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A Lasting Muffin
It was the time in the city when the streetlights would begin to flicker on and the last car would gently veer away from the freeway into an exit. There no longer was any motion on the road except for gentle breeze that gently pushed the grass towards the west. The breeze followed the road into the city and blew on and on through the empty streets where nobody walked. It kept on flying on through the thousands of streets and alleys all over the city until it traveled down One Hundred Twenty-Second Street where a boy was standing. And as the breeze blew passed the boy, it carried the smell of freshly baked muffins to the boy standing with his hands in his pockets.
It was six o’clock, thirty minutes before the bus would come.
I stood alone with the smell of muffins on 122nd street when my attention was drawn to a bakery. The bakery was lit by tiny balls of undulating light on tall thin candles that gave a rosy flair to the bakery and the gray street in front of it. The bakery was a different world within the city of the future for everybody avoided lingering in the city as much as possible. The city which once had been the glory of civilization was now abandoned in favor of the large suburban homes. So it was strange for a baker to stay after everybody had left the city. With curiosity I drew near the bakery and entered into the glow of the candles.
First I noticed the comforting warmth that emanated from the candles in a steady stream of heat; but it was the smell of muffins that had drawn me to the bakery, and it was the muffins, arranged in neat little rows, which caught my eyes. Each one was perfectly created with its own stylistic flair that yearned to catch my attention. Out of all of these muffins there was one that dragged my attention. This muffin was different. It was shaped in the ordinary shape, but other things, like cream with small indentations forming a wonderful picture of a grandfatherly old man that wore a friendly smile made the muffin not only a work of art, but a fulfillment of a dream.
I pointed tentatively at the muffin and asked for the price; the baker looked at me for the first time and his voice, mellow and clear, said, “75 cents.” His face, like the bakery, was happy and seemed to belong to happier times, times when the city would have been aglow with flashing neon lights and full of constant movement; and most of all, people.
I stared at him, because he was different, and because I thought he was nice and different from all the other adults that just pushed me around. This baker looked like he had once been a child and knew what I was thinking. But the same adults that ignored me taught me the “basic” courtesy that made me blush for staring. I hurriedly gave him three quarters and thanked him in a little voice. He silently nodded and turned away from me.
And while I ate the muffin, leaning against a pole in the cold city where I, among them all, lived in small apartment, my imagination was set loose. It began as a little idea, a small inkling of a feeling that grew and grew. It was triggered by the idea that after I finished the muffin, it would end. I wanted lasting objects, lasting ideas, and at that moment, a lasting muffin. These complex feelings could not find a way to express themselves; my teacher might call it “existential angst,” as if this would sum up everything. But I don’t understand things like that with such fancy words. Instead, I create a small story, a little anecdote.
I imagined a man I had seen on the road with a cardboard sign, a man with a rough moustache. He, like me, could not avoid the city, being too poor to afford to live anywhere else. He stood in the exact same place I had, looking at the dozens of colorful muffins, all lined up perfectly in rows as delicate as the muffins themselves. And then he saw a different muffin and on this one, the picture was different. It was a picture of a young boy running through the streets as it snowed. He saw and marveled at the perfection of the muffin and was overcome with the past. He, like me, handed the baker three quarters for the muffin.
Then he ate it. Oh, he looked at it first, from every angle, examining the perfectly arranged sugar top and savoring the hot sweet smell slowly wafting from the muffin. He closed his eyes then, and slowly took a great big bite out of the muffin, with the sugar top smearing all over his lips. He remembered all the things he had done when he was a little boy as he licked his moustache for a few seconds just to get the tiniest bits of crumbs that might have slipped up there. Then he remembered other things, like his seventh birthday and his friends long gone, and he took another bite out of the muffin to alleviate the pain he had suppressed for years and years. He remembered everything in a time lapse. First came the times of happiness when he was surrounded by love, and then came the day just after he had turned seven when his father had left in a flurry of yelling. Then came the isolation he had felt when he pushed away friends that wanted to play war with him. He had enough of conflict, enough of times of struggle. All he wanted was an answer, an answer that nobody could give, to the question, “Why, why me?”
It came too quickly, the moment that the man knew would come. The man had finished his muffin and was left with a floppy wrapper where the perfect muffin had once sat.
The smiling baker was watching the man, watching while baking his muffins, and watching as he continued to rearrange the muffins in different subtle patterns. When the man’s experience of the past ended, he opened his eyes and sought more, something that could ease the pain he was in. His eyes fell upon another muffin that was now 21 cents. The man reached into his pockets and found two dimes. He tentatively handed them to the baker, silently asking for a discount of one penny. The baker was still watching and still smiling and did not notice the man’s plea for a penny. He was waiting; waiting spitefully for the man to come to the conclusion that the one penny he needed for three minutes of happiness of eating the muffin behind the glass screen would never come. So when the man came to that conclusion at last, he walked away silently with the two dimes stuffed deep into his pocket beyond his sight. Still the baker watched, smiling as he sat down on his chair.
Twenty-seven minutes had passed. It was time to go home. I left the flow of the candles and noticed more than anything, the absence of the candles and the warm light from them. Preoccupied with these thoughts I entered the bus, fingers still sticky with the muffin. I reached into my pocket for the bus fare. But the three quarters had already been taken away from me and put into the baker’s hands. All the while, the bus driver was looking at me. And all he saw was a boy not even a teenager looking frantically for his bus fare.
After a long twenty seconds, he looked at me and the boy backed out of the bus. The bus driver closed the doors with a hiss that spoke of finality, and while I stared at him, the driver was already focused on driving the bus.
I no longer saw the city. I saw an empty world with nothing but the absence of light.