"I think it needs some salt" , said Ptolemy .
"No, it needs more honey" , Nearchus replied sagely.
At his words, Cassander who was maintaining a distance from the whole affair shook his head. "Have you gone mad? It already looks like yellow baby puke!" he exclaimed. "More flour Alexander." he advised.
In the middle of these three boys stood Alexander, who was stirring a bowl filled with a watery semi solid mixture maddeningly with a wooden spoon. No matter what he did, the mixture didn't look like it was supposed to look. It was so runny.
Alexander sighed. He wanted to do it for Phai, but it was getting difficult by the second. He remembered the day when it all started.
He and his friends were roaming in the market place looking at the sundry items laid out for sale. They arrived at the sweet shop . Delicious smells were wafting in the air and the boys were drawn to it like bees to flowers.
" Hello Chara!" Alexander greeted the sweet old lady who was selling sweets. At Alexander's words Hephaistion smiled. Alex knew everyone around him. It was so much unlike other princes who liked to maintain a distance from common people. People in turn reciprocated Alexander's love. They cherished the young prince by heart.
" Hello to you too, my sweet child! Do you want something?" she asked. Alexander looked at his friends who were already bouncing with happiness. Then his eyes shifted to Phai. "What about you Phai?" he said, "Don't you want anything?"
Hephaistion nodded . But while others were choosing sweets of their own choice, he just stood there. When Chara cleared her throat , Hephaistion looked at her longingly and asked " Don't you have some of those sesame and honey fritters you always make?"
The woman sighed and shook her head . "I'm sorry my dear!" she said. "Why don't you choose something else?"
Hephaistion politely declined. "Thank you Chara. I'm not that hungry." he answered.
On their way back Alexander looked at his friend and asked, "What's so special about those fritters Phai?"
Hephaistion squeezed Alexander's hand and smiled . " My mother used to make those. They remind me of home."
Alexander frowned. He didn't like the sad look in Phai's blue eyes. He decided to do something about it.
So here was Alexander making fritters for his Phai with the help of the recipe he collected from Chara. Obtaining the permission to use the kitchen was a different story all together. He was thankful to his friends who agreed to help him.
But no matter what he did, the batter was not cooperating with him. It was either too runny or too lumpy.
After a few false starts , the batter seemed to be fine. Alexander glanced at Ptolemy who was roasting sesame seeds on a pan religiously. "Ptolemy?" he inquired impatiently, "Are the sesame seeds ready?"
Ptolemy looked at the blackened seeds and nodded eagerly. "Yes Alex! I did it just like Chara said." He brought the sesame seeds to the chef who mixed it in the batter. And then began the great adventure.
The first batch of fritters were too black. Alexander looked at the result and scrunched his nose. No way was he giving that to his Phai. The second batch was all right but the color was too dark. It didn't meet the standards of the four chefs.
The third batch brought a smile to their lips. It was golden and beautiful. Alexander smiled at last. His Phai would be so happy. He gathered the fritters in a small bowl. It looked so pretty. He even offered them to his friends but they all declined.
He arrived at his chamber and looked inside. Phai was on the bed…still immersed in his books. Alexander took a long breath to calm himself. What if Phai didn't like the surprise? He entered the room and called out softly, "Phai?"
Hephaistion looked up from his books and smiled when he saw the caller. "Alex? Where have you been? I was getting worried!"
Alexander smiled shyly and offered his small gift to his best friend. "For you Phai!" he said.
Hephaistion's eyes widened when he looked at the fritters. "Alex? You made those?" he looked into the two colored eyes and asked worriedly. When Alexander nodded, Hephaistion hugged his golden haired companion and shook his head. "You could have been burnt, Alex." he whispered. Then he took Alexander's hands and checked for scars all over them and gave a sigh of relief when he found none.
" Won't you taste them Phai? I made them for you." Alexander pouted. Hephaistion nodded quickly and picked up a fritter from the bowl. He bit into it and smiled. "I love them Phai! Just great!" he shouted happily.
Alexander's mission was successful . His Phai smiled again. He was a little tired. He went over to the bed, and closed his eyes. He was a little tired.
Hephaistion leaned against the headboard and savored the sweet treat. He looked down at his friend whose head was resting on his lap and smiled fondly. His Alex had taken so much trouble to make him smile.
Would he ever tell Alex that the fritters were a little bitter? Never.
He knew the taste of love.
It tasted just like those fritters.