I walked the drizzling streets of New York until I entered a bakery shop that had boarded windows, except one that had dilapidated foam creations on display in the window. Inside the shop, an old white man dressed in an apron approached me. His movements were slow but brash. His skin was overrun by sunspots and wrinkles, and a stern expression was on his face. I immediately understood that the old man was not the type to hashtag the winner of Rupaul’s Drag Race anytime soon.
“Are you Missy Jackson,” the man asked.
I removed my mask. “Yes. And you must be Orwin Wigley.”
Orwin didn’t speak. “You can hang your coat on the hook. The first one. I don’t want you dripping rain all over my floor. I just mopped it, you see.”
I removed my coat and placed it on the first hook.
“I’ve already set everything up,” Orwin said.
I looked past Orwin and noticed that the butcher block table in the middle of the shop was topped with baking supplies. I became excited.
“Thank you for taking me on such short notice.”
“Well, don’t count yourself special. My prior canceled. Now go and wash your hands. I don’t want that Covid getting in here. Business is bad enough as it is, and I don’t need to get closed down.”
Behind the counter, I found a small sink and began washing my hands.
“If Covid is a worry. I’ll have you know that I’ve taken the vaccine. Have you?”
“No. Covid is a hoax. Like President Trump said. And I won’t be seen wearing one of those masks.”
I twisted the water off and dried my hands with a napkin. The entire time I was appalled at the words that escaped Orwin’s mouth. I had to say something; I just had to.
“Covid isn’t a hoax.”
“You Millennials believe everything that’s on that Twitter and Snapchat. You all should know by now that social media doesn’t like the truth. You see how fast they banned Trump.”
“Then how do you explain my Aunt’s death.”
Silence ensued as I joined Orwin at the center table. He was thinking of an explanation to throw at me but knew there wasn’t one. So, finally, he gave in.
“My condolences about your Aunt then. How old was she.”
“She was only forty-six.”
Orwin lowered his head in a pinch of shame then quickly lifted it. It was like witnessing a stream of sunlight peeking through rain clouds, only to go back dark.
“I heard Covid hit the colored neighborhoods quite tough,” Orwin said.
I thought about taking the bowl from the table and hitting Orwin across the head, but instead, I maintained patience.
“We prefer Black and or African-American.”
“I didn’t mean any harm.”
“How old are you, if you don’t mind my asking.”
“Of course, I don’t mind answering that question. Do I look like a woman? Only you people hate disclosing your age. I am seventy-eight years old. And you.”
Again, I was offended. But, I maintained my composure.
“I am twenty-six.”
Orwin handed me an apron. “Put this on.”
I looped the apron around my neck and tied it. As for Orwin, he began mixing the batter.
“I suppose you’re glad that Biden and Kamala won. Or whatever her name is,” Orwin said.
“Yes. I am. And I suppose you’re upset that Trump lost.”
Orwin was slightly angered. “Trump didn’t lose. He was sabotaged.”
“We will have to agree to disagree,” I said.
Orwin fixed his glasses. “So you want a lesson on baking a cake, huh.”
“Yes. A chocolate cake for my closest friend. She had surgery two days ago, and I want to surprise her with her favorite dessert.”
Orwin handed me the bowl of batter. “Add three eggs, 3/4th cups of vegetable oil, half a stick of butter, and keep mixing.”
I did just what Orwin instructed, but my hand began to tire. “Don’t you have any electrical equipment? Like a KitchenAid, or something that plugs into a circuit.”
“No. I like it the old-fashioned way,” Orwin said. “That’s what’s wrong with you kids nowadays. You want the easy way out. Back in my day, when I worked with my father, we worked hard. From sunup to sundown, I was here, right beside him, fulfilling orders. And without complaining.”
“How long have you had this shop.”
“This shop has been in the Wigley family since 1905. And I plan to keep it that way, despite Covid.”
“I imagine you have had it pretty tough with the economy closing,” I said.
“Business has slowed. It was slow before, thanks to the big grocery chains with their corporate greed. But I’ll get back up on my feet. That’s what real Americans do. We push on.”
“I’m done mixing,” I said.
“Good.” Orwin checked the batter. “It looks great. Now pour it into the pan. And slowly.”
I poured the batter into the pan. “Now what.”
“Most women should know the following step. You take it to the oven. Don’t worry. I pre-heated it.”
After I ignored Orwin’s insult, I placed the cake batter into the oven. Then, I joined Orwin at the front counter. He was behind the register, counting the money. It wasn’t much, just eight dollars and some cents.
I looked at the boarded windows, and Orwin noticed me.
“Yeah, the Black Lives Matter rioters did that,” Orwin said. “It’s a shame so many people would rip into their own country, and at a time like this.”
“Black Lives Matter is not responsible,” I said. “They can’t help that some people took advantage of the movement.”
“They are the ones who riled up the folks,” Orwin said. “As far as I am concerned Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization.”
“And what about the proud boys. And the capital rioters.”
Orwin failed to answer. “I just want America to remain America. No fake news, and no rigged voting.”
“But America is more than white.”
“I agree, but we don’t need all the Chinese and Mexicans. We have enough with the-”
Orwin stopped himself from finishing his sentence. Luckily, the oven was heard buzzing before I could tear into him.
“Talk about saved by the bell,” I said.
I walked to the back and returned with the cake pan. I sat it on the table. “How does it look,” I asked.
Orwin had a look. “It looks great. Let it cool before you remove it from the pan. In the meantime, let’s whip up the chocolate topping.”
When the chocolate topping was complete, Orwin flipped the cake onto the glass pedestal. After, he apologized.
“I want to apologize for earlier. I don’t have an issue with the blacks. Besides, you seem a nice young woman with her head on straight.”
I didn’t want to accept Orwin’s apology, but I did anyway, and he was somewhat glad.
“So, were you out there protesting for George Floyd and the others,” Orwin asked.
“Yes. I participated in the peaceful protests.”
“That’s good to know. I’d hate to think you one of the hoodlums who busted out the shop's windows. Do you know how much replacing the glass will cost me?”
“More than I have at the moment.”
I completed coating the cake with the chocolate, and Orwin was impressed.
“The cake looks nice for a beginner baker with no experience,” Orwin said. “But, I suppose, all women come to find baking and cooking easy.” He walked away and returned with a box. “Go on, place it inside there.”
When I finally placed the cake inside the box, Orwin was curious.
“What surgery did your friend get,” Orwin asked.
“A sex change.”
Orwin’s face dimmed, and his lips curled at my answer. “You mean this cake is for one of those Transgender freaks.”
“Excuse me. My friend is no freak.”
“I will not participate in this nonsense? Men are not women, and women are not men. God didn’t allow his only begotten son die on the cross for freaks to roam the earth.”
I was so angry at Orwin’s words and philosophy that I wanted to burst. “If you feel that way, then I won’t use your service.”
“But you already paid. And the cake is finished.”
“I don’t care. I won’t gift my friend a cake baked with hatred.”
I threw the cake to the ground, collected my coat, and placed my mask on. When I exited, I saw Orwin through the only window. He was content in his stance while looking down at the cake that covered his shop’s floor.
The next day, I called my friend, Jenny, and learned that her recovery was going accordingly. But became speechless when I learned she received a chocolate cake before my calling. I didn’t tell Jenny about what happened between Orwin and me at the bakery because I didn’t want to upset her or spoil her transition. In fact, the nurse who delivered the chocolate cake to Jenny said that an old man delivered it, along with a note that read: Dear friend, this cake was created with love. From your friend, Missy. Happy transition.
A week later, I found myself walking in the neighborhood where Orwin’s bakery was located. I wanted to keep walking past the shop, but something in me wanted to thank Orwin for baking the chocolate cake for Jenny and delivering it to her hospital room. When I finally entered the shop, I was met with a blonde woman who seemed in grief. When I asked her about Orwin, she told me that he had died from Covid. The woman was his granddaughter.