My father was in prison when my uncle took me to the pastry shop. Mother had asked my uncle to find me a job.
“Whose son is he?” the man asked my uncle.
I heard my other uncle’s name instead of my father’s.
Cream puffs, rolled cake, walnut cookies. Baklavas and biscuits in metal trays on the counter.
Their sweet smell made me dizzy.
There were three boys older than me with shaved heads working for the owner. They moved around the shop in uniforms serving customers, returning to the back room to retrieve trays of freshly-baked pastries.
In the back room, the owner showed me how to weigh flour and butter on a scale, how to beat eggs, and mix cookie dough.
“How do you like it here?” he asked, his apron pressing against his big belly.
I liked the feel of the dough in my hands. The egg whites foaming, then turning into clouds or peaks of snowy mountains. Everything constantly changing and becoming something else.
“It’s nice,” I said.
The owner was whipping cream in a big bowl when one of the boys came to the back room.
“You come with a shaved head like that tomorrow,” he said, pointing at the boy, then put his hand on the boy’s neck, patting it like when my father would check a watermelon.
He dipped his finger in the whipping cream and held it in front of the boy’s mouth.
The boy looked down at his feet, then raised his head and licked the cream from the man’s finger.
The owner wiped the cream left on his hairy knuckles on his apron.
“You like pastry?” he asked me, then directed the other boy to leave.
“Yes,” I answered.
“You’re polite, you’ll do well.”
He brought a bowl of strawberry jam and a glass filled with date syrup, put it on a table in front of me.
“Now, your real test. Your job for today,” he said, “is to eat this.”
I started with having several spoons of the jam, but soon couldn’t eat more. The smell of the pastries in the air wasn’t appetizing any more.
“You don’t want to be fired on your first day, right?” the owner said.
I spooned more of the jam into my mouth. I thought if I eat faster, it’d become easier. The jam syrup dripped and made everything sticky.
“Don’t forget to clean up after you finished,” the man said. He was putting cakes and pastries into the oven. Sweat was rolling down his neck, his uniform sticking to his clammy body.
Every several minutes, he would come back to check on me. I felt the heat of his body on the back of my neck as he whispered something. I smelt the sharp smell of his sweat.
The boys didn’t even look at me when they came to the back room.
I felt sick.
“Eat faster,” the owner said. “You need to finish it all.”
When I got to the barbershop, the sky was the color of a blood orange.
“Are you sure you want to shave it?” the barber asked. “How come you didn’t come with your father this time?”
I told him that my father was busy. I gave the money that I’d gotten from the owner to the barber. In less than five minutes, all of my hair was on the linoleum floor.
Strands of my hair glistened in puddles of fluorescent light.