“You’re staring. Again.” Leonie passed Charani a mug with steaming hot cocoa.
“Am not.” He took it quickly with both hands, pretending to watch the little boy ringing the brass bell on the fire truck.
“You so are, but if you think I’m playing the ‘do too’ game with you, think again. All I’m saying is today is the last day. Tomorrow the Christmas fair is over. Loris and his brothers will have packed up their stall, and you’ll have to wait another year. Unless you want to go and visit him at their bakery, which is somewhere in the Ruhr area I heard. And while you tinker with the carousel and work your ‘rest of the year job’, you’ll be thinking about missed chances until—” And his dark-haired friend began to sing:
‘It's Christmas! (Again)
The angels are singing
And I know the reason,
the Savior is born…’
Ignoring his silly friend, Charani risked one last longing glance at the stall opposite his carousel, before he quickly averted his eyes again and sipped the cocoa. Loris was only wearing a white t-shirt over black and white, small checkered baker’s pants today, despite the cold. The heat coming from the ovens was apparently enough to stay warm. His white skullcap sat jauntily on his red locks while he kneaded dough and formed bread and rolls. Handling the baker’s peel expertly, he transferred two loaves to the oven. After closing the door, he immediately began to sign with his brothers again.
Shit, he was looking again.
Charani had watched some YouTube videos for what felt like a thousand times so he could ask Loris out for coffee using his preferred language. After a while though, he had declared defeat. He would embarrass himself, or even worse, offend Loris with his clumsy attempts at signing. Of course, Leonie had caught on to what held him back, and she told him he was being stupid. As if he didn’t know this. Loris could lip read, even though he didn’t talk with the customers a lot. The brothers had a strict division of tasks at their stall. Loris made the bread, being quite the showman doing that. His brothers made the tarte flambée, as it required asking for the customers' preferences: bacon, goat cheese, or vegan.
Loris watched Charani chatting animatedly with the owner of the stall that sold mulled wine and other kinds of hot beverages. When Leonie caught him looking at Charani, she lifted her eyebrows before grabbing her friend’s arm possessively, to pull the man closer, whispering something, her lips pressed against his ear. Was he imagining it or was she challenging him? Taking another portion of dough, he threw it on the floured counter before him with a little too much force and began to knead in pecan nuts.
When he looked up again, he saw a little girl wearing a pink scarf and a tiara tugging at Charani’s sleeve. Loris smirked when he dismissed Leonie to accept the girl's ticket. Bending down, he pointed to the carousel’s glimmering pink carriage.
The baker laughed when she shook her head violently and ran towards the sleek red racing car.
Grinning, Charani gave the proud father a thumbs up before he helped her climb in.
A few minutes later, Loris caught Charani watching him back. He couldn’t help flexing his muscles while forming a loaf of Christmas bread. Noticing this, his brother rolled his eyes. Embarrassed, Loris flipped him off.
The rest of the day Loris watched Charani flitting about in his brightly colored clothes, laughing, joking, flirting, always talking. One time the tall, wiry man lifted an elderly lady onto one of their prancing white horses with ease, and was promptly rewarded with her radiant smile. Loris was strangely proud of him.
When he saw him laughing heartily, he tried to imagine how the man’s voice sounded. He’d even asked his brother. After griping at him that he would know this if he’d use his external processor, Andrin had relented and told him Charani’s voice was warm and dark. He even used the word ‘sexy’.
After some jarring experiences that had him coming home crying from school, his parents had decided Loris had to become normal, and he had been fitted with cochlear implants so he could learn to speak and communicate ‘like everyone else.’
Since he’d been a teenager though, he’d hated having something surgically implanted in his head. He’d begun to reject the device. One day he’d announced him being Deaf was the same as him being gay. He was born this way, it was just him. He would never be normal. He’d even asked his parents if a device existed that would make him heterosexual, would they have had that implanted in his head too.
Today, he knew they had meant well, even if their choice of words could have been better. After that day Loris had had several heated discussions with his family. His hearing sister deemed him egotistical, elitist, and stupid. Especially for someone who had to communicate with customers, as he wanted to work in the family business. Therapy had helped him find a compromise. Today the implant was a mere tool that helped him access the ‘hearing world’ if needed, without losing his identity.
He could talk with his voice but avoided it. He still preferred to sign.
Seeing Charani in action the the last few days, how much he enjoyed communicating with people—
made Loris realize he was missing out on an important aspect of Charani’s life. Charani didn’t know sign. Would he really expect the man to learn a whole new language just to communicate with him? He had the means to understand Charani. Why would he not want to experience every aspect of the man?
Whatever... He was building castles in the air anyway, wishing to be with Charani. Imagining him learning to sign and teaching the man his language.
As if his thoughts had conjured him, Charani stood in front of him, holding a tray with two sugar-rimmed glasses decorated with a sprig of rosemary. He turned his face so Loris could see his lips. “Merry Christmas.”
Without thinking, he signed, It’s my favorite.
Suddenly Andrin stood beside him and translated for him.
“I know, Leonie told me”, Charani answered,
Loris frantically searched his workspace, until he spotted the braided Christmas bread he’d gift-wrapped just in case. He gave it to Charani with trembling hands and whispered, “Merry Christmas.”
Charani took it, a brilliant smile on his face. Hesitating briefly, he fished a card with his number from his jacket’s pocket. And after putting the bread on the counter, he haltingly signed, Text me?
Loris’ Christmas Bread
2 ¼ tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp, ground cloves
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
3 tbs brown sugar
¼ cup oat bran
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped pecan nuts
1/2 cup water
4 tbs milk
2 tbs butter
Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
Heat milk and butter together in a microwave or saucepan until temperature reaches 110°F or 45°C (warm to the touch). Add the yeast and let stand for 10 minutes, until frothy on top.
While yeast is activating, combine flour, oat bran, sugar and salt and spices in a separate bowl.
Create a well in the center of the flour. Add the yeast mixture into the well. Mix into the flour until combined.
Knead by hand for 10-12 minutes until dough is soft and elastic. If the dough is too dry: warm up the extra milk, create a well in the dough and add in half of the milk. Knead and if you still feel it's still too dry, add in the remaining amount of milk.
When dough is ready, divide it into 3 pieces. Lightly flour a clean work surface and braid the dough. Bake 20 minutes or until lightly browned and golden.
What about a freshly baked bread on Christmas morning?
Is there something special you serve/love to eat on Christmas morning?