It was a cool, wintry day and the cook quickly hurried home with his long spoon, an item he always carried around no matter what the occasion. I peeked from behind the alleyway to get a better look, wondering if he had anything good hidden in the pockets of his long white coat. He lived on the Upper West side of town, where there was a meager, but still a good amount of food to eat. Nobody dared to ask him if there was enough to spare, just watched from their crumbling rooftops and peered out of windows by the alley. I watched the cook pull out his spoon and lay it on the ground.
“Happy Easter my friends. Now how many of you would like my special stew, made by the best mixing stick in all of Upper West?” I pushed back short black hair from my face to see the commotion. People began murmuring and running down to the street, afraid they would miss the opportunity to get the “special stew”, but not before the cook raised his hand.
“Now, I only ask one favor of you. Bring me something; it doesn’t matter what, to put into this pot only halfway filled with hot water, because you can’t have a stew without ingredients!” There was a twinkle in the man’s eye as he took out a massive pot to join the spoon on the street.
Almost immediately, everything stopped. There would be no dinner tonight except for the scraps found in the dumpster for there was simply nothing edible here. Suddenly, a woman cried out happily.
“I have a plump tomato growing on my plant!! Could that go in the stew?”
“Oh, you bet it can!” The man replied, shouting so the woman could hear him. I remembered the half-melted chocolate bunny in my pocket that Mary had given me yesterday and held it up for everyone to see.
“I have a piece of candy we can use!!” Families rushed through their tenants once more, looking for anything they could put in the stew. All the while, I thought to myself how could a bunch of odd tidbits become a fancy stew?
A kid about my age pushed me to the front with the candy, he himself holding a small almond. We nervously looked into the bubbling pot, the cook stirring and stirring with his spoon. The cook smiled down at us and wondered aloud.
“Do you ever wonder how the magic of cooking works?” We shook our heads no.
“We don’t have time for that nonsense for we have to put in the greatest effort to even get a cent for our families.” The boy gruffly stated angrily, sizing up the cook. But the cook smiled and showed us the insides of the pot. Boiling water bubbled, and the aroma was something my nose hadn’t smelled in a very long time. Celery, half-rotted tomatoes, and now a chocolate bunny and an almond all added to the flavor.
“You see, it isn’t about how grand things are or where they came from. Tonight, it’s about a feast of giving. We all have something to share with the world eventually, don’t you think?” At first, I was confused, but then the cook tapped the pot and called the crowd over. They all peered in the same way I had done and stood there in awe.“How did you do this sir? With all of these simple goods, I can’t imagine…” But all he did was dish out the soup in small bowls pulled out of his coat and allow us to taste. After eating one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten in my whole life, I could only mutter a thank-you as the cook walked off into the night with his pot.
The next week I biked around town with gusto. My heart soared as I felt the breeze tousle my hair every evening. Everyone seemed a little happier, and I knew in my heart it was because of the stew. I saw the cook walking occasionally, but I was too shy to ever wave hello, and I was always busy.
One day, I was finished with my rounds, and while I was heading home, an idea struck me. Before I turned the corner into the alley, I swerved and began riding toward Upper West.
The bakery wasn’t crowded, and the baker sat slumped against the wall in a high chair, not doing anything but staring at the wall listlessly. I inquired about the location of the restaurant and took out all of the money I had saved from the rounds this week.
“May I get a pastry please?”
By the time I got to the restaurant, it was well into its working hours and I saw the cook frying some chicken over the stove. I didn’t even walk up to him. Quickly, I scribbled a note and left the pastry on the front table. Before leaving, I smiled at the woman at the desk and she waved.
“You know, you can give it to Mr. Jeremy yourself.” I shrugged.
“I think this will mean more.”
At home that day, I wondered how the cook would’ve responded, and how it would’ve been different if he’d never shown up in our alley to make us dinner if he hadn’t gifted us with simplicity, something so valuable often taken for granted. Even after all that, we’d been through, the struggles of our daily lives; we all had something to give to the world. No matter how big or small, we all had our contributions to make.
“Hey, aren’t you that girl who gave me that nice pastry?”
“How did you know? I didn’t give it to you personally because I didn’t want to bring attention to-”
“I just knew it.”