The family left the house after noon. The mother was white Caucasian, dark hair, 1,70 cm tall, age of 41, some unessential flesh around the waist. Her companion handsome, taller, one year younger than his wife. He was wearing a long black coat and skinny jeans when he locked the front door and took the lead of the pushchair in front of the house, next to his wife. The toddler aged one year had the father's blue eyes, angelic, unaware of the merciless event due to happen to that idyllic family in two hours.
-'You have to help them. They did us good. You see how happy our little girl is with her cousins'. The mother said.
-'Have you noticed the contrast between the yellow dry leaves and the fresh new asphalt the council just laid? It makes a difference'. The man replied.
He was absent-minded. The woman took the decision to pick up their nephews from school. Because her brother personified the idea of the toiling shopkeeper, the woman shifted the resentment on the man. The man was made to feel guilty like the loose ring in her hard-working historical family chain coming all the way from Eastern Europe. He loved books, abhorred manual work and had a strong belief in the de-materialization of the economy.
Let's make the beginning of this story more clear. The female character moved with his brother to London from a wee country in Eastern Europe. She married an Italian while her brother worked like a dynamo to open a garlic farm in Acton. An afternoon in November the man, the woman and the toddler had to enact generosity for the prodigal brother. The resolute mother had decided to go to Acton via bus and do his brother the kindness to take the kids from school, instead of him.
They walked through the park in Uxbridge where crossed path with a wrinkly dog owner and a group of Irish travellers' caravans. They had to go through the Uxbridge town centre where shoppers were moving so fast and the shops were not so busy outside of the supermarkets ready meal aisles. Reached the bus stop, the man almost fell, tripping on an elderly woman's stick. Here the first scene happened.
Till then, the man was having an interior dialogue. He was saying to himself: 'Why did I come? I hate taking the bus and I don't have a proper winter coat. There seems to be no young people on those buses anymore and not enough seats.... Always crammed... But I promised her... I have to be nice to my wife... There is the feel-good factor. It's a family thing.'
This flow of thoughts ended when the grey eye lids of the elderly woman jubilantly met the puffy cheeks of the little creature in the pushchair. Have we ever seen such a beautiful toddler? Her loving mignon foot, longer than expected for a baby of that age, sticking out from the pink quilt. Blue eyes and cheeks bigger than her heart and guts, embedded in a round face... So much pink and blue.... What a vivid frame of health and vitality in front of the ancient lady.
-'Such a beauty', the elderly rattled in a proper English accent.
(That compliment turned the mother into honey. Her heart of parent was drooling because motherhood was a career to her, to compensate the misfortune to have married a grumpy man. The ethereal part of the man's personality made him a dreamer, assiduous with his books, devoid of diplomacy. He didn't fit in the art of compromise required in the politics of marriage. Searching for a perfect idea of morality, things were always unsatisfactory: no alcohol, no meat, no TV, no newspapers, no palm oil, no cars. Stuff gave him no emotions, only ideas intrigued the man. He was just begging for a superior entity to point out the path to a supreme good and truth. People like him easily go off the theatre of life as junkies without a fortuitous meeting with a guru or master to give them a mission in this world. How did they meet?
The woman reclined her head on his shoulders the first night they dated on Blackfriars bridge. She took him home and felt sorry how shabby he was dressed. The woman started buying him clothes on ebay and forced the man to move into the house in Hackney she was sub letting. She had left the family at 15 to work. Too early her dad died from cancer, eating an obese fish from a contaminated river in Russia, while employed by a national telecom corporation.
Whenever parents die, it's always too early.
The woman bought him a Victorian house in need of restoration, 'a big project',she said. He disregarded old things because they require high maintenance, continuous observation and demand time, but accepted the dwell in west London as he accepted her love. When the thorn of a rose scratches a lady's heart and, by the way of magic, blood springs from her muscle of love to yours, what do you say?... It must be a romantic, silent acceptance.
His way of living was modelled on hearsay about stories of his father in Italy as a young man. The pater used to write love poems, then the male figure in his family, the weak and alcoholic grandfather, passed away too early. He became a ploughman. He embraced pruning, digging and mowing with a scythe as new engagements and new lovers.
For the man love was a job in need to be structured step by step with proper rules. They got married, then they had the beautiful blue-eyed baby.)
He felt the need to get involved and replied to the elderly.
- 'Thank you. She got the best of both worlds. It's a mix of races and when you blend, it's always better. It does... it enriches you. I mean... you can see she's very resolute in her play... the whole mental strength... and she's physically strong. She can walk for hours'.
After these words were said, the row of local pensioners at the bus stop shelter were in awe of the baby. When life moves towards dusk, children are the seeds of the future, they make sense of arid years, and old age adores toddlers, the man thought. He smiled at his wife, then the bus arrived.
What typology of characters did we get on the bus? Middle aged, Middle Eastern men standing by the windows, sporting jeans and consumed leather jackets. Ladies with veils and black dresses in silence seated by the exit door. At the back, Indian women with more jewellery and children. A minority of Eastern European lads of working age with rucksacks. The youngest audience were slim Asian girls and slender young women from Eastern Europe, checking their smartphones. Left the toddler in the apposite space for buggies, the man and the woman took seat next to each other for a semblance of love. Behind them, there were conversations:
-'....45 pounds? It's too much for a flight ticket to visit my country.'
-'Where can I get one cheaper?'
Then it did occur. The bad event came. At around 2 pm, when the bus made a routine stop in Hayes, an innocuous up and down of ambulatory humans, by the bus stop, turned.. hideous.
The man recalled the accident, to his father, few months later, when on holidays in Italy as.. 'verbal morosity'.
A young lady approached the middle of the bus, painted red hair, emaciated figure, long neck, no make up apart from a hint of red lipstick, maybe dermatitis on facial skin. She was moving a buggy with a big boy, just using one hand because on the other was holding a little cylinder of energy drink.
She pushed... and pushed her buggy in the reserved space again and again... like a wedge but it was occupied by the toddler... not enough room… the man, embarrassed, came to the rescue with an attempt, diplomatic, to tighten the buggy in the corner. No way. To the eyewitnesses it was evident that two pushchairs would not fit.
The man hapless, gestured to the woman as saying – what do you want me to do? - and outside the bus windows you could see the autumn and its leaves dead on the sidewalk, the colour of brass, and the contrast between the torpor of British weather and.. agitated was the lady in red hair.
The red intruder like a bundle of nerves, sipping the energy drink, made a spasm under her tiny camisole top and started to shout the howl, her righteous way, that she deserved a place for her buggy, even if limited was the space on board. Dismay between the passengers, the driver pulled the handbrake, he approached her rant and asked her to leave and wait for the next bus.
And going out of the scene, the venomous lady said it. You cannot believe what she dared to speak there and aloud. Ballerina shoes on the bus door sill, face parallel to the back seats where the woman was blocked by others in veils and floral dresses, smelling rivality, animosity and competition for love as maybe all women resent, the young lady with red hair yelled:
-'Go back to your country!'
'Go back to your country' echoed in the frame of mind of the woman for a while. The spectators saw the last scene with the red intruder and her buggy on the sidewalk. The bus drove away and she was having a sip from the energy drink can.
Now the couple was again sitting next to each other. The mother of the blue eyed baby felt dirty as bed covers in affordable hotel. The woman rummaged her dark hair and the pockets in her jacket. To flush away those bad words, you have to recall the old days. She was an au pair in America for an established Jewish lawyer, after her father's death and with the remaining mortgage to pay. Funny to remember how the old man always had toast, banana and one raw garlic clove for breakfast. He lived till 90. On a spiritual trip to India she offered to be a bride for a needy local guy, her passport was the prize.
-'Why did she do it? I could not believe that people like that existed'.
- 'Maybe she was on drugs. Maybe she's an alcoholic'. The man replied.
-'Probably she has a difficult situation at home, with the husband or she was frustrated. Looking after a small child can be stressful'. The woman said.
-'....mmmhhh She has got problems. She looked too skinny to me and was having that energy drink...'.
-'No? An energy drink, really?'
-'Yes, sure.... she was holding a can of energy drink'.
How did the story end?
A mature guy on the bus, understood to be from the Middle East, probably Jerusalem, to bring the atonement between the man and the woman, came close to them.
-'Do you know what? She was from Ireland. She had an Irish accent'.
Once upon a time I had an aunt called Maria inhabiting a rural house in the country with husband,daughter and son-in-law. Maria's hair was curly and her mood sociable. A good housewife with sense of empathy,she never missed a funeral. With good nature she visited the neighbours and the groves. With a positive disposition she took part in weddings,christenings,illnesses and even infelicities.
"Did Maria not come ? I am sure she's gonna be here soon". My grandmother asked first when we had bad occurrences.
Her physical presence was reassuring and a comfort to be seen. She ploughed and tendered her own garden. Even with the use of spade and dry lines on her palms, I grew up with my classmates fantasising about remains of sensuality in her figure. Her stay-at-home husband, living on subsidies from the car industry ,was of not much help. My uncle, a silent man with cropped hair and an amputated finger in one hand was cynical. He interacted with the world just via sarcasm. He made bad jokes about dying goats ,while Maria was standing on dry stone walls like an open sunflower. She had to attend the needs of the olive trees on her own.
They customarily grow over there and she would gather all the olives. But was not her artisanal olive oil what she used in the mould of the famous doughnuts.
"Who do you prepare them for? I cannot have any. I am sure Maria is gonna bring us some" My grandmother said in April . Easter, Jesuses are crucified, celebratory cakes are baked, deep fried dough balls are the local delicacy. In a kitchen with tiles on the walls, the white cooker had a big pot on the gas, the vegetable oil spurring the aluminium in the vessel above tongues of fire, ready to make Maria's doughnuts crispy and golden. It was believed that Maria's works were peerless because of the special dough made by her son- in-law.
Her daughter was short and curious. Distinguished for attracting older men, accidentally at college ended up with a big grownup baker. After marriage, they turned a side of the house into an abusive bakehouse,because Maria's son-in-law dreamed big. Vegetable oil started to make them all fat but life was prosperous.
This story would not happen without the secret ingredient and the mysticism in Maria's doughnuts: the son-in-law's artisanal dough. The texture was gooey and sticky in the crispy golden rings of Maria.
"Maria is an angel.Those are acts of real love... I cannot stop it... I cannot stop eating them. None makes them better. God knows. " The priest was beaming in greasy face in front of the church at around 8:30, chattering to worshippers, when my aunt died.
His skin made him look much younger and It was understood he had several affairs in the village. The priest's words leavened the envy of the ladies. The farmers' daughters credited the edge in Maria's doughnuts to the fortune of marriage.
"Maria's brother in law has got better recipes. He comes from the city. He tastes everything....He's scrupulous" The ladies said.
He had adipose tissues growing on his buttocks. Appearing from the back like a pear on the supermarket shelves in autumn, the baker's ambition was dripping from the sides of the mouth. A natural cost-cutter born in an urban surrounding, his commercial mind was very keen on the affordable. Vegetable oil is cheap. Used in copious amount, chemistry made Maria's doughnuts enticing.
The first week of Pentecost, after a routine doctor's visit, she was diagnosed with pancreatitis. She had a nasty sense of bloating, an unsupportive husband whilst the son in law had euros piled up by the cooking pot.
One damp Sunday morning I received a call from my sister. They had taken my aunt to the hospital but she died.
The wise men say that if they had used olive oil she would still be alive.
Few months later. Back home from abroad for the first time since the doughnuts accident, my uncle was working his fingers to the bone at the olive oil mill. His hands appeared bigger handling discs of pomace . He hustled, toiled like the bastard dog my grandmother gifted him after Easter. Merciful, I asked his unshaved face: "How is it going?".
"How is it going.... ". He replied.