Nettie slips through the door of the old bakery; closing her eyes, willing the smells of freshly baked bread mixed with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger to fill her senses and seep into her hair and skin to savour the joy. She can almost feel the silky flakes of coconut caressing her fingers as in her mind’s eye she dips the small half sponges into apricot jam, rolls them in desiccated coconut, and sandwiches them together with jam.
That was the lad’s favourite. She remembers him sprinting down the hill from school on a Friday with his penny, to be the first into the bakery door. Aye but he was a canny lad, was that one. All the others would stuff their faces before they’d even left the shop, couldn’t tell a jam tart from a ginger bun; but not him. No. You could set your clock by him. Always ahead of the rest. Then he’d tuck the bursting bag into his satchel and get off home, to share his prize with his younger sister and his mam. So, Nettie would make sure that his bag of broken biscuits had a few whole snowballs in. It was worth it to see his smile. That was her favourite time of day, that hour just after school when the mams would bring in their bairns for a treat “just for being good.” Simple pleasures.
But now, as she stands at the corner of the room, the comforting smells are gone: replaced by new paint, plastic and something else, she can’t quite place. She opens her eyes. Stark, unwelcoming whites, blacks and greys jar her senses. She rubs her shoulders, trying to coax some warmth into them.
She looks around. In one corner sits a metal monster, eating coins, coughing out drinks, chocolate bars, bags of crisps; in another, a table with a single chair. Against the wall chairs are pushed up towards tables, distancing the customers, discouraging any kind of chatter between them and in the centre, tables and screens form a cross. Her eyes are assaulted by flashes from screens spinning, stopping, rolling in a kaleidoscope of colour, the young faces poised on the edges of their seats mesmerised by the pictures in front of them, their fingers splayed out, ready.
She looks at the faces. Once, eyes like saucers had looked at the displays in the cabinets under the counter, relishing the treat that would soon be theirs; now eyes stare, excitement mounting before shoulders slump, defeated for now. But then fingers agitate, drawn to the magnet, like a hawk to its prey. Others, ears covered, seem to have lines of invisible glue pulling their eyes back and forth pausing only to press a key.
The walls and floor seem to close in, trapping all those who enter into a different world. She feels tension in here. That’s the scent. Ice seems to fill her veins. Her need to offer comfort pulses strongly. There’s a job to be done.
I sit down at the counter after I’ve locked up, sanitised the headsets, screens and keyboards. Yes, I’m pleased with the place, yet when I look around something jars, something ‘s missing. I want to make this place a “home from home” where the older generation can feel at ease while they try out and become confident with the new technology; while the younger generation can meet in comfort while they game or study. I know its early days. I just need to do what I do best. Watch and listen.
I’m getting the customers; a steady stream come in. Despite some of the older villagers being upset at losing their bakery, even they are dropping in thanks to the ads in the local mag. I must say there are a few characters amongst them, they certainly keep me on my toes. Aye grandad would be happy, I think, if he could see how I’ve used the money. He did love the old bakery. He always felt it was a shame to see it lie empty, where once it used to be so busy. He ‘d tell me how he’d run down after school on a Friday to be the first there to get his bag of broken biscuits.
“If you can get there first lad, you’ll always reap the rewards” he’d say. Well, this certainly is the first of its kind around here. Let’s see how we go.
I rub my shoulders and shiver. A chill runs down my spine. I bend over to check if the radiator is working; piping hot, no problems there. Puzzled, I straighten and the smell of fresh bread hits me like a shower of sea spray thundering against the rocks. It‘s been a long day and I’m hungry; my mind must be playing tricks. Glancing at my watch, I realise that I haven’t eaten since breakfast. I quickly bag the takings, stuff them into my rucksack and grab my coat. Pushing in the chair in the corner, I switch off the lights and lock up. God, could I murder a bacon baguette right now. My nostrils twitch at the smell of bacon. Time for home, I think, my mind is definitely playing around with my senses.
Next morning, I open up as usual. The nine till eleven shift is a favourite time of mine. Some of the locals drop in. Sometimes I run a short group class- today I wander around chatting, helping some to see how they can book holidays, pay bills, search for things.
“By heck, its chilly here in this corner today, lad.” Andy claps his shoulders, pushes the chair back and moves over to the other side. After about half an hour he leaves. “Must be coming down with something,” he says, “can’t seem to get warm.”
In the next few minutes, more of the customers leave. I check the radiators, all warm, and push in the seat in the corner- Andy must have left it out. Hope he’s alright.
“Are you doing freshly baked scones?” Tommy calls over. “I’m getting a lovely aroma; it’s making my teeth water.”
“Sorry mate, there are some snacks in the machine if you’re peckish.”
“No worries. I’ve got a taste for some home baking now and a nice cup of tea to wash it down. I’ll pop into the coop and get a pack of scones. I might drop in later to finish my session.” With that he left.
For the next hour I take advantage of the lull to do some of my own research, he’d got me thinking. I check out the back shop where the old ovens had been. My original idea was to use this for storage and branch into sales and minor repairs.
The door of the old bakery chimes at 12o’clock exactly, Annie’s time. I can set the clock by her. She normally glides in, almost silently, her hat pulled down shadowing her face and heads for her usual seat in the corner. Then she’ll sit down, tucking in her arms and legs as if to take up as little space as possible, pulling her chair in and laying her notebook down in the same place with her pen to the right, just so. Despite her lovely face, she keeps her chin down as if tucking all her secrets into herself for safe keeping. She intrigues me.
“I’m Annie,” she said when I’d introduced myself, named after my great Grandmother Annette.
I look up and smile as she moves towards me. Today her chin is raised, there’s a new confidence. She stops at the counter and lays a small box in front of me.
“Thank you so much for the help with the search engines and advice about paypal, I managed to sell some of my home-made cupcakes. I took your advice and advertised in “Your Mag” so I brought you a little thank you.” She looked up and smiled.
As I open the box the most delicious smell of ginger and lemon fill the air around me.
“How did you know?” I couldn’t believe it when I saw two neat little snowballs, covered in coconut. “ You can’t get these anywhere. My grandad used to love them so he tried to have a go at making them once. Turned out more like ice balls-hard enough to break your teeth. Never tried again. Thank you. I’ll save one for my mam, it’ll bring back memories. She’ll want the recipe”
“Oh I tweaked an old family recipe. I like to experiment. Hope you like the flavours.” And with that she walks over to her usual seat. I can’t resist. I raise one of the snowballs to my lips and take a bite. The sponge is moist. A hint of lemon hits my tastebuds making them tingle ready to embrace small chewy chunks of crystallised ginger offering a bite of heat. This is so good.
I look over and wink. Holding up the snowball as if to toast her success. She’s busy, I can see that, but the shop is quiet so I wander over to have a chat, pick her brains. The time flies.
After an hour, she rises, turns and smiles and tucking the recipes into her bag, heads for the door. I wave and mouth my thanks, “See you later?” Her nod before closing the door warms me. I go over to the corner. It feels especially chilly over there, strange. The rest of the shop is warming up nicely.
Soon the teenagers start to trickle in. It’s not too long before they head over to grab a drink and a chocolate bar. Looks like they’re having trouble. I return their coins and put an out of order note on it. I take the back off it to see if I can spot the problem, probably a bent coin. As I unscrew the coin accepter, an old copper penny drops down.
By four, all the customers have gone and I turn the closed sign down and lock up. I get a strong, mouthwatering smell of freshly baked gingerbread, just like nan used to make, as I tidy in the chairs over in the corner.
At four thirty exactly a knock comes to the door. Its her, Annie.
“I was thinking…” She looked down, “have you thought about…”
“I’ve been thinking all afternoon, let me go first, please. Come in ad sit down. How would you feel about…”
Nettie slips into the old bakery. At once old familiar smells of scones and tarts and cinnamon and ginger and new smells that she doesn’t know but that make her mouth water swamp her so that she has to sit for a moment to steady her racing heart. She looks over at the old pine dresser proudly displaying today’s sumptuous delights under shining glass domes and smiles as she recollects a tapestry of colour iced on to her cakes and buns; temptation right there for little fingers to reach out and try. She has to pick her way through as customers pour over the cabinet like wasps to jam.
The greys and whites re not so stark now. Checked red tablecloths softened the area in the centre, where tables for four are dotted around. Faces bend in close, savouring the delights, lips licking and heads nodding as they share their tittle tattle and their wisdom, putting the world to rights.
Seated at a table against the back wall, is a youngster, eyes wide with excitement as she clicks, pictures and colours building in front of her.
“Come over to me lass when you want a break. I’ll treat you to one of them fancy smoothies as a thank you for helping me to get on the council website,” she hears and sees a wink exchanged between the pair. “Thanks a lot, Tommy” and with a bound, the lass is up and over, her face alive.
For the first time in a long time, Nettie feels a warmth coursing through her body. She slips through the door. Job done.