The Aitken Alexander Isolation Series: Eggs by Mona Chalabi

Eggs by Mona Chalabi

I crack an egg on the side of the frying pan and then turn it over in my hand. It is still intact but has a thin, grey, craggy smile across the side. I can’t even crack an egg. I push my thumb through the line and pull apart the two sides, dropping the egg into the pan without, miraculously, any shell falling in.

I cracked an egg.

I once felt proud of my inability to cook. Proud in the way that most people are proud, as a response to shame. When I was in college, I would take home a baguette and a carton of soup that I’d warm on a hot plate in my bedroom-study-living-room-kitchen-bathroom. Occasionally, if feeling virtuous, I would buy a bag of lettuce and tip it into a bowl. I knew this was a bit feeble but no one saw and I wasn’t hungry by the end of it so feeding myself felt like a success.

While most people graduated to big girl recipes, I continued these pseudo-cooking behaviours long after graduation. Buying things to warm up or remove from packaging and feeling like a toddler happily banging their wooden spoon against a wooden saucepan. Beans on toast with a wedge of lemon; microwavable rice with ready-made salad with a wedge of lemon; cereal; microwavable samosas with ready-made salad with a wedge of lemon (I can’t think of any more of my recipes for this list). And when I moved to New York in 2014, the menu got even shorter; finally, I earned “good money” and the take-out options flourished. In the first year I lived here, no cooking appliance was ever used in my apartment, not once. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were eaten at desks or with friends or in front of a laptop from a disposable container. Cooking was simply a joyless and inefficient use of my time. What’s more, it involved getting close to pulled-up roots and dirt and tiny, little bugs and all the things that nature brandishes indiscriminately. If I really wanted home-cooked meals then I’d just date a man who could cook at home. Problem solved.

Everything, of course, is different now. Because nature has flaunted another surprise that also has no regard for the notion of kindness. This morning, a leaf fell from the plant suspended on my shower rail to my wet feet and I cried.

I could keep on pretend-cooking in my make-believe kitchen, unfurling brown paper bags, teasing up lids and pushing wooden chopsticks through paper. But work has dried up and there is still rent to pay. So, when I receive dozens of texts from friends and family asking if I’ve stocked my cupboards, I look in my wardrobe for the bag I normally take on weekend trips and wander outside.

I do not want to hoard. But I also do not know what a regular amount of food looks like in a regularly stocked cupboard. I hesitate between the small basket and the larger one on wheels. Both of them look grubby and I imagine the handles of each one covered in fluorescent green corona germs (see also: the lid of my trash can, door handles, coffee cup lids and infants). I go for the wheels and start to roam. Cherry tomatoes, yes, I have used these before. Lettuce, yes, ditto. Lemons, duh. But then what? OK, rice. Everyone seems to have been buying rice. So I guess I should buy rice?

I wander over to the aisle and hear a woman my age talking to her friend on the phone, a basket nestled effortlessly in the crook of her elbow, pearly white rubber gloves on each hand.

“Girl, you should see these shelves. Everyone buying beans like they know how to cook beans. You know these people don’t know the first thing about cooking beans.” There’s a pause while she listens to her friend’s response, then she throws out a beautiful laugh that would be infectious if it weren’t for the fact that that bean bitch is clearly also me.

My eyes move to the right of the dried beans and I pick up a bag of brown rice. Maybe two? Is that greedy? No, two is probably enough for two days. That’s not too much. Oh look, there are cookies, I know this aisle. I have spent ages poring over the options like a chef choosing his spices while his béchamel sauce bubbles (probably the wrong analogy but you get the idea). Bread! It’s a good idea to buy bread. And eggs? Even though I kind of hate them. They look too alive while they’re on their way to being cooked, morphing from an uncooked egg to semen to a cooked egg and that brief moment in between isn’t pretty. But I’m not thinking like a chef. Chefs don’t compare oeufs to cum.

That is it, I guess? I join the line, pay (not exhaling while I touch the filthy keypad), pick up two bottles of $9 white wine from the store next door and head home and wash my hands for the 17th time today.

OK, rice. The packet says to leave it to sit for 20 minutes which is a real bloody pain in the arse because I am hungry now. Then I have to let it boil, which I do, cursing that one woman’s boil is another woman’s simmer and that the word “boil” really needs more clarity but OK. Then I turn down the heat and let it slowly cook for 15 minutes. It looks like I have made enough to feed a large family. I look at my phone. 7.00pm exactly, which helps me with the timings. I start to plate some lettuce leaves and tomatoes (with a wedge of lemon). I look in my cupboards and find some hot sauce. I haven’t tasted any of it yet, but the false pride is giving way to a real one as I heat up a pan to cook an egg.

Mona’s recipe for cooking dinner:






Cook the rice and eggs as best you can. Plate it with the lettuce, tomato and lemon. Voila! You are a chef! Once you are sure you haven’t poisoned yourself, offer to cook for that elderly person who lives in the building next door and is way more scared and lonely than you are right now.

(c) Mona Chalabi, 2020