One Saturday Afternoon

Submitted into Contest #228 in response to: Start or end your story in a bustling street food market.... view prompt

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Christmas Fiction Funny

It was blistering cold. The wind was howling. And even with the uncomfortable conditions, the sun was beaming in the afternoon sky. Josiah Drake was bearing the less than stellar conditions. He pulled his jacket closer to his body and rounded the corner of the sidewalk. Behind his hometown’s post office, was the entrance. He could see people going in and out of an area that was plastered with EVENT HERE signs blocked off by concrete barriers. He was positive his fellow townspeople would be less than thrilled with the barriers blocking the main roads. His next-door neighbor, Mary McAdams, being one of them. She detested people and crowds of people celebrating. She spent much of her time, in her small home, spying on her neighbors with binoculars, through her small kitchen window. Josiah would often wave when he noticed her, and she would look at him with a disgusted frown and continue to peek through her binoculars. The blockages would irritate her, she would curse everyone and stay safely in her home, plotting her homemade booby traps. Josiah laughed to himself at the thought, and went through the entrance, several people passing around him.

              The street market was brimming with even more people than the entrance was. It was the yearly Christmas vendor celebration. Every year, around Christmas, his hometown of Waverly hosted an annual Christmas market. Street vendors from around the country would come and sell their one-of-a-kind treasures or food to the local townsfolk. The Christmas mugs were extremely popular because the designs changed every year, and you could get them filled with apple cider or hot chocolate. The ladies who sold the ornament necklaces also normally had extended lines. But Josiah was bypassing those wrapped lines for one of the vendors in the back of the market. His stomach was curling with excitement. He had purposely not eaten breakfast for this very reason. He could see the sparkling lights getting closer. He finally reached a small booth, which had a makeshift sign that read, “Tortillas>.” He smiled with excitement. There were a few people in front of him, but Josiah could see the familiar faces of the two older women who always led this booth. The smell of warm tortillas was creeping to his nose, and he could hear the sizzle of onions, peppers and other vegetables surrounding him. When Josiah made it to the front of the booth, the older woman with long dark hair smiled. “How are you, friend?” “I am swell. So happy you came back another year,” Josiah replied. The lady nodded. “We enjoy it here.”  “What can I get for you?” she asked Josiah. But before Josiah could answer, the older woman with short curly hair interjected. “I am assuming a warm tortilla with onions, green peppers, slaw, shredded beef and a little special sauce.” Josiah laughed. “Am I so predictable?” The woman smiled. “We remember the ones who always come back.”

              Moments later, Josiah was sitting at a small wooden table, fork in hand and tasting what he deemed to be the best taco, for lack of a better word, he had ever eaten. When he described it to others, he said taco because most people did not understand the beauty of the tortilla. If he just said tortilla, they envisioned something you buy from the grocery market. So, he said taco, even though he felt that word still did not do it the proper justice. As he was eating, he watched the crowds of people passing by. Even with the blistering cold, people had smiling faces and pleasant demeanors. Maybe because it was the holiday season; maybe it was as simple as because it was a Saturday. Either way, the cold did not seem to be affecting anyone. A swipe of a gray scarf appeared out of the corner of Josiah’s eye. He turned to look and standing before him was Mary McAdams. She was wearing a long gray peacoat with a dark gray hat pulled over her hair and a pair of glittery winter boots. The glittery boots almost shocked Josiah more than her presence.

“Hi, Mary? How are you?” Josiah offered Mary a pleasant greeting. She looked at him expressionless but replied with a “Hello.” “Are you here to get a tortilla?” Josiah asked, pointing to the booth where the older ladies were cooking. “They are delicious.” Mary stared at Josiah for a second before replying. “You’re always so pleasant.” Mary stopped. “It’s weird.” Josiah shrugged. “I don’t see many reasons to be unpleasant.” Mary shook her head. “If you say so. But I am here for the Christmas cookies. I desired something different today.” Josiah was surprised by that answer, but he hoped he hid his shock. “The grocery market sells those disastrous Santa Claus shaped cookies. They are disgusting. The only reason they are out is because Bob’s wife makes them. Someone thinks they are buying a nice cookie and in fact, they are getting a brick.” Josiah nodded. Unfortunately, he knew of those cookies, having made that mistake of buying them one year. “Well, I hope you find some cookies that are much more fulfilling.” Mary looked at Josiah, but this time he could not read her expression. “Do you come here every year?” Josiah nodded. “Something about this tortilla brings me joy. I do not know what it is. Just does. They make them with such effort and grace. If love were a food and not an emotion, I think this would be it.” Josiah stopped talking; not sure if Mary was going to scold him again. But she nodded and said, “I suppose that’s a nice sentiment.” “There is not a lot of food that brings that feeling. I mean, more food should feel that way, but it just does not.” Josiah took a bite of his tortilla after that statement; feeling the warmth of which he was speaking. “Well, I’ll leave you to it.” Mary tucked her jacket closer to herself and turned to walk away. She turned around before she made her way back into the crowd of people. “Merry Christmas.” Although, taken aback, Josiah responded, “Merry Christmas to you.”

              When she had disappeared back into the passerby, Josiah finished his tortilla and threw his garbage away. He tucked his hands into his jacket pocket and began to walk through the street market. The sun was still beaming in the sky and at certain points, he could feel the warmth against his face. When he finally arrived at the entrance gate, he noticed Mary standing there, clutching a canister decorated in snowmen. He walked up to her. “Did you drive? Would you like me to carry those to your car for you?” Mary replied, “I did not drive. I walked.” “Maybe we could walk back together?” Josiah prepared himself for a familiar snide remark. Mary McAdams never seemed keen to be around anyone, but she simply responded, “Sure.” The pair made their way back into the streets of downtown Waverly; their neighborhood tucked behind the local library; not too far from where they were. They had walked for a few moments before Mary broke the silence. “These cookies remind me of my childhood. Sitting at the fireplace, with a warm cup of cocoa and waiting to open presents with my brother. My mother eagerly wanting to take as many pictures as possible and my father telling us stories about how Santa Claus was able to get all the houses done before anyone woke up. Said he envied a man with that type of organization and system.” Mary paused. “My mother would let us eat cookies before we had our Christmas meal. She said because it was Christmas…it was okay.” Josiah listened intently. He believed this was the most Mary had ever really said to him and they had been neighbors for five years. When they reached their homes, Mary paused at her front door. “Would you like to join me for a cookie and some tea?” Josiah was pleasantly surprised and nervous. He was not sure how Mary’s house would be. He imagined dark, dingy, and lifeless. But when he stepped through the front door and walked into her living room, he was taken aback. There was a sparkling Christmas tree, sparkling lights around the television and little Christmas figurines placed throughout.

              Mary must have noticed Josiah’s demeanor and laughed. Not a mean or snarky laugh but a warm amused laugh. “I have many layers to my personality.”

              An hour later, as Josiah shared cookies and warm tea with Mary McAdams, he realized that he was enjoying her company. He was having an enjoyable time. He made the decision to brave the cold and find his way to the street market that day, only desiring the fulfillment of eating the homemade tortillas. Never expecting that he would gain a friendship and a newfound appreciation for a Gingerbread shaped cookie. Food could bring the unlikeliest of people together. That, Josiah decided, was its most unexpected and most extraordinary quality.

December 10, 2023 19:04

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1 comment

Debbie Archibald
00:06 Dec 17, 2023

A lovely story, Kristina.

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