The rage of courts, and noise of towns;
Contented breathes his native air,
In his own grounds.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.
Ode On Solitude by Alexander Pope
|Stock 206 by UmbraDeNoapte-Stock.
A Refuge For The Broken
Peter Aitken stepped out purposefully into the bright winter sunshine and took a deep breath.
He was holding his goggles and skis firmly in his gloved hands.
The air was fresh and clean and at last it felt good to be away from London.
Outstretched before him the majestic Austrian mountains rose out of the snowy planes like mountains
They towered above him like giant monoliths.
Peter Aitken squinted up at the winter sun.
It seemed to be smiling down upon him.
Christmas was three weeks away and Aitken faced the prospect of spending it alone in his Pimlico flat.
Watching repeats on TV and staring down at his half empty glass of Prosecco.
But for now he was on a fourteen day skiing vacation and he felt better today then he had done in a long while.
Peter Aitken felt alive.
He had arrived in Austria a couple of days before but only now was he allowing himself to relax.
Aitken had even left his phone on the night stand back at the log cabin he was staying in.
He was taking no calls.
It was a new experience for workaholic Peter Aitken.
He politely nodded to the friendly Japanese couple he had met the night before at dinner.
They nodded enthusiastically back.
Aitken had shared his memories of Tokyo with Hachiro Fujino and his wife Nao over baked Cannelloni.
Now he watched as they disappeared into a swarm of tourists all eager to try out the slopes or enjoy the bracing winter air.
Peter Aitken owned the successful.Syntax Inc. IT company.
Based in London but with sister companies in the States, Germany and Dubai, Aitken was riding the professional crest of a wave.
He was boyishly good looking with wavy brown hair and crisp blue eyes and was as dedicated to out door sports as he was to a profit margin.
Whitewater canoeing, mountain climbing and trekking through the Sierra Nevada were just a few of his obsessions.
Peter Aitken had been separated from his wife for just over a year now.
His American wife had returned to her native Texas not long after and Aitken had attempted to lose himself in feverish activity.
And deep down, he was glad his father hadn't lived to see his only son's world fall apart.
His perfect world.
Martin Aitkin had been proud of his boy's achievement and he and his wife Gillian had been fond of his choice of wife
The vivacious American girl as sweet as cherry pie..
And the new bride became instant friends with his sister Rosie.
But that was then.
Since his father's passing Peter's mother was forever checking up on him to make sure he was eating properly and getting enough sleep.
The attention was comforting but it did not assuage the ache inside.
The guilt and the pain.
No matter how well his companies performed or how much he achieved, Peter Aitken still went home to an empty flat in Pimlico.
Sometimes it was as if he were in a silent movie.
People spoke but no sound came out.
Other times it felt as if he were submerged underwater.
Like when he was a little boy and held his head underwater in the bath tub ....
A stab of pain shot through his heart.
The old familiar ache was there again.
The memories still so raw.
For a brief moment he remembered burying his golden retriever in the back garden of his mother's house before he left for Austria.
Arthur had been his constant companion for as long as he could remember but he had been poorly of late.
His eyes were clouded with tears as he placed the dead animal into the shallow grave.
The sky was grey that day.
Everything was grey.
Then he thought he saw a blonde woman in the crowd.
She looked back at him and smiled.
Then he remembered.
It was all coming back to him.
A cool night in early December.
"My hero!" She cried.
Peter Aitken looked up from the ground where he had successfully rugby tackled the mugger and was restraining him in a head lock.
The pretty blonde woman was looking down at him and smiling appreciatively.
She and her girlfriend were leaving the cinema when the surly mugger pounced from shadows of the alleyway and grabbed her handbag.
Peter Aiken was just leaving a bar and saw what happened and was quick on his feet.
"Help! Somebody please!" The blonde girl screamed as the mugger tore away.
But Aitken quickly caught up with the crook and within moments he was on the ground.
"My hero!" She cried.
"Way to go!" The other girl cried.
They were both American.
Pert, blonde and very pretty.
Her friend was giggling beside her.
Peter blushed brightly.
"Fuck you!" The mugger snarled.
Peter let him go with a well aimed boot up the behind.
He scarpered off into the night.
The two girls giggled.
"I don't think you'll be getting any more trouble from him tonight" Aitken informed the two girls as he handed the handbag back.
"I think you've found yourself an admirer!" The brunette said as she nudged her friend.
"My name is Jennifer" the blonde girl said as she held out her hand "Jennifer Voorhees"
It felt soft and warm in his hand.
"This is my best friend Kendra" she added indicating the brunette.
The other girl shook his hand too.
"You must be Superman!" Kendra smiled.
"My name is Peter" he replied "Peter Aitken".
"Pleased to meet you, Peter Aitken" Jennifer smiled.
And that was how it began.
A whirlwind romance.
The modest city boy and the delightful Texan girl.
They were married within the year in a lavish ceremony in Dallas and relocated.
The Big Apple.
Peter Aitken could still taste the excitement of starting a new life with his new wife in the city of his dreams..
He could still remember standing in his empty new apartment and looking out over New York from his windows.
It was a brave new world.
Aitken was shaken out of his reverie by two little boy's knocking into him as they ran past.
He had been very reclusive of late and even his best friend and business partner Arnold Peat had been unable to coax him out of his flat for a session at the gym and a sauna afterwards.
Peter Aitken was lost without his wife.
In the early days of their separation, Peter Aitken had taken to sleeping on the couch in his swish London office.
Everyone knew he was doing it but nobody knew how to approach him until Arnold Peat broke the sound barrier and expressed his concern.
Even his trusty secretary Lucinda had begun to mother him.
She like everyone else knew full well there was more to his melt down than just his split with his wife.
But they didn't know how to reach out to him.
He was a good boss but a man who kept his feelings to himself.
Most people who knew him were baffled by the demise of his marriage.
"We just grew apart" Peter Aitken explained unconvincingly as he stared down at his empty glass.
He was enjoying a drink with Arnold Peat in The Jack Horner public house in Tottenham Court Road..
"It just happened" he added.
And shaky words hung in the air.
"But so soon after ..." Arnold Peat began but stopped.
Both men fell silent.
Peat reached out and put a hand on his friend's shoulder as 'Unbreak My Heart' by Toni Braxton played from the jukebox. .
On the day of his birthday everybody gathered in his office with a 'His Birthday Hamper' from Fortnum and Mason and fourteen-day vacation ticket to Katschberg in Austria.
"All expenses paid" Arnold Peat informed him with a a big smile.
He hadn't been on a vacation in over a year.
Everyone was looking expectantly at him.
They wanted the old Peter Aitken back.
Just then the Japanese couple rushed past him and gave him the thumb up.
He returned the gesture.
The ski resort was bustling with tourists from all round the world.
And suddenly he yearned to be alone on the slopes.
For a moment he was transfixed by the snowy landscape.
Everything was pure white and the sun was brilliant.
The landscape was desolate but somehow comforting at the same time.
Peter Aitken decided to grab a coffee before taking a ski lift.
It was a good day to be alive.
Jennifer Aitken rose early that morning so she could go for a little walk before breakfast.
It was a beautiful day and she practiced a walking meditation as sunlight streamed through the tall trees.
Perfect inspiration for a new painting.
Jennifer was a successful painter and her latest creations were showing at the Agora Gallery in New York.
Her most famous piece, 'Sunrise in Paris' which depicted the French capital against a fiery red and purple sky had won several awards and she was courted by multi-millionaires and rock stars.
Painting was also cathartic.
Jennifer's best friend Kendra Walden had been calling nonstop since she arrived in Austria the day before to make sure she was okay.
She smiled as she checked her phone on her arrival.
Two missed calls.
She showered and grabbed some fruit and a muesli bar in the dining hall and made a mental note of what she hoped to achieve by the end of the day.
On her return to her room, Jennifer decided to go for a spot of skiing.
An hour later, she stepped off the bus amid a swarm of tourists.
The scenery was breathtaking.
Jennifer had dressed herself against the cold and had tucked her blonde tresses beneath a black woolen Eugenia Kim hat
She was wearing a pair of black Dior sunglasses and holding her skis in her hand.
Jennifer looked up at the towering mountains..
Soon she would be gliding through the snow.
She yearned to be free.
Her eyes caught the ski lifts rising up like a fairground ride.
Jennifer made her way through the crowd.
There was only one Funifor ropeway lift left.
Jennifer paid the ski lift operator and climbed in.
She hardly noticed the bearded man behind her.
He was wearing a Canada Goose Shearling Pilot Hat and large black Bolle ski goggles.
The man quickly paid his fee and clambered in beside her.
Jennifer looked at the man beside her.
But it was only when he took his goggles off that she froze.
|Alpine Winter (by 2753Productions deviantart.com)
It was as if the bells of Notre Dame were chiming in her head.
"Look's like its me and you" said Peter Aitken.
Jennifer Aitken was feeling a mixture of emotions as it dawned on her that she was sitting beside her estranged husband.
He had grown a beard and that was what must have thrown her.
She pretended to be looking over her shoulder at the scenery as the ski lift continued to rise steadily.
Behind them like a conveyor belt of Funifor's were numerous excited tourists talking animatedly in a myriad languages.
Jennifer noticed that Peter was wearing the cologne she had bought him a couple of birthday's ago.
She could barely conceal a smile.
"Of all the places" Jennifer remarked.
The bitterness in her voice stung him but he was genuinely happy to see her.
For a few moments he silently observed her.
He had always loved her silky blonde hair.
And suddenly he fought the urge to reach out and take off her cashmere hat to let tresses flow out like a golden waterfall.
She was pouting in that broody way she had.
He was aware that she was avoiding his gaze.
"How long are you here for?" Peter asked her.
"A couple of weeks"
The couple fell silent as the ski clattered upwards.
Jennifer observed her husband through the corner of her eye.
He was still handsome with his floppy brown hair and quizzical expression.
The couple looked down at their hands and then pretended to be looking in opposite directions at the snow capped mountains around them.
"What are you doing for Christmas?" Jennifer finally asked without looking at him.
"With Rosie on Christmas day. And then a bottle of Prosecco. You?"
"With Ma and Pa"
The couple were silent once more.
Only the sound of the clattering ski lift and enthusiastic tourists filled the air.
"How are ... Rosie's kids?" Jennifer finally asked.
Peter felt a stab of pain to the heart.
He pictured the two angelic children.
Ella and Jake.
Two little angels.
"They're doing good" he replied "Ella has just started nursery"
Jennifer quickly glanced at her estranged husband.
There was a momentary ray of hope before she looked the other way again.
Peter's heart sank like a rock to the bottom of the sea.
Suddenly there was a loud screeching sound and the ski lifts ground to a halt with a violent shudder.
Animated chatter turned into exclamations of irritation and frustration.
There were a few more chugs and mechanical grunts but the ski lifts remained where; perched perilously above the mountains.
Below them they could make out the Ski Lift Operator arguing on the telephone.
"Must happen all the time" Peter announced chirpily attempting to lighten the atmosphere.
Jennifer let out a long sigh.
She was pouting again.
This was not how she planned to spend her vacation.
"Guess all we can do is wait" Peter added.
Jennifer felt a hot rush of anger.
She shot her estranged husband a dagger look.
Always stating the obvious.
But like a true Brit, he was emotionally challenged and unable to express what he was really feeling.
She folded her arms defensively across her chest.
If she was going to freeze to death at least it would be on top of a mountain.
She was avoiding his gaze again.
Peter was always the one slow to anger and cool, calm and collected.
But this drama could well end in two wooden boxes.
He glanced at his watch.
They had been stranded for thirty minutes already and beneath them the Ski Lift Operator was arguing with the Ski Lift Technician now.
His face was red and his arms were flailing about like windmills.
People were screaming for help in their respective languages from their ski lifts.
"Do you have your phone?" Jennifer asked.
Peter checked his pockets and then remembered he had left his phone back at the log cabin.
She fairly spat the words out.
They were all doomed.
A screeching siren announced the arrival of a fire engine as a large crowd began to grow beneath them.
"I can't feel my feet" Jennifer suddenly announced.
"That's normal up here. It will pass when we get down"
She still refused to look at him.
"Are you angry with me?" Peter Aitken asked her.
That was it.
The rage and frustration she had felt for more time than she could remember erupted inside her like a tidal wave breaking against the shore.
"Am I angry with you? Yes, I'm angry with you and I'm angry with God and I'm pissed at life and every goddamn fucking thing!"
Jennifer quickly fell silent again.
She was shaking with rage
Peter took off his gloves and flexed his fingers.
Jennifer noticed his hands.
He had beautiful hands with long tapering fingers.
Peter Aitken was the clean-cut Englishman who never seemed fazed by anything.
Even when they were stuck high over the Austrian mountains.
Jennifer could not know how Peter had buried his pain and despair in his work.
Nor could she know how much he had yearned to see her again.
Peter Aitken played everything cool.
Two hours had passed since the ski lifts had ground to a halt.
Now there were a team of Ski Technicians working away beneath them.
It was starting to get colder now and the tourists were frantically calling home.
"I've told myself that this isn't about me ... to stop being so selfish ... but I feel mad sometimes and I just want to scream ... the world moves on but I stay where I am ..."
Jennifer's plaintive cry filled the air as Peter fought to control his emotions at last.
"You never told me" he said.
"You never asked"
Tears began to roll down Peter's cheeks.
"I was a lousy husband. You needed me but I just wasn't there for you"
Jennifer reached out and took her husband's hand.
"It's my fault. I should never have left him ... I blame myself"
Peter and Jennifer had decided to enjoy a picnic beside the riverbank with their little boy on crisp spring day.
Joey Aitken was a robust six-years-old.
He was blond and cherubic with his father's blue eyes.
Good natured and full of life.
It was busy by the riverbank that day, and the Aitken's were delighted when two of their best friends spotted them and came over.
Jack and Vicky Green.
They couldn't help but share their good news.
"Peter has secured a merger with a Saudi company in Dubai and he's going over to check it out next week" Jennifer explained with a smile.
"Congrats!" Jack exclaimed shaking Peter's hand vigorously
Vicky scooped up little Joey in her arms.
"Guys, that's brilliant news!" She cried.
The little boy wriggled and after a few moments she handed him over to his mother.
"It's a good time" Peter Aitken declared "Fancy some champagne? There's enough to go round"
"An offer we can't refuse" Jack smiled.
Peter snatched two glasses out of the hamper and poured the champagne.
"Cheers!" Jack cried.
Jennifer let go of her son and he retreated to play with his set of toy cars. .
"Actually I'm glad you're here because we are thinking of having a little party to celebrate and we want you to come"
"Of course we will" Vicky smiled.
They were old college roommates.
Vicky couldn't have children so she was delighted when after a struggle Jennifer conceived her boy.
Her golden boy.
"So happy for you" Vicky added.
Nobody had noticed Joey slip away.
"Thanks Vicky. Perhaps you can help me with the party planning"
|Drum Bridge, Winter Sunset (by Gerard1972. deviantart.com)
That was when somebody screamed.
All four of them leaped up and Jennifer dropped her glass.
She just knew.
A crowd had already gathered by the edge of the riverbank.
That was when Jennifer began screaming.
By the time they fished the little boy out of the water, he had already been dead for thirty minutes.
He looked like a little rag doll.
Jennifer had spent the duration of the search rocking herself on the river bank as Vicky attempted to comfort her with soothing words.
Peter had been pacing up and down.
For once he had lost his cool.
Jack tried to assist the police and frog divers but it was all futile.
Everything had happened so fast.
A mother had seen Joey slip and tumble into the river and then he was gone.
His little lungs were full of water by the time they pulled him out.
Now Jennifer was weeping and shaking her head as she struggled to push the dark memories out of her mind.
"It's all my fault. I should have been paying attention ... I am a terrible mother ..."
Peter squeezed her hand tightly in his.
"No you're not. You were a great mother and Joey knew it"
"I can't believe he's gone"
"We had six wonderful years with our boy. And I am thankful for that"
There was a violent shudder as the ski lifts began to move again.
"Santa Maria!" An Italian tourist cried.
By the time they were on the ground again, Peter and Jennifer Aitken had found some semblance of equilibrium.
It was already getting dark.
They both looked up at the starless.
"Full moon" Peter cried.
"Make a wish" Jennifer replied.
He could still see the girl he had fallen in love with.
She was still in there.
And beneath the woolen hat was a cascade of golden hair.
He loved the way she tossed her head in that way she had.
Those sky-blue eyes that could see right into his soul.
The beautiful and maddening Jennifer.
And she was glad that he was there.
He was still her hero.
Unwaveringly polite with floppy Hugh Grant hair.
"We've been given a second chance" Jennifer said softly.
Peter nodded in agreement.
Not great with the emotional stuff.
There was nowhere the couple would rather be.
Even amid the noise of the vast crowd around them and the sound of the departing fire engine.
"Fancy coming back to my log cabin for a drink and a bite to eat?" Peter Aitken asked his wife.
"Yes. I would like that every much" Jennifer answered him with a smile.
And they made their way through the crowd hand-in-hand.
Leicester, East Midlands.
Kristiana Bayliss took another glance at the Christmas cake recipe in her Delia Smith cookery book.
Then she surveyed her array of little bowls filled with currents, sultanas, glacé cherries and other necessary ingredients on her kitchen table.
She had flour, soft brown sugar and black treacle.
She had the chopped almonds and the grated zest of one orange and one lemon and a little bowl of mixed candied peel.
She counted four eggs and checked she had a bottle of Brandy.
She had her cake tin greased and lined with silicone paper just as Delia Smith advised.
Then Kristiana Bayliss realised that she had neither mixed spice nor grated nutmeg.
She checked her watch.
It was 9 pm.
Kristiana Bayliss had been living in a modest terrace house in Leicester for four months.
And with Christmas fast approaching she wanted to do something nice for the community she come to see as her own.
What better gesture than to bake a cake for the Christmas fete at the local church.
Kristiana was attractive and vivacious with brown shoulder length hair and hazel eyes.
She was born Kristiana Liepa in Latvia but had come to England at the age of four with her parents.
The family settled in Leicester.
Her father ran a car hire service and her mother worked in a clothing factory.
Kristiana had worked at Trudy's Hair Salon in Peterborough since her late teens but since moving to Leicester had begun making her own jewelry and selling it online.
Kristiana's husband Mark had passed three years before after a brief battle with lymphoma.
A year later she decided to move from Peterborough where she lived with her daughter to Leicester where she had been bought up..
Mark and Kristiana had been childhood sweethearts and she felt his loss deeply.
But she yearned to make a fresh start and she always dreamed of moving back to Leicester.
Her daughter walked into the kitchen.
Jenny Bayliss was seventeen and studious.
She was a pretty brunette with a dimply smile and the hazel eyes of her mother.
But Jenny was her father's daughter in everything else.
Sometimes Kristiana had to do a double take when her daughter walked into a room.
This was one of those moments.
She felt an undeniable ache and then it was gone.
And Mark slipped quietly away with his hand in hers.
It was like yesterday.
He passed from life into death as the snow fell outside the window.
The suffering was over.
And Kristiana tenderly kissed her husband on the forehead as her Latvian mother held her weeping daughter.
Mark's death had come at a crucial moment in Jenny's psychological and emotional development.
But she was a resilient little girl and she had already vowed to eradicate lymphoma one day.
Nobody doubted her.
"We don't have any spices for the cake" Kristiana sighed.
"Can't you improvise?" Jenny replied as she pulled up a chair beside the kitchen table.
"Not for this cake"
Mother and daughter looked at the Delia Smith cookery book together.
After a long pause they both looked up at each other.
"Mrs Gupta!" They cried in unison.
Mrs Prya Gupta.
|lonely this christmas (by RickHaigh deviantart.com)
Mrs Gupta was a sweet faced Asian woman of indeterminate years from Bangalore in India.
She was tiny, birdlike and animated.
Mrs Gupta was a widow with one grown-up son named Ravi who was a heart surgeon.
He in Boston, Massachusetts.
Mrs Gupta was evidently very proud of her son and displayed an array of framed photos of him on the mantle piece.
Of her late husband Prabhu, Mrs Gupta said little but it was clear he was never far from her thoughts.
It had been an arranged wedding and for the first couple of years they had lived with Prabhu's parents.
But eventually Prabhu set up his own shop selling Indian sweets which Prya made in the kitchen, and they lived above it.
Prya's coconut laddu and kashi halwa proved so successful that they began catering for rich families.
But Prahbu had always felt drawn to the United Kingdom and after ten years Priya and Prabhu arrived in Leicester with five-year-old Ravi in 1972 along with many other Asian's fleeing Uganda.
More than 10,000 Indians and east Africans of Asian descent had already settled in Leicester but it was still a culture shock.
Prahbu went into partnership with a friend and they set up an Indian sweet shop where Prya was able to resume her enterprise as a mistress of exotic deserts.
Mrs Gupta would always be grateful to Leicester. .
And she had been one of the first people to welcome Kristiana and her daughter when they arrived.
She invited them over for tea and captivated them with stories about the Raj and her own homespun wisdom.
Mrs Gupta was an enthralling storyteller and utterly captivating when in full flow.
Kristiana and her daughter were utterly transfixed.
She regaled them with stories about her celebrated sweets and how she wooed British royalty and famous Bollywood movie stairs with her exotic delights.
Surely Mrs Gupta would have mixed spice and nutmeg in her well stocked cupboard.
She knew that Mrs Gupta was also making a cake for the Christmas fete.
They had met at Leicester Market the day before.
Mrs Gupta was wearing a purple sari and her long greying hair was tied in a pony tail.
She was particularly animated as she pulled her little trolley filled with groceries.
Kristiana insisted that she come back to her house for a cup of tea.
But Mrs Gupta insisted she was far too busy.
"I have a cake to make my dear" she explained.
"How lovely ..."
"For the Christmas fete!"
It had completely slipped Kristiana's mind.
Her mother had been a devout Roman Catholic and Kristiana liked to attend Mass when she could.
Not only did it connect her to fragments of her faith but to her mother and she country she had left while still a child.
The fete was on Saturday and it was already Wednesday.
"I completely forgot" Kristiana declared.
"I always like to make a special cake and the Reverend loves it and always comes back for more"
Mrs Gupta patted her on the hand.
"It's for the baby Jesus" she smiled.
It was like an Aladdin's cave of jars and bottle filled with exotic concoctions and spices.
There were vegetables of every kind and large bags of Basmati rice and flour.
The house always smelled of patchouli from the incense sticks that Mrs Gupta burned and there was a large statue of the elephant god Ganesh in the sitting room.
"The remover of obstacles" Mrs Gupta informed the curious Kristiana.
"I always wondered"
There was a little shrine in the corner of her bedroom with an icon of Mary holding the baby Jesus, a little statue of Buddha, a picture of Guru Nanak and a little Muslim prayer card. .
A little candle flickered on the table.
"For the spirits" Mrs Gupta told Kristiana mysteriously.
There was something very motherly about the kindly Asian woman.
And something very unusual.
Kristiana sent out her daughter and she returned twenty minutes later with the spices and a bag full of cooking apples from the tree in her garden.
"What we do without Mrs Gupta?" She smiled.
Now she had all her ingredients, she set about her task and by the time she had finished she had nodded off at the kitchen table.
The following morning Kristiana looked with pride on her handiwork.
It even resembled the picture of the Christmas cake in the Delia Smith cookery book.
She drove her daughter to her work experience job at John Lewis and while she was there she bought a box of Charbonnel et Walker Plain Chocolate Truffles for Mrs Gupta to say thank you.
As she parked her car in front of her house Kristiana remembered Mrs Gupta's words and the intense look in her black eyes.
"It's for baby Jesus"
She smiled as she mused on the magnificent cake that she would surely have made.
It must have been special if even the Reverend had second helpings.
Mrs Gupta welcomed Kristiana with open arms and ushered her in.
She always felt at home in her house with it's creature comforts and unmistakable aroma of burning patchouli incense sticks.
Mrs Gupta put the kettle on.
Kristiana surveyed the well stocked kitchen; it was neat and well ordered.
Then she noticed the large glass domed cake plate on the kitchen table by the window.
Kristiana gazed in wonderment at it and mused on the culinary masterpiece that Mrs Gupta had created.
"Ah, my special Christmas cake!" The spry Asian woman declared with pride as if she could read her guests mind.
Then she walked over and removed the glass dome. with a flourish.
Kristiana's eyes widened with astonishment.
It appeared to be some sort of seed cake and it had a curious but not unpleasant smell.
She had never seen anything like it before.
"It looks delicious!" Kristiana cried.
Mrs Gupta surreptitiously prepared the tea and carried it on a little gold tray with a plate of biscuits to the kitchen table.
"It's my special cake" Mrs Gupta informed her.
She offered Kristiana a biscuit.
"For the baby Jesus" she added with a smile.
Kristiana's fascination had been spiked.
"You must give me the recipe!"
"I'll do better than that dear, I'll show my secret ingredient"
Kristiana nodded enthusiastically.
And she followed the Asian woman out of the kitchen and up a flight of stairs to what appeared to be a little guest room or study.
With a broad grin on her face Mrs Gupta slowly opened the door.
For a few moments Kristiana was blinded by the bright floodlights.
But as her eyes adjusted and she squinted into the room she was suddenly struck dumb and immobile.
The small room appeared to have been transformed into an indoor greenhouse.
A hothouse to nurture an ocean of specific illegal flowering plant with an unmistakable pungent aroma.
Mrs Gupta was smiling all the time.
She must have been cultivating it for quite a while.
"I bought the first one from a man outside Leicester Market some years ago. It was so pretty and had such a nice smell and I've been putting it in my Christmas cake ever since" Mrs Gupta declared proudly.
Kristiana's mouth dropped open.
"I'll put a few leaves in your tea if you like"
That was when Kristiana Bayliss fainted.
Slipping in and out of consciousness she dreamed that she was about to be swallowed up by a giant marijuana plant.
Lost And Found
It was another blisteringly hot day.
Rebecca had been walking beside her mother Judith through the bustling market.
She was seven-years-old and already carried herself like an adult.
Her father Nathaniel walked a little way ahead of them stopping periodically to talk to men he knew.
As custom dictated, Judith did not address men directly outside the house but kept her gaze modestly averted.
Rebecca followed suit.
Her mother had instructed her well.
Rebecca was an appealing child with black curls and large brown eyes.
She was fascinated by the colourful stall holders and their wares.
Rebecca looked with awe upon the many fabrics in a myriad colours and textures and the finest Jerusalem wool.
She marveled at the baskets of pomegranates and mountains of dates and figs and grains.
This day she was distracted by a man playing a flute in an alleyway.
He was seated on a rug.
A little monkey was perched on his shoulder.
His face was weather beaten and his clothes were worn and dusty and the few coins scattered before him denoted that he was poor.
Admiring passersby tossed him the coins and he gave them a blessing.
Rebecca was captivated by the monkey.
It was such a jolly creature and made her smile.
She stood for some time observing the monkey as it frolicked on the man's shoulder.
By the time Rebecca remembered her mother and father, they had already disappeared into the crowd.
She felt a new emotion.
The market was no longer a friendly place.
It was populated by giants.
She was surrounded by strangers.
There were surly Roman soldiers striding about and laughing among among themselves.
Rebecca yearned to get away from them.
She already knew how cruel they could be.
She had seen what they did to people.
Rebecca pushed her way through the crowd as she began to search frantically for her mother and father.
Tears filled her eyes.
Then she seemed to walk into a man.
He put his hand tenderly on her head.
She looked up.
The man was wearing white robes and there was a blue shawl over his shoulders.
He had a dark, wizened face and piercing black eyes.
His black hair was shoulder length and his dark beard neat
The little girl suddenly felt secure.
"Rebecca" he said.
He knew her name.
Then the man looked deeply into her eyes.
And it was the most beautiful thing Rebecca had ever seen.
She was not afraid anymore.
Her father was calling to her.
She turned to see her parents approaching her through the crowd.
Judith held her daughter.
"We were so worried. We thought we had lost you" Nathaniel cried.
The man in the white robes disappeared into the crowd.
"Who was that man?" Judith asked her daughter.
Rebecca only smiled.
|Jaffo Ancient City (by billydean.deviantart.com)