Copyright is held by the author.
THE DAY she had longed for the whole year had finally arrived. Today, Tessa’s favourite treats would be served — the perfectly rounded sweet buns. How light and airy, slightly juicy and spongy they were! Exactly five buttery bites, with a whiff of cinnamon and vanilla, topped with a heart shape or a sprinkle of sugar.
The buns were served at the annual All Saints Church bazaar in aid of the library in Perry Falls. Tessa considered herself agnostic but it was a worthy cause, besides you couldn’t beat the culinary talents of the Perry Falls ladies. Tessa could have sought out the name of the gifted baker and asked for the recipe, which she had no doubt would be gladly shared, but she determined instead to make it a special annual event for herself. It was something she could dwell on occasionally, choosing an outfit as the day approached, putting aside a few books and some money to donate, and trying to walk the 10,000 steps a day to keep her in shape for those heavenly treats.
Tessa had a special ritual: the morning of the event she got up early, took a long shower, carefully combed her long curly hair, chose a skirt and a blouse that would fit just right to highlight her best attributes and to hide her imperfections. She skipped breakfast to better enjoy the tea and the buns at the church hall. A touch of powder, a swipe of mascara, a drop of rosewater, her favourite green purse, house keys and she was ready.
On the same morning, at the other end of town, George was already dreading the day, as he would have to accompany his elderly mother to the bazaar. A lifetime volunteer at All Saints and a devoted parishioner, Mrs. Woods treated the bazaar as the highlight of the year. She secretly hoped that one day George might meet a nice girl and soon after she would become a grandmother like most of her friends. Mrs. Woods often pictured herself sitting in a chair cuddling a chubby, rosy cheeked angel. Her numerous attempts to introduce George to the girls she liked were total failures if not disasters but she was not prepared to give up yet.
George tried to avoid this annual chore, often convincing his cousin to go while he enjoyed a leisurely motorcycle ride, a fishing trip with a few friends from the garage, or simply watched a sports channel on his large-screen TV.
This time, however, there was no getting out of it because the cousin was on her way to a fun week in Las Vegas. In defiance, George had grown a moustache, but in the morning his mother demanded he shave it off. He obediently, but stubbornly spent 35 minutes in the bathroom. She also insisted he wear a suit and a tie and polish his brown leather shoes, when he would have rather worn jeans and a pair of comfortable Doc Martins. Mrs. Woods waited for him patiently. She was ready to go: a wallet, a purse, house keys, an umbrella, a taxi waiting outside. George would have taken his motorcycle, but Mrs. Woods refused to go anywhere near “Harley the Beast.”
A motley crowd had congregated in the dining hall adjacent to the beautiful red brick church building. Tables laden with pastries, lemonade and tea stands, and separate stands with various knickknacks were arranged along the wall of the hall. Four or five rows of chairs were set up along the opposite wall, leaving enough space in the middle for people to move around. A small stage could be seen through the wide-open front door. A children’s choir was scheduled to perform later at the event.
At the entrance people were buying door prize tickets. Mrs. Woods took a few dollars out of her purse and bought a ticket.
“Oh, look, nine, my lucky number!” she exclaimed happily, showing it to George.
I couldn’t care less, George thought to himself but gave his mother an approving smile.
“Congratulations and good luck, Mother!”
At least she had stopped insisting he buy a ticket after he gave her a passionate and well-rehearsed argument, citing among numerous reasons the ever increasing cost of living. Truth be told, he was convinced that if he had bought a ticket he would definitely win a landscape painting or a pottery piece which, if he did not immediately donate back, would be collecting dust in a garage for the rest of his life.
George braced himself to spend the next few hours sitting next to his mother in the overheated room watching people, pretending to be interested in the others’ often tacky gossip, nodding and smiling politely at his mother from time to time. Already he overheard snippets of conversation from the people around him.
“Imagine the scandal! Aren’t we lucky it didn’t happen in our parish!” said a woman wearing a yellow summer hat with elaborate handmade flowers.
Her companion, an elderly gentleman with a remarkable moustache was nodding in agreement, opening his eyes widely as if in utter amusement or possibly straining to hear her better.
Being an avid motorcycle rider, George had learned to appreciate good quality leather in a shoe. As people were filing in noisily and settling down into their chairs, he amused himself by casually glancing at their feet. With a raised eyebrow and a nod, or a downward turn of the corners of his lips, George indicated to himself his satisfaction or dismay at each individual’s selection of footwear.
A chair beside him remained empty. He was glad he was spared the duty of exchanging pleasantries. He relaxed a bit, stretched his legs and had just turned to his mother to make a comment on the stage decorations when a wave of rosewater scent enveloped him. For a moment he closed his eyes and gave way to a fantasy: a young, beautiful girl in a light blue dress, holding a hat. George turned around with a pleasant smile, ready to let a greeting fly off his lips. His smile froze at the sight of a young woman whose seemingly enormous mass of flesh was towering over him.
A mountain of meat, he thought, pushing back in his chair helplessly, as if she was about to crush him, a hippo in a human body, picturing the animal’s images from a recent documentary about the Serengeti.
Luckily, the young woman appeared to be oblivious and continued to smile and chat with an elderly couple, all the while stuffing sweet buns into her pink mouth from a plate neatly placed on her lap.
I may throw up if I don’t leave the room right now. George squeezed his eyes shut only to find the plate of treats hovering right before his eyes when he opened them.
“Oh no, thank you, I am quite full at the moment,” he mumbled.
“Help yourself any time! These are my favourite.” The young woman smiled at him politely, “I’m Tessa, by the way.”
“George,” he said through his teeth, nodding, trying to sound neutral. He turned his head away from her towards his mother and rolled his eyes.
“Sorry mother, there’s something in my eye,” he whispered, catching her indignant look. His mother must have thought he was reacting to the statement she had just made to her long-time friend sitting beside her, “George is such a sweetheart, if only he spent less time with his motorcycle and his friends.”
George kept watching Tessa; she was too absorbed in her food and her mundane conversation with the couple next to her to notice. Her big, flabby arms moved in a wavelike motion as she pointed at the landscape paintings on the wall. Her double chin had a life of its own as she chewed; her rosy cheeks would slightly shiver as she nodded. And he could not pull his eyes away from the body squeezed between the armrests of the wooden chair.
She must be uncomfortable. No, she must be comfortable because her body must feel like a cushion, he thought.
Her feet were invisible to the eye, hidden under extensive lengths of colourful material, of the type designers hate and older folks use to decorate their kitchen windows and verandas. George noticed that the treats on the plate were disappearing at lightning speed. The time arrived when there were none left and she had to get up for more.
Tessa pulled her skirt up slightly to stand up and she saw that George, who must have assumed she had not noticed his annoying, incessant stare, was looking down at her feet.
Now what, she thought desperately, leaning closer to the old lady sitting next to her. Tessa blinked a few times and wiped her nose with a napkin. She was well aware of her growing size and each year it took her a significant amount of courage to show up at this event.
Tessa took a moment to observe George quickly. He was not exactly tall, dark and handsome. He had straight, dirty blond hair, a stylish cut with old-fashioned long sideburns, brown eyes with long eyelashes, a strong chin and decisive shaped lips. She felt compelled to look at him closely after his shameless stares and it made her feel partially satisfied, but his staring down at her feet was confusing.
Hmmm, she thought to herself, I don’t have holes in my skirt. Could it be my shoes? With six months of painstaking savings she had at last been able to afford a pair of Christian Louboutin’s on sale on Ebay.
George was mesmerized. Oh my goodness, he thought, I have never seen such beautiful feet and ankles in my entire life!
A graceful ballerina stood up. Her feet, he noted with pleasure, were surprisingly small, with delicate ankles and daintily manicured toes with green nail-polish. A big toe on her left foot separated slightly from the rest of the toes. She was blessed with high arches and the skin on the outer ankle bones was pearly white. George suddenly ached to touch those ankles. He appreciated the shoe design, the good quality leather of the light beige colour with a dark trim on the edges. The wide ankle straps hugged Tessa’s feet tenderly. Her toes were nestled comfortably in the strappy sandals and looked like they belonged nowhere else but there. He could not possibly imagine the cute toes being wrapped in cotton socks and hidden under the mesh covers of running shoes. Now George had to talk to her.
“Would you like another sweet bun?” his voice was slightly quivering. Without listening to what she was saying in response, he jumped to his feet and galloped to the other side of the room to fetch another plate of treats.
How could I possibly have not noticed her at the bazaar before? he thought, though remembering at once that on his occasional attendance, he preferred to arrive unnoticed, take a back seat, not move until the end of the festivities, and leave as quickly as possible. That depended on how many people his mother had to talk to on the way out, especially when she tried to introduce him to various young women he had no interest in.
Tessa’s accidental proximity this time was a sign of pure luck. George was slightly overwhelmed but he was already set on the course of being a perfect gentleman. He paused for a second to listen to what his gut feeling was telling him — all was well.
Well, he’s not that bad, really, she thought, he looks like he takes good care of himself and the way he parts his hair reminds me of Brad Pitt, and the sideburns actually make him look romantic. Then she admitted blushing slightly, his lips are sensual and he looks like a woman pleaser.
A plate full of her favourite treats was in front of her in what seemed like a fraction of a second. She looked at him shyly and giggled. George smiled back. Already he could see himself parading Tessa on the main street of the town, while she was wearing a skirt just long enough to let everyone see the most perfect of ankles and feet.
I will personally choose a nail polish for her toes and put it on, he decided, and momentarily thought of a white wooden shelf attached to the back wall of the garage where he could store a collection of nail polish jars.
Neither of them spoke during the event. George could hardly wait for the choir to finish and for the chief librarian to thank the crowd. After the librarian’s last words, he turned to his mother.
“Mother,” he tried to sound casual, “I, uh, met a good friend here and we have some business to discuss.”
His mother snorted, “You don’t think I notice your friend? Oh well, Harold and Sara have invited me over for tea, so never mind the —”
“That’s great, mother!” he interrupted, “That’s very nice of them. Do you have a ride home?
“Don’t you worry, dear,” she patted him on the shoulder, “I’ll be fine but sometimes your choices worry me.”
“Mother,” George frowned, knowing immediately what she had really meant to say, “There is nothing to worry about.”
Mrs. Woods recalled seeing Tessa at the last annual bazaar wearing a similar if not the same outfit only this time the young woman seemed to be taller and slightly wider in the waist. She was surprised at George’s interest in Tessa judging by the posters of fit brunettes with piercing eyes he had on the walls of his room.
“Oh well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say,” Mrs. Woods remarked, as if speaking to herself.
George did not respond. Tessa was waiting for him at the door.