People in Pirate Bay are beginning to take notice of me. They do not call me by my real name, Tadelech. But everywhere I go, people smile and wave, and say, “Hi Miss Baker!.” That is because I all but live at the Sweet Dreams Bakery, where I work. It is not difficult work, thanks to those years of domestic training at Rainbow Acres. Now, I rise before the sun to head to work. By the time the first customers stop in for a cup of coffee and one of my hot, sticky cinnamon rolls, I am covered with flour, and the shop is filled with the warm fragrance of baking bread.
Belinda adores the shop, too. She has begun taking classes at a local sewing school, in hopes of becoming a fashion designer someday. But she works part-time hours, tending the bakery cash register. I have more to tell you about Belinda, but I’ll save that for later.
Something extraordinary happened a few weeks ago while I was at work. A homeless man wandered into the bakery. His clothes were filthy and torn, and he seriously needed a bath.
“Please ma’am,” he said, his voice as ragged as his clothes, “I’m just so hungry. I haven’t eaten anything in two days. Can I just have a slice of bread?”
I was so moved. I remembered those days when Belinda and I were without a home, taking whatever handouts we could get. I remembered those cold nights when we could hardly sleep, because the growl in our bellies was louder than the wind rushing outside our tent. “Here,” I said, placing two hot baguettes in the man’s arms. “Take these. Then come back tomorrow at closing, and I will give you more.” And so, the next evening, and every evening after that, the man appeared at the bakery door, and I handed him a sack full of bread and pastries that had not sold that day.
Soon after, there was another incident. I caught a little girl stealing from the shop. She reached her hand into the case, snatched a large oatmeal cookie, and was just trying to run away when I caught her.
At first I was angry. “How dare you steal from me!” I scolded. “If you had tried that where I grew up in Africa, the elders would have dealt with you severely.”
The girl’s eyes, first filled with fear, rounded with amazement. “You grew up in Africa?” she asked. “But you don’t look African.”
I blinked, startled out of my anger. “Well yes, I lived there when I was a little girl. In a tiny village in Ethiopia.”
“Do you speak African?” she asked.
“No.” I smiled. “But I speak Oromo.” To demonstrate, I said, “Akkam? Maqaan koo Tadelech. Hello, my name is Tadelech.”
“Wow!” The girl grinned. Then her face fell, as though she’d just remembered her crime. “My name is Nicole. And I’m sorry I stole your cookie. I won’t do it again.” We talked some more, and I learned that Nicole, just like the homeless man, had simply been hungry. She was from a big family, and there often wasn’t enough food to eat at home.
Can you believe that in such a large, rich country, so many people go hungry? Zewedu was only a poor village, but families shared, and no one ever went hungry. I gave cookies to Nicole and her brother, and offered give them a snack each afternoon if they would wipe down tables and sweep the floors of the bakery.
And now to get back to Belinda. I told you in the last letter that Belinda had fallen in love with a young man named Chris. Well, as the months passed, they began to see more and more of each other. Belinda seemed happier than I had ever seen her. Floating on air, if you’ll pardon the cliché. And so it was no surprise when one summer evening, she came home to tell me that Chris had proposed.
“We are going to get married on the beach, and we will start our very own little family.” I cried as we hugged – in part from happiness, and in part because while Belinda would be off starting her new family, I would be losing my family once again.
And so now, my life is a flurry of wedding preparations with Belinda. I have been mailing invitations, reserving caterers, and practicing decorating wedding cakes.
I also made an appointment to speak with someone from – well, I won’t say, in case things fall through. But if all goes according to plan, then I will have a very special gift for my best friend on her wedding day. And no, it won’t be a sack of baguettes, haha.