Inside the newspaper stand the air is always breezy, always cool. He tries to keep the wind out, but he is bound to lose the unequal fight against climatic peculiarities. A scarf will have to do. Two regulars buy magazines and cigarettes, and he hands out change with his usual unfazed facial expression. In his pocket, his cold fingertips try to outline the form of his mother’s letter. “And take good care of yourself,” those are the words she always adds at the end. An annoying habit of her’s. He is doing his best, now, isn’t he? Holding a steady job. Eating. Refraining from lying in bed all day even though the skies appear more gray than blue any given minute.
“Do you carry the Bakery Magazine?” This woman has apparead out of nowhere, it seems. He recognizes her. She has been buying food magazines since two weeks ago, almost daily. He estimates her to be in her late thirties. He has time to study her face, because she lingers, uses small coins to pay, smiles, and searches for change in her handbag. Every time. He holds the desired magazine over the counter. “Thank you,” she replies. “You know, I just really like to bake.” He nods. “I have noticed.” Her face lights up, and he curses himself for showing an interest. He would rather drink more coffee and stare out over the river, into the gray clouds. “You have? I guess I have bought quite a few magazines over the past weeks… You are so conveniently located, right?” Her laughter sounds too relaxed to not be forced. “Do you enjoy cooking?” she wants to know. He shakes his head. “No.” Brief as his answers are, she is not deterred by this. “You should get into this, it is very liberating to not have to rely on food delivery, or on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They are not the most healthy foods. Well, I guess baking isn’t always that healthy either, but it really depends. I..” He cuts her off with “Anything else I can do for you?” “My, sorry about that. I like discussing food, you see. I suppose you could also help me by giving me this bag of chips.” His face must have shown his disdain, because she shifts to the other foot and bites her lower lip. “No need to be rude, young man. I feel like you are maybe misunderstanding me. I am merely turning this business encounter into a pleasant situation.” “There is no need to make this more pleasant, madam. I am merely here to offer a service. You are the recipient of my services because you have the money. This is all.”
The mood has turned unpleasant, even hostile. She asks him condescendingly: “And do you have a mommy, sir?” His mother’s face fleetingly flashes into his brain. The obituary in the local newspaper. His father weeping at her grave. He brushes her off with cruel precision. “I do not, in fact. I have no “mommy” like you have no son.” Her face crumbles into itself as a result. “How do you know?” she whispers, her hands sunk down and pointing at the cobbled street. “You behave as if something was missing. You look over your shoulder as if followed. You stare off into the distance as if on a stake-out. You wear a pendant with a face. You come in here and ask me about my mother as if you were entitled to such knowledge.” While he explains, she touches her locket necklace with tenderness. “We could take care of each other,” she offers him pleadingly. A suddenly more peaceful silence ensues. Finally, he shakes his head. “Thank you. I am taking care of myself now. Good-bye.”
She turns around, hands holding on tightly to the magazine and the chips she hasn’t paid for. Her knuckles are white from the effort. He instinctively holds on to his mother’s letter in his pocket, carefully.