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Two Loaves of Bread, a Lemon Pound Cake, and a Donut for the Walk

By Jessica Kennedy


Inside the bakery, an old man waits for his regular order: two loaves of bread, a lemon pound cake, and a donut for the walk back home. Every second and third Thursday, not counting the other days where he can be seen walking the sidewalk of Main street. Main street is the busiest of all the streets in the town of Chantham, North Carolina. Businesses fight for available spaces of real estate, only to pay out of the wazoo for rent. All around the man, people hurriedly shuffle through to get to their desired shop, ordering their normal things or risking it for a new experience. Some are tourists visiting the historic town just outside of Wilmington, and some are natives. Either way, Main street is never dull.

The old man must be in his mid to late 60’s, always wears a buttoned down dress shirt, tucked into his pleated khakis, and his bald head shines bright in the light in all but the sides where he has a white rug around the bottom half of his head. His glasses are thick and round, and his shoes are always the same; black loafers that shine in all seasons.  Looking over the counter that I just barely am tall enough to see over, I noticed him, again, sitting at the corner table shuffling through the newspaper, only stopping to slide his glasses up off the bridge of his nose. “Jaime, order out!” My boss yells at me from the kitchen, prompting me to take the order of a birthday cake to the young, overly pregnant mother, holding the hand of a little girl. She thanks me as I help hold the door for her as they join the crowd in the street, the bell over the door jingles as it closes behind them. Walking through the 90’s themed bakery with brown, tall counter tops, I stop to ask the old man what number his order is. Looking up at me from his newspaper, he gives a slight nod up as he says “forty-three” and continues reading the daily news section. Looking down at the cracked, off white linoleum floor, I walk to the counter and ask how long his order will be.

In ten minutes, his order will be ready, he’ll get up, leave, and walk straight down the road and onto the riverwalk of the next street over, lined with old victorian style homes. We all assumed that’s where he lived, but not much activity is seen in the driveway of the home. Maybe his family was all moved away. If you walk around to the front of the house, the railing for the river, black and rusty, dating back to the 1800’s, lines the side nearest the rivers, and about five yards away are the steps leading up to the red and brown house. The house itself is brown, with a hint of red, and black shutters. It must be at least two stories high, and a balcony above the front door awning connects with a window upstairs. For such a magnificent house, it’s a shame only he has access to it. In the three years I have worked at The Bread Box, I have never seen this man with anyone else, nor have I seen anyone come to his house on the river.

Ten minutes pass and I hand him a big brown paper bag with the two loaves of bread and a donut, wrapped and placed in a small cardboard box just big enough for one. He takes the bag, and leaves the cash in my hand. Not saying a word, he opens the door quickly and efficiently leaving only a slight jingle to the bells. A minute or two passes and the baker in the back is upset that we made an extra lemon pound cake. It only takes me a minute to realize we didn’t put the cake in the bag. I apologize to my boss as he yells at me in a mixture of Italian and Spanish, no doubt the effects of growing up with an Italian mother and a Spanish father.  I grab the cake in a plastic carrier, and head out to the bustling street. I look to see if the man is still walking, expecting an old man to have an old man’s walk, but he is gone. Taking the looks from inside the bakery of my boss eyeing me as the encouragement needed, I head off to his house on the riverfront.  It only takes about three minutes for me to make it to the walkway in front of the grand victorian, but an extra three minutes just gathering the guts to knock on the door. As I walk up the steep steps of the house and wondering how in the hell this old man does this everyday, I hear the rough voice call out to me, “Whatcha’ think your doing up there girl!”

Turning around and almost losing my balance, I see the old man sitting on a bench near the riverwalk railing. He has a bowl next to him with the loaves of bread he just bought, all torn to pieces and the half eaten donut in his right hand resting on his khaki pants.

“We forgot to put this cake in your bag sir! So sorry for the mistake it will not happen again,” I apologize. I rush down the steps and over to the man, holding the cake at arms length to hand to him. He puts the half donut back in its box and wipes his mouth and then wipes his hands over the old concrete walkway. As he looks up to me and accepts his cake, he says ‘thanks’. The small turn of his lips at the corner let me know that he is in some way thankful and happy. I reply with a ‘no problem’ and begin to turn away. Curiosity set in and I turned to look back at the old man. Just watching, I could see the sad in the way he hung his head between his arms as he turned the ring on his left hand. He stood, leaving the torn apart bread, the lemon pound cake, and the nearly eaten donut behind, and walked over to the side of the river. Up in the air the crows cawed and, not too far away, a single grave stood out as the old man continued to turn his ring.

“Do you need anything else sir?” I asked slowly, not wanting to sound too pressing as I tried to continue a conversation.

He turned his head back to look at me, then turned back to the crows flying over the water. “Nah, just ‘gunna stand here for a while,” he said with a lightness in his voice that made me think he was inviting me into the conversation. I walked up to the side of the river, peering over the railing to see the murky, black water. I stood there for a minute, then he asked me, “How long you been working in the bakery?”

“For about three years now,” I said. He nodded his head in acknowledgement of my answer. “My wife worked there for about a week before she got pissed off with the owner about 4 and ‘half years ago, before she passed away.” He looked down at his ring again and slipped it off his rough, worn hands. He was probably a manual worker before retirement. “You know I built this house for her, a good thirty years ago; adding a little extra every year, whatever she wanted,” he told me. The ring slowly turning between his fingers, obviously deep in thought.

“It’s an amazing house sir.” I said this to him in an, almost, consoling manner. “I don’t think she liked it that much.” As he said, this I look back at the beautiful house. He saw me look back and chuckled saying, “Not the house. Working at the bakery. That’s why she quit I suppose.”

The old man and I spent an hour on the riverwalk, before my boss sent another employee to track me down, talking about life and the bakery that day. I went home that night and thought about how quickly his life ended when his wife passed away.  It was the second Thursday of the month and I knew the old man would be arriving soon to pick up his usual order. I even had it already written down on a ticket to try and have it ready when he got there. I looked at the clock; he would arrive at any moment. I looked at the ticket that lay behind the counter, and then looked at the clock again. It was almost closing time. Again, I looked at the clock, then I looked at the ticket that lay in the trash.

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