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Ms Kind Cook
For the sake of the story, I’d like to call my fellow-passenger, the hungry woman, as the ‘kind cook.’ Because that’s what she told me she did for a living. She had gone to London to see her younger sister who married an Englishman and just delivered a baby. She said she enjoyed London but missed her boy terribly.
The kind cook’s little son is no more than 6 years old. He is barely without her but she left her in the care of her mother. She said she couldn’t stop worrying and thinking about her son all the time and she couldn’t wait to get home soon. But home was nowhere near. My kind cook-friend’d take a bus from Brussels to get to the nearest bus stop to her village which was still another 20 minutes from where she’d drop of her. Her boyfriend’d come to pick her up from the stop. Her son would be asleep by the time she gets home and would be super thrilled to see her the next morning. He ached for her just the same – asking his mamman/grandmother when mum’d be back.
Between telling me her story, she got really hungry. I suggested she visit the pantry, she did and came with something sticky, warm, juicy and spicy to eat. I could smell the pungent cheese off her hand as she wafted it while speaking. She didn’t care too much about English manners nor for the French decency as she chomped and sniffled and sneezed and licked her fingers – somehow, a pleasure to watch amongst those very ‘proper’ men and women in the compartment.
The kind cook was looking forward to Christmas but she’s among the rarest people who’d be working on Christmas Day. She worked for a restaurant in a nearby town because… because – she lived in a motherly village where mums didn’t often go to work.
The Belgian Village with Only One Baker
As she described the dreamy Belgian village, it took shape in my mind – houses sprouting on sweet narrow lanes, familiar trees, little windows that seem to remain there forever. The kind cook’s village has no more than 600 people. A quintessential – ‘one for all’ home with just one baker, one pharmacy, one coffee-shop, one gift house, one hospital, one general store – only one’s.
“How is it growing up in such a dreamy village?”
“You know it is really small so everyone knows everyone – sometimes it’s a good thing but sometimes you wish for obscurity. My life is an open book to everyone in the village. I married and had a child and divorced and now I have a wonderful boyfriend, everybody knows everything. But then they’re also fully supportive of individual choices.”
How I wished I could go see this village. How I wish I scribbled it’s name somewhere but maybe I purposefully didn’t because if I did, I’d go to this place and the small, lovely home of 600 people that built itself in my mind, would be forever lost. This memory is more precious. This image is exciting though I can never be sure if it’s more thrilling than the real picture.
The kind cook thinks good of her employer. “He can’t let us go on Christmas Day because there are customers and it is the number one restaurant in the town. So I painfully, leave my son and boyfriend at home and go to work.”
I had never thought of them before – of people who make our lives more beautiful by working when we are celebrating. People like this sweet, kind cook. How their hearts must long to celebrate too. Airport staff, flight attendants, quiet coffeeshop waiters, cooks, bakers, cleaners, gift-wrappers, they’re our Christmas angels.
Though worried if she’d think it odd – I told the kind cook that she’s an angel – to give the experience of great food to so many people who want to have a nice time on Christmas Day, not bother with cooking but depending on her to make them a memorable meal. She said “Thank you, I feel better about that thought. It’s actually true, a lot of people send us many many thanks. But I wish I have that luxury sometime – my son and I and my boyfriend of course, but my son and I and my mother – enjoying a lazy Christmas meal prepared lovingly by someone else.”
May God Bless This Woman.
May Our Paths Cross Again
Soon, it was time for her to leave and perhaps, never be seen again. I am unsure if I’d recognize her if our paths crossed another time, unless she chomps and tells me that she’s from a tiny Belgian village with just one baker, and that she can’t wait to get home to be with her son. In that hurried farewell, I made sure I told her that I was really glad to have met her. And she said the same thing back. What a wonderful world.
As the train moved away from the platform of God knows which station and towards Bruxelles Midi, I imagined her trying to get on a bus, waiting patiently for another hour, not speaking to anyone unless it’s an intriguing, foreign woman like me beside her, getting off at the bus-stop, finding her boyfriend, getting home, greeting her mum, running in to see her sleeping boy, kissing him on his cheek, taking a shower (or maybe not) and slipping into the sheets with her boyfriend.
And just as my imagination seemed to tuck her in well, I realized that very soon – I’d be in continental Europe, in a city never been before and depending solely on a stranger to pick me up from the station and give me shelter for the night. It was hard to believe the possibility of it and soon I was a bundle of nerves, I didn’t want to think – what if the stranger never arrives at Bruxelles Midi, then what? I had no clue. But in such situations, we all figure out a way.