A Sweet Deal
The corner of Baker Street and Arthur Road is of no significance to any passer-by. It’s not surprising, really. It is just your average street corner brick building, with some very dusty and anonymous windows. There’s a wonky bike rack in front of one of the windows but only one tired bicycle is parked at it. Above the green and dusty entrance an old sign is hanging from a decorative, wrought iron bracket. The bracket itself is attached to the façade with two delicate screws which desperately cling onto the façade with a last ounce of force, but no one gives it attention really. It is such a modest corner of the world that you probably ask yourself why I still care to write about it, but if you for some odd reason would stop and carefully peek through the neglected, gray windows you would be quite puzzled. All days of the week except Mondays you would find that it is rather busy inside. Not the tourist kind obviously – but the locals here are rather aware of this little bakery and its mouth-watering cinnamon rolls. They care very little about the uninspiring and pale front. In fact, some are quite happy with keeping the location a secret and what better way to keep a secret than to make the fantastic characterless and unnoteworthy. Occasionally the owner, Mr Owens, stays up several nights and days in a row to bake tarts, cakes and rolls for a large birthday party or for a fancy town wedding. There are even rumors that the Queen favors the cinnamon rolls to her afternoon tea but I must admit I believe this to be merely a tale.
The display of cakes and pastries was not disappointing this Saturday either. My favourites, the Pecan Plaits, were a perfect mix of crisp golden pastry, glossy maple syrup and large chunks of pecan. Along with a cup of coffee, and an egg sandwich, this was my standard Saturday order. The Golden Triangle I use to call it and any weekend starting with it tends to become a pleasant one. Alice, my wife, is more of an explorer and it is a habit of hers to carefully inspect all of the options once, and then once again before she makes up her mind. This morning was no different. Eventually I caressed her hair and politely asked her for a decision. Patience was never one of my strengths. I fiddled with my number fifty-six paper slip and gave a half-smile to Mr Owens as to remind him that we were ready to order. I was abruptly interrupted by a posh voice.
- Hello Sir. How do you do? You have quite a marvelous selection displayed here. Hm, I guess I have to make a decision as I’m in a bit of a rush. If you would be so kind to give me three large fruit and nut loafs, ten cinnamon rolls and five of those quark kolaches – they do look delicate indeed! Ah, to take with me of course! I have little time, really.
Surprised to be cut short I turned around to the loud and confident stranger behind me. A man in a lavish tweed suit stood behind me. He seemed to have quite an appetite because he did not stop there;
- Also, please wrap me six of the chocolate croissants and hm... are those cherry muffins?
Mr Owens hesitated for a bit because he too had noticed the uncivil maneuver of the mysterious stranger. But after a quick calculation in his head (after all, the stranger man was making a considerable order) Mr Owens decided to play along with the situation. I too was too startled to confront the stranger. There was this aura of confidence and aloofness about him. His back-combed and waxed hair was nearly touching the ceiling lights and I had to tilt my head quite backwards to get at full look at him. I found it very odd that he was wearing a tweed suit and what made it even stranger was that it looked at least a hundred years old, but in a mint condition. There was even a golden pocket watch chain hanging from one of the button holes. I could not help to ponder if he was late to a theater performance. Who knew! Maybe he even was the main actor – his demeanour certainly revealed that sort of confidence. I now tilted my head towards the floor to take in the full height of the man. His brown tweed, check-patterned trousers were an inch or so too short for his legs, but his extra length of legs were covered with brown socks. As I noticed his glossy black leather shoes I envied them a bit. Whilst trying to absorb the situation and the slender, tweed-dressed man in front of me he had continued to order eight cherry muffins. Mr Owens had finished wrapping the baked goods and was now wiping a pearl of sweat from his forehead. He appeared elated and enthusiastic now as he caringly tapped the price of each good into his cash machine.
- ‘What excellent choices you have made, Sir!’ Mr Owens said. ’That would be seventy-four pounds and sixty cent, please.’
- ‘Well, with such fine quality of work it is worth every penny!’ the tweed man replied with a big grin and put his hand in his pocket to fish up his wallet. He swiftly scanned through all pockets of his jacket, and then theside pockets of his trousers.
- ‘Sir... ah, I cannot believe it! It looks like I left my head and my wallet behind. I am truly sorry. How clumsy I am - I must have forgotten it at the butchers! See!’ he said and waived his arm towards Mr Owens. In his fist he held a transparent bag filled with something dark red and moist inside. ‘I bought this bag of bacon over at Meat & Greet so believe I must’ve left my wallet there!’
I couldn’t help to notice a microscopic smirk on his lips as he said it, but it was so insignificant that perhaps I just imagined it. Already at the moment he interrupted me I had secretly decided to not like him, so it is quite possible that I invented the smirk out of my own disapproval of the man. I don’t often get angry or irritated although there is something disdainful about cutting queues. If a person does not know the art of waiting for their turn then how do they go on about other, more complex, situations and confrontations in their lives? The tweed man glanced around and - for a brief moment - our eyes met. Now he looked a bit flushed and apologetic as if he had just discovered the audience to this minor situation. His eyebrows twisted and the inner corners travelled up on his long forehead, almost touching each other in despair. He pondered for a second on how to solve the absence of his wallet.
- ‘Perhaps I may ask... ah, no, never mind...’
- ‘Oh, Sir, please tell me how I can help!’ Mr Owens (still joyful) told his very fine customer.
- ‘Well, you know, for a man like me it is quite embarrassing to ask but you see... I’m rather later for this small birthday gathering and I was thinking... well, if it’s not too outrageous of a question... if I could return a bit later to pay for all this? On Tuesday I will be going to the dentist which is just around the corner from here. Dr Maurice, do you know her? Could I come by then and pay you? Would you be so kind?’
Mr Owens felt a bit uncertain now. It was quite a significant order after all and the weekend incomes were important to his business. But he didn’t have to think long before one of the locals, Eleanor Wilkins, who had overheard the conversation interrupted. She was one of the more senior ladies in the village and always had advice to share albeit it wasn’t exclusively good ones.
- ’I think you should accept the young mans offer, dear Owens. Seldom have I seen such a dapper gentleman. Look, he even wears a tweed suit... just like the young boys in my 20s used to! I’m sure he is a man of his word.’
Another young man with long hair and beach shorts, who I never seen before, joined in with affirmation.
- ’Don’t worry, Mister. He’s alright. He paid for his bacon..’ commented the young man with the palm print shorts and a relaxed smile.
- ’Owens, just let him have it for now. The poor gentleman is in a rush!’ Mrs Wilkins added and corrected her tiny glasses.
Then, suddenly my wife also confirmed the trustfulness of the tweed man. I was taken aback by my wife’s naivety for a moment, and humphed, but of course she would be easily convinced by some well-chosen, polite, words and a good suit. Alice looked at me as she had noticed my discomfort regarding her comment, but said nothing more. With the number of people supporting the tweed man you would have thought that Mr Owens would have given in to the request by now. The tweed man corrected his suit, stroked a hair from his forehead, and nodded towards his advocates. He smiled apologetically and gave a few excuses for his rudeness. He turned towards his audience and equally as well-mannered as before he explained that his niece, Bianca, was probably full of anticipation by now. A train from Kent had left him delayed by a whole hour and he could not possibly arrive to a six-year old without a small gift! Mrs Wilking smiled approvingly and her face was shining in admiration. For myself, I wondered why he would need to bring a bag of bacon to a child’s birthday party but it was merely a hasty thought.
Mr Owens certainly looked uncomfortable and flushed from all the attention for the situation, and as he packed the baked goods into two paper bags I noticed that he hesitated. I felt like it was my time to speak up, to support him, but my thoughts were everywhere and my tongue was glued to the back of my front teeth.
Right in that moment the young stranger in the tweed suit made an outburst. He threw his upper body over the counter and grabbed the paper bags that just had been in Mr Owens hands. He snarled with irritation whilst showing his teeth, almost like a lion on a savannah. Mrs Wilkins screamed in astonishment and her glasses fell down her nose from the swift change. My wife caught herself with the help of a marble table as she was pushed away, and a sleeping dog was abruptly awakened by the spectacle taking place in the small bakery shop. It barked frivolously in fear, confusion and surprise. Before anyone knew what had happened, the gentleman in tweed was out of the door.
What my jaw, tongue and voice lacked in mobility I apparently had in my legs. Before the heavy glass door closed in front of my eyes I had catapulted my body towards it, managed to get through a small opening and in one step I jumped down the small steps. My legs were nearly flying over the pavement as I did my best to follow the tweed man. ‘Take him!’ I heard from behind and it was Mr Owens a few steps behind me. I was right! I was completely right! This odd and rude stranger was not to be trusted! I felt smug and full of energy as I sprang after the thief, and I was not many steps behind him but for a suited man he was running exceptionally fast. As we got closer to Pemberton Road the sidewalk immediately got more crowded. Now my steps were explosive and I felt like an Olympian champion on my run-up; last 50 meters until the finish line; ’Mr Johnson is going for the record! Will he make it?! Will he make it?!’ A brown bag crashed onto the street. And then another one. The tweed suited swindler had given up his prey, but continued to sprint. I softened my run and halted to pick up the brown, slightly crumpled, bags. A minute after Mr Owens joined me. Leaning his hands on his knees he was gasping for air. ’Oh, thank you!... Thank you!...That imbecile!.. Bacon!...’ he said inbetween his heavy breaths, and I gave him a smile and complemented him for his great judgement of character.
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