my hands on without bothering to get a plate; and I waited my turn with a fake smile plastered on my lips.
Ah! Now the cupcake that had been tempting me all night was on my plate. I picked it up – Ahh! The aroma! – and gently licked off the frosting. That’s when it happened. I don’t know how to explain it. Have you ever squeezed through a gap too narrow for you in under half a second? Have you ever been sucked into a giant vacuum cleaner? I guess not. I will leave you to imagine what it must be like. And it happened to me.
When I opened my eyes, it was pitch black all around. Sorry, I am exaggerating, it was actually dark brown. And, I could clearly see all around me. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. I blinked. And blinked again. It was for real. There were rows and rows of houses, so brightly colored that they looked out of a child’s drawing book, made of, hold your breath – gingerbread! As I stood rooted, wondering if reading Alice in Wonderland for the millionth time the previous night was maybe a bad idea, two cupcakes walked by me. Cupcakes. Walked by. Yes. Also, they didn’t seem to be able to see me, which suited me just fine. I didn’t think I was a great sight with my jaw hanging open.
That’s when I realized that all those moving things I had registered with the corner of my eyes while staring at the gingerbread houses were all cupcakes. Big and small. Chocolate, mango, orange, strawberry – each with a different frosting. Walking, jogging, running, leaning against doors. Even talking. In English. By this time, I was past being surprised and feeling a kind of fuzzy numbness. So, you will find me listing plain facts without sprinkling exclamation marks. I was in Cupcake Land. It was not much different from our world. Only, the sky was brown.
Finally getting some feeling back in my legs, I took a few steps towards the closest house. Did I mention the houses were just as high as my waist? Anyway, I stooped and looked in. It was a living room, with small, willowy couches facing a TV set by the wall. Two small children – cupcake children, obviously, but you if you didn’t guess it, you were not paying attention – were looking intently at the TV. It looked like a movie was playing, in which, presently a birthday party was on, much like the one I had come to, but it already seemed to be in another era. Children – human children this time – were smearing cake on the birthday boy, hollering, the usual. The two cupcake children seemed to be nervous and fidgety, and kept repeating “Oh no, Oh no!” I wondered why. Then I knew. The children in the movie made a beeline for the buffet table, picked up cupcakes and shoved them into their mouths (yes, without bothering about small details like plates). The cupcake children hugged each other and screamed. And screamed. And screamed. Suddenly, the door opened with a bang and a big cupcake (with sugar frosting glasses) walked in.
“How many times do I have to ask you girls not to watch horror movies? Don’t you know you will get bad dreams all night?” The mom cupcake scolded. “Go play outside.” The mini cupcakes obliged, still shivering.
Super amused, I walked on. I stopped to look at five medium cupcakes clustered in front of a building which had a small toothpick flag on it reading ‘SCHOOL.’ These cupcakes were identical vanilla, with pretty red sugar flowers in their hair. They were all huddling together to listen to one of them. I leaned in to hear too.
“I know where we came from.” She paused for effect. “I read it in the book mom asked me not to read.” There was a collective gasp from the other four. “See, first they take eggs, and whisk them in flour…” Three of the four giggled, the fourth one turned strawberry.
Laughing uncontrollably, I stumbled on. A salon. I peeked in. Plain cupcakes were sitting on stools facing small round mirrors. A red velvet cupcake and a vanilla one with chocolate streaks were devotedly putting frosting on each, sweeping bright colors on one, delicate intricacies on another…
I walked by shops selling icing recipe books, parks where tiny cupcakes frolicked on wafer slides, along smooth roads lined with multi-colored sprinkler fountains and M&M road-lamps.
Then suddenly there was nowhere to go. I had reached the end of the world. At least, the end of the Cupcake World. All that was ahead was a brown wall. I ran my finger along the wall, and thick chocolate cream came off. Yumm! Aha! A door. There was a sign on the door too: a half-eaten cupcake with a fork and a spoon crossed underneath it. And written in red jelly (yes, I checked, it was actually jelly): DANGER. It being impossible to imagine myself in any sort of danger in this sweet, sweet land, I pushed the door open, and… it happened again, that sucking feeling that made me feel that my innards were being pulled out. But it was over in a jiffy. And I found myself by the buffet table at my friend’s party again.
“Hey,” said my friend’s neighbour, with an amused smile, “The cupcake must be really good. You seemed to be totally into it.”
“You have no idea,” I mumbled under my breath, while dabbing at my lips with a tissue. There was chocolate cream on the tissue, though the half-eaten cupcake in my hand was butterscotch.