by Jovyn Tan
“Quick, call ah-mah.”
“Ah-mah.” Eva mutters dutifully, not looking up from her iPhone 5C. Her mother smiles on her behalf. “Mother, since you like making ong-lyetarts, I bought you a mould, pineapple corer...”
The casual banter between her elders fades into a dull monotone as text messages materialise on her screen, rapidly followed by the countless likes of her latest Facebook posts. Automatically, Eva gravitates towards the chair furthest away from the adults. The furniture in the three-room flat is simple, worn, old-fashioned. She shudders from the discomfort--it suffocates and smothers.
“Eva!” Her grandmother calls loudly in broken English. “Come, make ong-lye tart together.”
“Busy,” Eva says dismissively.
The grandmother looks over at her granddaughter, sitting cross-legged in a dark corner, her face illuminated by the gadget in her hands. What was the appeal of that hunk of metal she was holding so fervently?
“Eva,” Eva’s mother says.
Rolling her eyes, Eva gets up, tucking her phone into the pocket of her high-waist shorts. “Fine.” She does so only out of obligation, putting on a waxy grin.
Grandmother and granddaughter enter the kitchen.
“Peel,” she says simply but firmly, wielding a knife and skilfully beginning to core a pineapple.
“How about the pineapple corer? This wastes time.” Impatient, her fingers begin to hover over the pink smartphone, itching to check the latest text. Her grandmother remains silent for a few seconds, weathered hands dicing the peeled pineapple.
“No,” she finally responds, throwing the pineapple cubes into a pot to boil. “Not traditional. Now add sugar.”
“How about the pastry? I want to do the pastry thing.”
Eva locates and opens the minuscule fridge, eyebrows creasing as she pushes aside jars of unknown edibles to find a wooden bowl of dough. “Ah-ma, where’s the mould?”
“Mould? For what? Pincher on counter.” Her grandmother says, not looking up from the metal pot. Wisps of smoke rise and disappear into the air.
“Why not shape the dough with the mould? It’s faster. I’ve homework. I’m busy.”
“Pincher.” Leaving no room for disagreement, her grandmother turns off the gas stove, dusting off her hands on her floral blouse. She pinches out a blob of the beigish dough and shapes it into a flattened sphere, creating a concave in the middle. “Make hole.” She picks up one of the pinchers and creates a dotted pattern around the circumference of the buttery dough. “Make pattern.”
Resignedly, Eva takes some dough. A wrinkled hand catches her wrist. “Too much.” Her grandmother gingerly removes part of the lump. “Not too much.”
“How many do you make every year?” Eva inquires.
Her grandmother pauses to contemplate the question, fingers halting their work. “Hundred. Maybe hundred twenty.”
Soundlessly, Eva continues working, embossing dots into the buttery dough. In the dimly lit kitchen, grandmother and granddaughter wordlessly pinch dough, the entire one hundred and eighteen flattened circles. They are related by blood, but little conversation is made. They are isolated by their obstinate beliefs. Eva is a child of the twenty-first century, a tech-savvy, texting teen; her grandmother has tasted the hardships of the Japanese Occupation, and has been moulded by influences that occurred lifetimes ago.
Forty-six minutes later, a fragrance wafts out of the kitchen. Using tea towels as gloves, Eva’s grandmother emerges with the delicacies. The large tray laden with golden pineapple tarts occupies nearly the entire table.
A shadow passes over her tarts. She glances up, and Eva sits down on a salmon-pink plastic stool opposite her grandmother, tucking her phone into her pocket. Her trendy shirt, with block-lettered words in a modern vocabulary her grandmother does not understand, makes the stains on it seem more visible. And for the first time, Eva notices sugary stains on her grandmother’s old floral blouse.
Eva picks up a jar and mirrors her grandmother, stacking pineapple tarts. Her grandmother offers a tart, eyes twinkling kindly.
The flavour of the pineapple tart reminds Eva of vibrant fireworks, sweet and piquant with an appetizing sourness. Never has she tasted anything so wonderful--no store bought, factory manufactured tart has ever boasted such flavour and richness. The pastry crumbles lightly on her palate; her sense of taste reaches out to her sense of understanding.
"Now I know," Eva mumbles, "why you did what you did." She looks up at her grandmother, who smiles benignly at her. They understand each other; the words are superfluous.
The golden pastry melts in her mouth, and caramel-like stickiness of the pineapple jam seems like a glue, repairing what has been broken between two different generations.