We reached the Cafe by nine fifty. We pulled our aprons from the hook behind the door of the staff room and tied them tightly around our waist. Mariella rushed towards us as we were about to begin our shift.
"Girls you are right on time. Sarah, get this to table five" she plopped a tray in Sarah's hands.
"Giselle, clean table seven" she handed me a cloth.
I paced towards table seven as Sarah departed for table five. As I was wiping whipped cream off the table I heard a shrill high-pitched voice call out my name. I cursed under my breath.
"Giselle! I heard that you moved into a new apartment?" I turned to a rangy woman in her mid-twenties. Her red locks were pulled into a high ponytail and she radiated with the urge to pick on someone.
"You heard it right, Veronica". I turned back to the table, my hands involuntarily wiping the table as my rage-filled mind thought of ways to torture her.
"Poor thing. From rag picking on the streets to living in a broken apartment you've come a long way. You should be grateful to Mariella". I dropped the cloth on the table and turned, boring my eyes into hers. I plastered a fake smile while trying to keep my anger in check.
"Veronica!" I called out to her in the same shrill tone she used to called my name with.
"I am grateful to Mariella. So why don't take your opinion, turn it around and shove it up to your hairy ass? Unlike you, we come here to work. Not to find boyfriends to cheat on. By the way, how's Dan?". Her face turned red with rage at the mention of her ex-boyfriend. My fists begged me to land a punch on her plastic face but I resisted the urge to disfigure her face. Sarah shot me a victory look.
" You little bitch..." she trailed off as I stepped closer, my eyes in contact with hers, warning her to shut it before she regrets it.
"The cafe is nearly empty and as much as I'd love to stomp your face and drag you to hell with my bare hands, breaking into a fight would be bad for business. So how about you do your job and I do mine?" Veronica backed off.
Luckily the customer at table five was unfazed by the dispute. He had buried his face into the newspaper. When I was done cleaning the table I went back to the kitchen. Mariella's face glowed with joy as she enveloped me in a tight hug.
"You seem to be happy today". I said
"We got a huge order and if everything goes well, we will be able to meet this month's and next month's target within this month itself!" she chimed. The both of us squealed in excitement.
This café was just a way to fill our stomachs but Mariella's dream was to be a baker. She recently announced she was open to orders and it was her first order. I was so happy for her. She was finally living her dream.
"That is great news. When do they expect us to deliver the order?" I asked.
"Today at five p.m.," she said. Five p.m? It was too soon.
"Five p.m today? How do they expect us to deliver so soon?" I asked her.
"They initially gave the order to Pristine Bakers but since the death of Rick Pristine, they've been grieving. They've cancelled all their orders and one of their customers turned up to us" she explained. It made sense but five p.m was too early.
"I know we're running out of time and that's why I want you to run to the market and get me everything I need. Here's the list. Alejandro will accompany you." she tucked a long list in my hand. I burrowed the list into one of the pockets of my dungaree and rushed to the back door.
Alejandro was standing in the alleyway, beside his truck. Alejandro and Raphael were Mariella's sons. They were the breadwinners of the family until Mariella opened her cafe. Raphael worked in a tech company whereas Alejandro lived off the money he earned from some gigs.
"Giselle. You're finally here. We need to rush to the farmers' market." he said.
"Let's get going then". I opened the door of the truck when Alejandro pulled me back.
"Raphael is fixing a fridge in the truck for the cake. We need to go by walk."
Great! With the copious quantity of ingredients, it would take more than an hour to get back and time was of the essence.
The back doors of the truck flung open and a lean man appeared out of the truck. His face was caked with dust, his dirty blonde hair matted with sweat.
"It's gonna take a while before you can use the truck. I'm having some trouble with the fridge. You guys go ahead. If possible I'll join you guys" Raphael said. We both paced towards the farmers' market. It was two blocks away but the aroma of delicacies filled the air from a block away. We entered into the buzzing market. Navigating our way through the crowd we finally make it to one of the stalls. A woman in her mid-fifties stepped out of the stall, embracing both of us in a hug.
"Giselle, Alejandro! Long time no see. What brings you here?" she asked us. I dug into my pocket and pull out the list.
"Galina we need these" I handed it over to her. She reached out to her reading glasses and puts them on. Her eyebrows cocked in surprise as her vision reached the end of the list.
"You guys seem to have hit a Jackpot" Galina commented. She handed the list over to me and put her glasses away.
"For the quantity that you require I have flour and butter. You can find milk and eggs at Angela's stall". She handed us the flour and butter and we bid her goodbye and move on to the next stall. For the next hour and a half, we kept hopping from one stall to the other in a quest for ingredients. It was tiring but we had collected most of the ingredients.
"What's next on the list? " Alejandro managed to ask. He was drenched with sweat, his grey t-shirt that clung to his skin turned a shade darker and his olive skin had turned tomato red.
"We need whipping cream, food colour, vanilla essence, piping bags, nozzles and some decoration items for the cupcakes" I read out from the list. His face turned pale after listening to the remaining items on the list.
He propped the bags carefully against the foot of a tent and took a moment to breathe. The sound of a notification caught our attention. Alejandro pulled out his phone to see who texted him.
"Raphael says that he fixed the refrigerator. He's headed towards here" he said.
"Okay. Tell him to meet us at the end of the block. Till then we'll get the rest of the ingredients" I said. He nodded in agreement.
"Guessing from what you readout of the list we need to split up. " Alejandro said. He headed to the grocery store to buy whipped cream and vanilla essence whereas I went to the bakery supply store. I finally reached the store to find the owner closing the store.
"Excuse me. I need a few things. If you don't mind delaying for a bit we'll be done in a minute" I pleaded. The middle-aged man eyed me from head to toe. My body switched to defence mode as his gaze raked my body. Though his gaze didn't seem lustful, precaution is better than cure.
He took pity on my condition and unlocked the door. I took a thorough look at his store, trying to find potential threats and weapons that I could use in case of an attack.
Sarah never understood why I always analyzed my surroundings but it was a habit I developed while living on the streets. Living in the urban jungle alone was a tough job. Unlike most people who have a roof over their heads and money to pay for their groceries, we need to be more careful.
Peaceful sleep was something we couldn't afford. Even when you are asleep, you need to be aware of your surroundings. Night hours are the witching hours for men. They kidnap women off the streets and sell them to prostitution rings.
To have food in your bellies, one had to commit a theft without getting caught. Earning money righteously is not an option we have. We have to overcome all these difficulties to wake up the next morning, facing the same demons again and again until we find a way to break through this chain.
As soon as my mental analysis ended, I stepped into the store. It was decorated with festoons and cake decorations. From edible googly eyes to chocolate chips, the range of the ingredients was mouth-watering.
"What do you need dear?" he asked in a pleasant tone. He must have guessed that I was on high alert because he swiftly moved behind the counter, trying to create a distance between us. I pulled out the list and handed it to him. After five minutes, everything I needed was on the counter in front of me, except the piping bags.
"We ran out of piping bags but there is another store nearby. They might have what you need". I handed him the money and followed the directions he gave me. The narrower the alleyways became, the slower I walked, observing my surroundings. From chipped pieces of concrete roads to shards of alcohol bottles, my mind recorded everything that could be used as a weapon. I clutched my apartment keys in the bridge of my fingers as I walked. I found a bakery supply store tucked at the end of an alleyway. It was not as big as the previous one but it had to do. The shady woman sitting at the counter glared at me.
"I need use-and-throw piping bags" I spoke, breaking the daunting silence between us. She pressed her cigarette into the ashtray and stood up. She walked into what looked like a storeroom and tossed a packet of plastic piping bags. I paid the woman for the piping bags and escaped from her shop.
I chose an alternate route to reach where we had promised Raphael to meet. Walking past a small alleyway, I saw something strange from my peripheral vision. I turned to find a girl pressed between a man and a wall. His arm was propped against the wall, preventing her from escaping and his other hand rested at her mid-thigh, a bit deeper than the hem of her skirt.
With his hand blocking her face, I couldn't see her facial expression. I needed to know that what was happening was consensual. The arm that propped him against the wall moved and her face was finally visible. Her mortified expression was all I needed to see to rush to her aid.
"Leave her alone" I shouted, dropping the bags in my hand. He turned to me, his intense gaze warning me to back off but I strode forward. He stumbled forward, sloppily walking towards me. He grabbed my hand and slammed me across the wall. His breath reeked of alcohol. Memories came flashing back as he pressed himself against me.
He stood in front of me, his body pressing against me as his hands toured my body. I couldn't move. Even if I screamed, no one would come to my help.
He grabbed me by my hair and I winced in pain, snapping out of my flashback. I can't think about him now, I thought to myself. I couldn't let my past get in the way.
I jabbed the keys between my fingers into his chest. He scowled in pain as I made my way to her. I grabbed her hand and dragged her out of the alleyway.
The man flung at me in an attempt to attack me. I pushed her aside as he grabbed me from behind. The weight of his muscular frame forced me to kneel. My elbow managed to make contact with his nose. He pressed his palms against his nose, his weight lifting off of me. I crawled my way out.
My eyes searched for the broken alcohol bottle I had seen while analyzing the alleyway. My hand stumbled upon cool glass. I gripped it firmly in my hand and smashed it against his head. Blood oozed from his head as he went down, screaming in pain.
"You little bitch...." he grunted. I got to my feet and grabbed the girl as we ran out of the alleyway.
The bags. Shit!
I paused and turned behind. If I ran fast, we could escape with the bags. So I decided to follow my gut. I sprinted towards the bags. I grasped them in a firm grip and ran back. The weight of the bags slowed me down, my balance was hindered by the unequal distribution of weight but I didn't care.
"Run faster!" I screamed as we ran out of the narrow alleyways. We ran into the farmers' market, stopping only when we ran into the crowd. I dropped the bags and bent over to catch my knees as I panted.
"Are you fine?" I asked her between pants. She nodded in agreement. She straightened her red dress and gripped the hem of her lace skirt.
"Th....thank you" she stuttered. Her vision stopped at my wrist. My gaze stopped at what she was seeing. That bastard's grasp left bruises on my skin. After catching my breath, I turned to her.
"What's your name," I asked her.