The applause from the adoring audience resounded like thunder in the hall. It went on as the woman took a bow and stepped off the seat. She took another bow and left the grand hall, still being ushered out by the deafening applause.
“That was incredible, Maria. I mean… your rendition of…” the manager grabbed Maria’s hand and she quickly withdrew it.
She forced a smile and said, “Thanks, Mr. Waddle. If you will excuse me, I have to get going now. I will come pick up my wage by the morrow.” Maria made to leave but the man blocked her path. With a sigh, Maria pulled on her coat and buttoned it up.
“Why don’t you stay a little while longer, Maria? It is raining out there, you know.”
“Thanks a lot, Mr. Waddle but I will have to say no. Besides, I have my umbrella with me. Now, if you would excuse me.” Knowing full well that the man was blocking her path, Maria stretched out her cane and as she did, she hit him right in the knee. She faked a sympathetic smile. “Oh, I am so sorry about that, Mr. Waddle. Please, excuse me.”
Before he could object further, Maria stepped around him and maneuvered around the artists in the backroom of the grand hall till she found the back exit. She pushed the door open and as she did, she opened up her umbrella with her unoccupied hand. She lifted it up just as she stepped out into the wet and cold street. Her house was within walking distance so there was no need for her to hail a cab. She was not able to see but Maria could feel it as well as hear it. The town had changed a lot over the past seven years. The streets were now littered with hansom cabs and hackneys, bigger establishments had started springing up, really, things were becoming more complex every day. But, she very well could not complain. It was all growth and development.
She counted the last step and knew that she had arrived home. Even without counting, she already knew the smells and sounds around the house. She had never gotten lost in the seven years that she had been in the town which many now considered a city. Maria climbed up the flight of stairs and let out her long blonde hair from the chignon she had made it into. She slotted in the key and pushed the door open, quickly locking it behind her. She sighed as she set the wet umbrella in the foyer.
Maria placed her cane by the door as she stepped into the house with bare feet. She had lived here for so long already that she knew every nook and cranny like the back of her hands. Those days of hitting herself against objects when moving around were gone. Maria found her way to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water. She carried it out to the living room and settled on a settee. She downed the water in one gulp, placed the glass on the center table and stretched out on the settee. She had been living alone for a while now but still had not gotten used to it. Maria sighed. She missed Beatrix and the triplets so much. A few seconds later, she was fast asleep.
Maria felt a bright and hot sensation. She jolted up, surprised that she was not in her bed. Then, it dawned on her that she had slept off on the settee the previous night. Stifling a yawn, she wrapped a shawl around herself and headed down to the bakery. The sun was already out, she could feel it on her skin and through the shawl. She got to work immediately, preparing the baked produce for the day, cakes, breads, rolls, pies, biscuits. The bakery had also evolved a lot over the years. A month after she moved in with Beatrix and the triplets, she started working in the bakery. With her advice and help, the bakery had changed a lot. They had started baking cakes in addition to the loaves of bread.
Maria smiled sadly herself as she remembered the day that Beatrix had told her that they would be leaving.
“You are leaving?!” she had asked in a sad and high pitched voice. She remembered the day all too well because they had all just returned from a picnic by the lake. It had been the spring of 1876
“Yes, my child,” Beatrix had tried to hold her hand but she had drawn away. She had actually broken into tears. Beatrix and the triplets were the only family she had ever known since she had run away from home. In actual fact, they had shown her more love than anyone had ever done.
“You are going to leave me all alone!” She had wept. Even with her trying to push the woman away, she still insisted. Beatrix had placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“My child, please do not be angry with us. We are leaving because we got an opportunity there, I got an opportunity there, to head a top bakery in London.”
Maria shook her head. “I am happy for you, Miss Beatrix, believe me, I truly am. I just can’t help feeling so sad. You four are going away and I am going to be alone. I know that you can’t take me along. I just feel bad but I do know that you have to make something of yourself, you have to follow your dreams and if going to Europe is your dream, then it is really okay. I should go get packing. I promise that I will find a place to move to soon. So don’t worry, I…”
“What are you talking about, Maria? I am leaving the bakery to you, dear child.” Beatrix stood up and smiled at her.
Maria looked at the woman in confusion. “I do not understand, Miss Beatrix. What do you mean by you are leaving the bakery to me?”
“Exactly what I said, child. You are like a daughter to me, dear child. I got this place from my father upon his death and I do not have any plans of selling it. I want it to be here for my children when they are ready to have it. My dear girl, you have toiled alongside me in the bakery every day for the past three years. Believe me when I say that if I could take you with me, then I would. I want you to be the caretaker of this house and the bakery. I would rather you stay here than anyone else.”
“What of the proceeds that I make? I can’t take it,” Maria protested.
“Yes child. You can take it. Take care of the house, bake, play your violin, be happy. When you make your decision on the path that you want to take, what dreams you have, then it will be up to you to choose wherever you want to go,” Beatrix chuckled and whispered into her ears, “Just remember to mail the key if you decide that it is time for you to leave.”
The two sobbing women had hugged each other and the triplets had arrived then and joined in the hug. They left the following week and Maria could still remember the feeling of loneliness and emptiness that she had felt in her stomach when she had returned from the train station to an empty house. She had closed up shop in the couple of days that followed, not being able to do anything because of her sadness but by the end of the two days, she had started beating herself up mentally. She had to move on with her life and not be stuck in a position. Beatrix had been generous enough to leave her with the house and the bakery till she was ready to leave, she had to make something of herself. She just had to.
Over the past four years, they had had a lot of correspondence with each other. She always dictated her letters to a girl at the post office. She was very nice and helpful as well as patient. Whenever she got a letter, the girl always read it out to her as well.
In those four years, she had done a lot. She had a job as a violinist three times a week in the grand hotel down the street, then, she had the bakery where she was busy every day of the week. Maria had no idea where she wanted to go, what she did know was that she loved baking, she loved playing the violin. She was saving up to go to the school for the blind. She had heard about Braille and she planned to learn it. She did not know where she was headed in the long run but little by little, her dreams were forming shape.
The dinging of the oven snapped Maria out of her thoughts. She pulled out the cakes and smiled as she took in a long whiff of the delicious aroma. When Maria had set out all the baked goods in the cases, she ran up to have a bath before she opened the bakery. And so, the day began, just like any other day. Or was it?
Elijah looked at the professor and saw the man smiling at him. He rolled his eyes. He had been so engrossed in the story and looking at the grandfather clock on the wall now, he realized that it was already noon. He had really been so interested in the story.
“Go on, sir. Can you please continue?” Elijah asked the older man, very impatiently. The professor just smiled and looked at him. Elijah smacked the back of his head in frustration. “Well… was it?”
“Was it what?” the professor asked as he turned over the teapot. He sighed when he realized that it was already empty. He shook his head as he said. “That’s a pity.”
“Was it a normal day like every other?” Elijah asked as he motioned for the professor to continue the story.
“Oh, right. Well… you will just have to find that out later, Elijah. I need to get some tea,’ the professor stood up from his seat.
“You are joking, right?” Elijah asked in shock.
“No, Elijah. I have run out of tea and it looks to be that you have also run out of cider. You know what? Why don’t you go get some drinks for the both of us? Tea for me, if you please.” He stretched out the teapot to Elijah. Elijah heaved a long sigh and took the pot from the professor who smiled at him. “While you are at it Elijah, do get us some biscuits, will you? There are some on the third cupboard to the left.”
“Sure Professor Boxton.” Elijah stood up, took all that he had been given and headed to the kitchen, a frown on his face. All he wanted to do was hear the story. Was that too much to ask? And tea? Did he even know how to prepare tea?
“Don’t forget to strain the teabags, Elijah!” he heard the professor’s voice from the den. He held in a frustrated groan and picked up the tea package. There were instructions written on it. He would be patient. If he knew anything about Professor Boxton, it was that very little thing he did, every action he made was to pass a message across, it was to divulge a lesson of some sort. Whatever the lesson the professor intended to pass across to him, Elijah intended to absorb it.
Pasting a smile on his face, Elijah carried the tray of steaming tea and biscuits to the den. He placed it in front of the professor. The man grinned at him and poured some of the tea into his cup. He took a sip and nodded, “You learn a new thing every day, Elijah, don’t you?”
Elijah nodded. He had been right after all. “Yes, professor, we do. Now, I can prepare tea.”
“Not just preparing tea, Elijah, you also learnt how to exercise patience.” The professor took a biscuit and munched on it thoughtfully.
“Yes, you are right on that, professor,” Elijah nodded as he took back his seat. He was beginning to understand that an act so little can have a great lesson behind it. Once again, he felt that he had made the best decision when he agreed that the professor could be his mentor.
Professor Boxton urged him to take some biscuits and he did. His eyes widened as he bit into one. “This is amazing.”
“Yes it is. Like you already know from the story that I have told you so far, mother was an amazing baker. I learnt from the best, we learnt from the best. May I continue my story?” Professor Boxton reached for another one.
“We?” Elijah looked up at the professor, a perplexed look on his face. The relaxed look on the professor’s face told him that the man was not going to answer his question so easily. He might as well be patient. “Sure Professor Boxton. Please, continue.”