She walked unseeingly, her heels clicking on the pavement. The grey skies were just a reflection of how she was feeling inside and she wished she could cry, could let those tears choked up inside free to flow. The future stretched before her, bleak and with no prospects, pretty much like this day. Then, something caught her eye and she brought things around her into focus. She was on an unfamiliar street without quite realizing how she had got there and she was looking through a shop window at a work of art. Red velvet cupcakes with rich, dark chocolate icing and over that, gossamer designs that made her think of some kind of fairyland. In the softest pastel shades that looked like it had passed through a rainbow and caught some of its colors. Something stirred within her, something long forgotten. Childhood fairy tales, when life was filled with wonder and magic.
She slowly pushed open the door and walked in. The little bakery had two tables with two chairs each. The whole place was filled with the warm aroma of baking and beyond the rows of biscuits, breads, pastries, and of course, the red velvet cupcakes, she saw someone piping icing onto a cake and she stared fascinated, watching how intensely he was focused on what he was doing. He must have sensed her looking at him and he lifted his head, took off his baker’s cap and stood up.
She realized she had been staring and quickly pointed to one of those delicious looking red velvet cupcakes.
She sat down at a table and he brought her the red velvet cupcake. She looked down at it and suddenly her eyes filled with tears. Looking down at this exquisitely finished piece of art – that was what it was – it hit her. She, who thought she was the mainstay of the company, she who everyone said was indispensable, she who everyone came to for advice had been given the pink slip with no warning. They had been apologetic of course. Business wasn’t that good, sacrifices had to be made, they were sorry to see her go, they were sure someone would snap her up….platitudes, all. And everyone avoided her eye for the rest of the day. Or was it she who avoided theirs? She wasn’t sure.
And like these beautiful red velvet cupcakes with the swirls and whirls of color which would be eaten in a few bites, she too, would be forgotten in an office to which she had given ten years of her life.
She’s had a great childhood in the country, then a great job and she had been so happy. With her mother falling ill and moving in with her into her tiny apartment, love wasn’t something she could invest too much of time in. There had been men but somehow, they just seemed to fade away when they realized she was busy between her work and her mother. When her mother passed on the previous year, she felt all alone but her work was her saving grace and she worked harder than ever. And now, this.
He saw the stricken look in her eyes and came and sat down at the table. He had warm brown eyes that smiled. He had his icing gun in his hand and he pulled the cupcake towards him and drew a smiley on it. She couldn’t help herself and smiled through her tears.
‘Now put that smile inside you!’ he said.
And just like that, she found herself telling him everything. Was it because it was easier to talk to a complete stranger? Or was it because she felt so comfortable with him? All she knew was that she didn’t feel so alone anymore. He told her how his young wife had died and how he had found happiness in creating beauty with food. Beauty that was ephemeral but it made people happy. And most of all, eased the pain and made him happy.
People came and carried away the exquisite red velvet cupcakes and pastries while she sat there, slowly eating hers. Then, he asked her to come behind the counter and sat her down on his chair. Putting a couple of red velvet cupcakes in front of her, he gave her the icing guns filled with different colors.
‘Now paint your happiness,’ he said.
‘Oh, I’m no artist!’
‘Just paint away the grey inside…’
Painstakingly, she began and while he was attending to his clients, young and old, men and women, she concentrated on what she was doing, blocking out all the misery of the day and finding the wonder of the child within her. When there was a lull, he came up to her and bending over her, deftly piped out petals in different colors on top of one of those red velvet cupcakes. She watched his hands, his long fingers as they moved, so sure and so steady.
Before they knew it, the sun was setting and it was growing dark. He had to close shop and she knew she should go. Inside this little haven, she suddenly felt warm and secure, surrounded by this food art created by this wonderful artist.
He seemed to hesitate a little, then as though taking the plunge, asked, ‘Same time tomorrow?’
She nodded and smiled.