Chapters 11-14

Ch 11: An Invitation

Timmy studied his First Class ticket, flipping it to its back, and then to its front, and to its back again. He squandered the minutes away, quite certain of his decision, and watched his lifelong dream strain through his fingers.

“In heaven’s bloody name, what are you still doing here?”

Kim was in total disbelief as he rushed into the room.

“You should have left a bloody hour ago,“ he half shouted.

Timmy was stunned out of his reverie, but resumed his preoccupation with the ticket. In a dull voice, he acknowledged Kim’s presence, “Hey Kim.”

“Traffic’s going to be a bitch. You know better. What with the mad rush home for Easter. It’d be a knot. You’d better leave now? I can’t bloody believe you.”

With dogged determination, Kim searched the room for Timmy’s travel bag; along its periphery, beneath Timmy’s desk, under the piles of clothes. Finding none, he shut the door behind him.

“What’s going on?”

“I’m not going.”

“What do you mean you’re not going?”

“I’m just... nn nn not going”


“I’m happy here.”

“You?” Kim enunciated sarcastically. “YOU?” More pronounced this time. “You are happy here?”

Timmy had never heard Kim’s voice reach that level. As he watched Kim pace around the room, puffing through his nose, his mouth, his ears—bull-like—Timmy sensed that worse was to come.

“Happy?” he huffed, his anger compounding. “Well, that sure as hell explains the last two weeks. Why you’ve been completely drawn out of character. Why you’ve been looking like horse shit. Why half your nights are spent here, why we find you here in the morning slumped over your desk. Why you carry the rancid breath of a drunk each morning. What’s bloody going on Timmy?”

Timmy knew that it was a matter of time before someone confronted him on the poor state he was in, and he wasn’t at all surprised it was Kim.

“Well, I met a girl.”

“You met a girl?”

“Well, I didn’t really meet her. Well, I did. A long while back.”

Timmy appeared confused, so Kim summed it up for him. “So it’s someone you met awhile back, but just developed feelings for.”

“Yeah!” Timmy responded with great excitement, as if Kim had just resolved one of life’s great mysteries.

“I don’t believe you. I really don’t bloody believe you. You’ve come this close,” Kim pinched air, “... this close, and you’re copping out.”

“I’m not c...”

“Don’t give me that load of crock.”

They stared at each other.

“You told me to always tell it to you as it is. So don’t give me that look, like I’ve just shot your dog or something.”

Timmy straightened his face.

“On the first day we talked, at the cafe, you told me this—that your dream of dreams, your so called ‘doorway to the next paradigm’, involved you accomplishing two things.”

“To secure a job at Oddinary.” He thumbed. “And to debut as the winner of the New York Marathon.” He pointed.

Kim paused, to let his point sink in. “You’ve been working half your life towards this moment, Timmy. You’ve come within seconds of the world’s best runners. And you’ve got Oddinary, your dream agency, knocking on your door. How many agencies fly their candidates in First, and put them up at the Carlton, on one of the busiest weekends of the year? When? The job’s damn near yours, Timmy. The first of your two piece puzzle. Mate, you can’t let your dreams gestate forever. Your hour has arrived Tims. Seize it.”

“But she is...”

“Stop. Just stop,” Kim superimposed his voice over Timmy’s. “I know you’re going to give me all that ‘she is the one’ bollocks. That you have found true love, your raison d’être. You need to just trust me on this one mate. To help you see clearly.”

Timmy knew he wasn’t going to get any words in.

“You read widely. You probably know this line.” Kim changed his voice, and spoke slowly, “The day that man allows true love to appear, those things which are well made will fall into confusion...”

“...and will overrun everything we believe to be right and true. Dante’s Divine comedy,” Timmy steered the quote to completion. He was surprised by how easily the words left his tongue. He had his English teacher to thank, the one he had a crush on when he was fifteen.

“Are you familiar with the Mexican concept of the acomodador?” Kim asked.

“No I’m not.”

“The acomodador is something that happens in our life that shakes our foundation and causes us to stop living. To stop pursuing our dreams.” He explained further, “Many things can come in the way of our dreams. A death, a birth, a car accident, a woman. Regardless of its source, one thing is certain. The acomodador is deleterious, can derail your life, and you need to bloody flush it away. Or else you will waste your life and never arrive at your true potential.”

Timmy was always blown away by Kim’s ability to draw from renowned European scholars, and in the next instant, lean on folkloric teachings from obscure cultures. He always regarded Kim an odd choice for a personal assistant, and thought him more fitting as a writer or a literature professor. A politician even. But never a PA to a Creative Director. It crossed his mind to push Kim on to bigger and better things, but Kim always seemed happy at his job. Thankful for it even. Today being one of the exceptions.

Timmy let a brief moment of quiet pass.

“I’ve given it a lot of thought Kim. And I think you know me well enough... to know that I would have. And let me assure you that I’m not giving up on my dream, but just setting it aside for awhile, while I unknot my situation. I’ve kept you out of the loop on things. I shouldn’t have.”

“You remember your first love, Kim?”

Kim nodded.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but back then, you loved this person unconditionally. And you were prepared to spend forever with her. And if someone asked you why you loved her, you responded with something daft like, ‘Just because’. And nothing anyone could say would change how you felt for her.”

Kim nodded again, fully aware of where Timmy was taking his point.

“Well Kim, she is the one. I have found her at last. And nothing you say will change that. Please realise and accept that.”

Timmy detected a glint of disappointment in Kim’s eyes.

“Kim, from the day we met, there has been no greater a friend than you have been to me. And now, more than ever, I need your support on this.”

Kim sighed.

“Let me tell you about your ‘one’. And I don’t know how to break it to you lightly. But I’ll bloody call it as I saw it. She was clubbing at The Roof Gardens last weekend with a guy, rather distinguished looking, as you would expect of her taste. And they were kissing.”

Timmy felt his heart clench into a tight ball, and he struggled to breathe out his next question.


“Was it a hello, goodbye kiss? Or a kiss, kiss?” He knew the answer before he even asked it.

“Let’s just say, she looked like she was trying to eat his lunch. I know she holds herself really well here at work. Courtly and cultured. But that night, she took on a different manifestation.”

Timmy was crushed. Just like that, his Eden had been turned into Hades.

Robbed of the only thing that occupied his nothing, he felt as if his life force had been sucked out of his body. Tears gushed to his eyes, but found no outlet, dammed just in time by his masculine pride.

“Nightclubs are dark. Are you sure... ” His voice crumbled like a wafer. “Are you sure it was her?”

“They were seated in a well lit section of the club. Under the cover of the crowd and flashing lights, I was able to get really close to catch a good glimpse. It was definitely her. No mistaking her signature green eyes.

“Brown eyes.” Timmy was quick to correct Kim. “Cambria has brown eyes.”

Kim’s eyes widened. “Cambria?”


After a two hour conversation with Timmy, one that he was asked to keep in the highest confidence, Kim exited the room, still unsure of what to think of the whole situation. Timmy had a thing for Monica de la Pena. Everyone was certain of it, he included. But Timmy had ten arms, a surprise up each sleeve. That he knew too. Never had he met anyone like Timmy, so fluctuant, whose every pattern seemed fashioned to elude prediction.

Kim wanted to be happy for Timmy, but he couldn’t. He was greatly unsettled knowing that his boss, now also his best friend, was going to get his heart broken. Cambria had never before expressed the faintest shade of interest in Timmy, had displayed no romantic inclinations of any sort to anyone. And for that, Kim’s week at the Lakes was not as peaceful as he had intended it to be.


Cambria waltzed up, rapped her knuckles on the door frame, and stuck her head in.

“Happy Easter!”

Timmy tore his eyes away from what he was not really doing, and looked up.

“Yeah, to you too.”

She entered his office.

“Any plans for the weekend? Doing anything? Going anywhere?” She had to push her way in–his room door had long lost its ability to fully yawn open, thanks to the hoard of clothes, gym bags and sports rackets hanging on the back, dangling like meat at the butchers.

“Nope. No plans for the weekend. Just me and Mark.”

That was secret code that he was going to be by himself. Makers Mark was a smooth Kentucky whisky bourbon he developed a liking for when studying in the States. Each year, around Christmas, a collection hat went around. Depending on how well the drive went, two, three or four bottles, a ribbon on each, waited for him when he walked in to work in the morning. One to live each day as if it were his last, Timmy always insisted that the ‘spirit’ of Christmas be enjoyed by all, without a moment’s waste. The bottles got lighter as they toured around, and by midday, he and his crew would be lit brighter than the tree up in reception. Adhering to tradition, the party carried over to the Sekforde Arms, a cosy neighbourhood pub from the 19th century. To repay the gesture of the gift, Timmy always bought the flock lunch and a round.

“No really, you’re going to be by yourself this Easter? Just you? You and your bronze refreshment?”

Timmy acknowledged with a smile.

Cambria knew of the death of his parents when he was sixteen, and realised the holidays was probably a painful time for him. She didn’t know if being in the company of another’s family would hurt more than being alone, but she asked anyway.

“My sister and I are headed to my folks in Lechlade. You should come.”

Timmy was utterly surprised by the invitation and instinctively turned down her offer.

“They have sublime outdoor trails up in Lechlade. Perfect for running. You’ll love it.”

“Nah, I don’t even have any clothes packed.” Secretly, he hoped she would convince him harder.

Light sprung into her eyes. “You can do your laundry there,” she excitedly suggested, averting her gaze to the clothes that were strewn all over his office.

“Hey, you even have your running shoes. Come, I’ll help you pack.”

Cambria strode over to Timmy’s couch and gingerly started gathering a few items.

Timmy grinned and shook his head. “Pardon my ignorance, but how far is Lechlade from here?”

“Only one way to find out.” She bent down to pick up one more article of clothing.

“We’re all set,” she gasped. “You can pack your own underwear,” she continued, trying to suppress the smirk that was forming on her face.

Timmy could not stop grinning, his face a revelation of his inner delight. Right as rain, he flicked off his table lamp.

Mark was spending Easter by himself.

Ch 12: Trip To Lechlade

Cambria often thought back fondly on her first day at Cream. Cold and lifeless that morning was, not a cloud in the sky, not a bird in song. But still, the air was ripe with promise.

Not wanting to be late on her first day, she was at Cream’s doorstep at eight, even though she was told to come in at half nine. To avoid looking like a punctual nerd, she waited on the bench across the street, a book in hand, an eye on the office.

That morning, at a quarter to nine, Timmy showed up and unlocked the place. By the time she tucked her book away and ran across the street, he had already made his way into the building. She rapped on the glass door. He was a fair way in. He looked over his shoulder, and on seeing her outside in the cold, jogged to the door in the most ridiculous fashion— his knees rising high above the ground, almost touching his chest. It was the most random, silly thing she had ever witnessed. He opened the door. She could not stop smiling.

“Hello, I’m Cambria,” she introduced herself.

“Oh, you must be Cambria then,” he responded chirpily. He scooped her hand up in his and rigorously shook it.

“You’ve got Freon in your veins,” he remarked. “Come I’ll fix you a warm drink. Kitchen’s this way.”

She dutifully followed him. He punched her in the arm, to let her know he was just playing.

In the kitchen, Timmy showed her where all the things were stored; the confectioneries, microwaveable lunches, teas, coffees and silverware. He even let her in on where the receptionist kept a secret stash of Pop-Tarts. Before they left the kitchen, he warned her about the bread toaster, how it confiscated your toast if you fed it heavy breads like rye or multigrains.

On the way down to the basement, he told her all about the Creamatorium, and what went on up there, and he cautioned her about wearing short skirts on the sidewalk next to the office. Finally, he introduced her to people at Cream she had yet to meet.

At 9:30, as the office filled up, Timmy took her around to get her acquainted with the lot. Through each introduction, as she divulged more information herself, he got to know more about her—and like a cotton candy seller flossing a stick, his synopsis of her got more voluminous. His introduction of her started out as, “Hey guys, Cambria joins us today as a junior illustrator.” This snowballed into something like, “Hello chaps, this is Cambria of Lechlade. She’s a talented artist who just graduated from Falmouth, and she joins us today as a junior illustrator. She’s a cellist who teaches yoga to children, takes 2 sugars and milk, loves to read, can’t sing to save her life, and just like you Thom, suffers the District Line from Earl’s Court to Monument on the way to work.”

Timmy used to set his own working hours, usually walking in at ten sometimes eleven. No one minded him walking in so un-early. They knew he was always the last to leave, the light from his room, like a beacon in a sea of dark. Timmy dreaded being alone in an empty house, and always preferred to be around people. To shorten his time at home, he always stayed back at work, till the last to leave left.

It was only a month or so later, after observing Timmy’s work patterns, that Cambria realised this. That to see her settle in comfortably, he made the effort to be there early on her first day. But it wasn’t just her. He did that for all the new people joining the team. At the time, Timmy was only second in command, but she always felt that it was he who admiraled the ship.

Within minutes of meeting Timmy, Cambria knew he was special. It was only a little later that she knew how special. Her feelings toward him went through different phases, progressing from general friendliness, to admiration, to fondness, and eventually into an unbearable schoolgirl crush. This all occurred within a week of meeting him.

Her first three months at Cream, now when she looked back, were her most tormented. She recalled her jitters each time Timmy was near, and she loathed how her best side went on hiatus when face-to-face with him—her humour, her ability to think straight, her charm, her smile, her personableness; basically all things great and good about herself. Initiating any kind of conversation with him also became a tense sweaty-palmed ordeal. Very much like the moment before the nurse punctured your skin with a needle.

It actually came as no surprise to her when she started to develop a thing for Timmy. He had, after all, all the qualities she ever wanted in a life partner. Well, most of the qualities anyway. There were a few things she would have preferred changed. His general untidiness was one. His obsession with his work, another.

Timmy had a face that was as pretty as it was handsome, and people who met him for the first time studied his features closely, to try and assay which he was, pretty or handsome. Often, they arrived at thinking he was neither. Timmy’s mum was half Danish, half Inuit, his Dad more English than he was Chinese and Icelandic. This mixed parentage lent him a mosaic of features that was hard to place. He had nicely rounded cheekbones that did not match his squarish jaw, and black Asian hair that contradicted his dark green Icelandic eyes.

To even out the incongruence, Timmy dyed his hair a dark auburn. More from lack of effort than choice, he wore his brown locks in an artistic mess, something which irked Cambria. She always thought he looked like a person who hadn’t quite shrugged off an afternoon nap.

But over time, what Cambria initially regarded as blemishes in Timmy, became marks of his character, an ensemble of little quirks that made Timmy, Timmy. With her feelings for him deepening through the years, she eventually found herself marooned on a dreamy plane where he could do nothing that did not endear himself more to her.


When Timmy agreed to spend Easter in Lechlade with her, she felt as if it were Christmas in April. To her it was an opportunity to foster a friendship with him outside work. And she was thrilled at the prospect.

Cambria had never before brought a guy back to the house. This despite her parents always hoping that she would. Every holiday season, her mum dropped in the same reminder to her, ‘If you have a friend you’d like to bring home, oh I don’t know, maybe he or she is stuck without a place to go...’ Although it was unspoken, it was always the preference that this stranded friend had a penis attached.

Cambria’s folks were always curious about her well being; if she was happy, if she blended in well, if the city had grown on her. But Cambria did not share much of her personal life with them. It wasn’t that she wanted to shut them out of her world. She merely felt there was little about her life that was newsworthy. But that wasn’t the case anymore. Timmy was single, good looking, brilliant, successful, and she was excited about showing him off.

There was a tinge of sadness. He had yet to be hers to show.


So that he too could be on the lookout, Cambria described to Timmy what her sister’s car looked like. They waited inside, at the reception area, their eyes fixed on the front door.

A beat up car clattered into view, a white 1983 Ford Escort Cabriolet, its edges scalloped with rust. The car strained to a stop and vented a nerve-pinching squeal. Timmy winced, and breathed a sigh of relief when the car progressed no further. The ‘83 shuddered on the spot, like a washing machine on a final spin. Cambria instantly recognised the eyesore to be her sister’s.“That’s Lenka,” she announced to Timmy.

As they exited the building, Lenka reached over to the passenger side to unlock the door. Timmy saw through the window that she looked like a carbon copy of Cambria, only with frizzy Maharishi hair. Cambria opened the car door and poked her head in.

“Would you mind popping the boot? Timmy’s coming back with us to Lechlade. We’ll need the back seat.”

“Back to Mum and Dad’s?” Lenka asked, very surprised.

“Yes. He’ll be spending the weekend with us. You remember Timmy don’t you? My Creative Director. I’ve mentioned him before.”

“Yeah, yeah. I think so.” Turning her eyes upwards, Lenka looked into the folds of her mind, rummaging for any recollections of ‘a Timmy’ from the past. “Ah, yes. Timmy,” a voice formed in her mind.

It was unlike her sister to do things on a whim, and it was completely out of character that she bring someone home unannounced, a man on top of that.

It had been years since Cambria had let anyone into her life. Lenka presumed she would be the first to know if that ever happened. Unless of course her suspicions were real. That all these years, Cambria indeed had a someone. A man in her life who just had yet to be a part of it, his mere existence forming the emptiness that completed her. Lenka was reminded of an argument she and Cambria had when they were in their teens. Cambria had taken the position that unfulfilled love was the most powerful form of love. Most powerful, yes. But what fulfilment is there in being unfulfilled.

Cambria defended it this way. That with love, the exhilaration comes not from its attainment, but in its pursuit. That love, once fulfilled, becomes bankrupt of desire, and loses its lustre, its depth. She was always capable of such twisted love tragedy.

Lenka unbuckled herself and circled to the back of the car to open the trunk. As the three of them congregated at the rear, Cambria made the briefest of introductions. “Lenka, Timmy. Timmy, Lenka.”

Lenka’s hand jangled as Timmy shook it. He noticed heavy brass bangles bunched up at her wrists, about 5 of them, each finely laced with curly Celtic knots. With his pub eye, he inconspicuously gave Lenka a quick scan. She had a tattoo on her ankle he could not quite make out. Her hoop earrings matched her bangles. She was a tad meatier than Cambria. And she looked the older of the two, but maybe because she wore heavy eye shadow. He also found her very oddly attired. Dressed in a long crinkled skirt and a sequined vest over a gauzy long sleeve blouse, she looked like a member of a gypsy troupe.

After Timmy stored away his and Cambria’s bag, he closed the stubborn boot. The sisters hopped into the front seat and he slid into the back.

It occurred early on to Lenka that her sister might have been trying to match-make her with Timmy. But she knew that if those indeed were Cambria’s intentions, she would have done a better job with the introduction. Nothing as unflowery as “Lenka, Timmy. Timmy, Lenka.”

Lenka was notorious for converging on a scene of a brewing romance. When two people were in love, but afraid to confront the other about their feelings, she saw it as her cue to jump in, to act as an emissary between the two parties. She thrived on helping unconnected people discover their common ground, and was exultant when the seeds she helped sow, turned into something meaningful. She felt she had a lot to do this weekend.

“’Lenka’... that’s a very Slavic name,” Timmy peeped in a high curious voice.

“Our mum moved here from Macedonia. Donkey years ago. Before it was Macedonia.”


Lenka cheekily looked into the rear view. “All strapped in?”Timmy looked for his seatbelt. Cars that age did not come with seatbelts at the back. He got her joke.

Lenka put the car into gear.

“To insanity and beyond!!!” she yelled out. They pushed north, through the heavy outbound traffic.


It was past midnight when the trio arrived in Lechlade. Except for the taverns, all the town was asleep.

Timmy discovered a lot about the girls during the car ride: the biggest revelation that they were twins, Cambria the elder by over an hour. Cambria was born at 4:42 a.m. on a Saturday, by way of water birth. Lenka, who enjoyed having the whole place to herself, decided to stay put. On failing to be coaxed out, she was introduced into the world by way of a scalpel.

“Who wakes up that early on the weekend anyway?” Lenka joked.

Of the twins, Cambria ate less, exercised more, and hence was the more slender. But Lenka attributed the difference to this, that by oozing through the birth tract, Cambria was squeezed thin for life.

Timmy also learned that the sisters were artistically inclined from young. Both enjoyed painting and sketching. But Lenka hung up her brushes at 14 when she developed an interest in handicraft. They both attended Falmouth, an arts college in Cornwall, but to their parent’s disapproval, Lenka took an early bow, to join a repertory theatre group in London’s Soho district.

It did not take Lenka long to work her way into prominence within the arts’ circle. One of the most prolific actor-dancers to grace the stage in years, she was a fortnight from the launch of Lenka, a musical comedy about a tomboyish country girl, who through an endearing series of missteps, landed herself where she was, as the lead in a musical comedy about herself.

Of the two, Lenka was by far the more outgoing. When Cambria was curled up at home reading a book, Lenka was out on the town, chatting the night away at a cafe, or at a party fraternising till the wee hours. As children, Lenka found every excuse to be out of the house. Often, she’d engage in things you’d not expect from a girl—corralling fish by damming a brook, threading a dragonfly, raining fire on an ant’s nests or helping her father with the repairs. Cambria was more of a home body, and did more in the way of chores. Each day, it was Cambria who helped her mother tend to the laundry, prepare the meals, keep the house in order. Cambria was the daughter her mother always wanted, Lenka, the boy her father never had.


Lechlade was not big, and it did not take long to drive through and out of the town center. On the outskirts, Lenka took a sharp turn onto a loose gravel road. It was pitch black all around, except for the beam of the car’s headlights. Timmy could see a speck of light in the distance, like a stationary firefly. As they progressed deeper into the darkness, the speck turned into the kitchen window of a thatched roof cottage.

Box planters of bright coloured foliage shrubs lined the base of the cottage. And the outer walls were covered almost entirely with several varieties of flowering climbers. The main entrance to the house was typical of some farmhouses, through the kitchen, via a half door designed to allow fresh air and sunshine in, but keep the livestock out.

Before their car came to a standstill, the upper tier of the door opened inwards. Standing within the square of the door frame was Cambria’s mother. She pulled her cardigan close to her body, and came out. Cambria was the first to exit the car, and ran to give her mother a hug. Lenka stayed behind to gather her stuff–cigarettes stashed above the vanity mirror, her cell phone from the dashboard, an MP3 player and a toothbrush from the glove compartment. Timmy felt a little awkward, and was a bit tentative getting out of the car, seeing that he was uninvited and all. Through the car window, he saw Cambria point, and both she and her mum looked in his direction. He saw that as his cue to get out of the car.

Cambria’s mum strode excitedly up to Timmy, and shook his hand with both of hers.

“Hi Timmy. Cora. Welcome to our home.”

Cora was happy to finally meet Timmy. Although Cambria had not surrendered too much information about him in the past, his name always popped up in random conversation.

Timmy apologised for imposing, and effusively thanked Cora for having him on such short notice. But she assured him that the surprise was a pleasant one. As Timmy alternated gazes between Cambria and her mother, he was amazed by their physical likeness. It was apparent where Cambria had gotten her pretty features from. The differences were minor. Cora had a deeper, more mature voice, wore a slighter frame, with a more golden tinge, probably from tending to the fields. Of Cora Timmy was certain of this. That she had exceeded the beauty of her youth, the years adding graceful lines to her face, which did more to deepen her stunning features than take away from it.

Cambria’s Dad came out of the house to meet his girls. He was a mountain of a man, his frame almost as big as the door’s. He wore plaid, had his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, suspenders hanging down at his sides. By appearance alone he matched the profile of a ruddy-cheeked lumberjack. Lenka raced up to greet him, lifting both her feet off the ground as they hugged. She looked paltry in his arms. Timmy could see immediately where the lines of favour were drawn; Cambria to her mum, and Lenka to her dad.

Greg put his daughter down and swung to Timmy.

“Hi, I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Greg.”


They locked hands, Greg’s swallowing Timmy’s.

Cora shuddered on the spot to highlight the obvious. “Come, it’s frigid out here.” And she ushered them in.


It was nice and toasty in the cottage. A buttery aroma of baked goods clung to the walls, hung in the air. You could almost stick your tongue out and taste it. The kitchen by which they entered was lush with gun metal grey cooking ware that hung from above, mostly utilitarian than decorative. The black stone kitchen countertop was worn from years of use, and was now grey, complementing the dark oak cupboards it had grown old with. Hand painted pots of herbaceous plants, pretty on the window sills, completed the country charm.

“Should any of you be peckish, I left out a couple slices of rhubarb crumble,” Cora announced to the girls and Timmy. “Am sorry. Would have saved more if I knew you were bringing a guest.”

Although he was, Timmy claimed to not be hungry, and told the girls to proceed without him.

“You’ve got to try Ma’s rhubarb crumble. It’ll be a sin if you didn’t. Come, I’ll share mine with you.” Cambria pulled out a fork from the drawer, and using its flat edge, cut herself a corner. She closed her eyes as she imbibed the taste.

“Mmmmm,” she testified.

She cut another segment, slid her fork under it, and balanced it to Timmy’s lips.

“Here, you have to try this.”

Timmy was a little surprised, thrilled actually, that Cambria was granting him use of her fork. The very fork, that a moment ago, she had christened between her tightly sandwiched lips. To align his appreciation of the crumble to hers, he closed his eyes as she did, and let the full mélange of flavour lather the walls of his mouth.

“Heaven,” he concurred.

As Cambria continued to feed herself and Timmy, Lenka, wolfed down her piece. She rolled her eyes at the lovebirds as they revelled in the intimacy of sharing silverware.

“Mrs Lane.”

“Cora.” She was quick to correct him.

“Cora,” Timmy accepted with a nod and a smile, “ trip here to spend Easter at your home was unplanned, and I feel really awful for showing up empty handed. If you...”

“Don’t even worry about it Timmy. It’s a pleasure that we are graced with your company. Greg and I have always encouraged the girls to bring their friends home for the holidays.”

Timmy sensed Cora’s genuine delight but went on with his offer. “Actually, I was thinking, if you have no plans for lunch tomorrow, it would give me great pleasure to prepare lunch for you and the family. All I need is for Cambria to point me to the morning market, and for you to afford me use of your kitchen.”

Everyone looked surprised. Cora was thoroughly impressed that a stranger—male—who had only clocked 5 minutes on their property, 3 minutes in her kitchen, would make a lunch attempt for people he barely knew. Her first thought was this. That growing up, he must have spent a summer working in the kitchen of a restaurant. Her second, that he had Italian or Greek in him.

“It’s the least I could do,” Timmy continued.

Before Cora offered an answer, she turned to look at Cambria, then Lenka, then her husband. They all were wide-eyed on hearing Timmy’s offer.

“Sure, it would be our pleasure.”

Cora thought for a second about what she had just agreed to, and then nodded to reaffirm her decision.

“It would be a great pleasure.”

Everyone was surprised that she accepted Timmy’s offer. Timmy included. They thought she would stand her ground and insist that he sit back and enjoy his weekend.

“There’s most of what you’ll find in the market here on our farm. If you need a hand with the livestock, Greg can assist you.”

Wonderful Timmy exclaimed, great, Cora replied, okay-eee, Cambria mumbled under her breath.

Greg brought his hands together. “Alright. It’s pretty late, and you all must be knackered from the long journey. Timmy, I can show you to your room.”


“Did you bring any bags with you?” Greg asked.

“No just these.”

Greg looked amusedly at the bundle Timmy was carrying; a long sleeve shirt knotted into a makeshift satchel, containing what he could only guess to be clothes.

“Came prepared, I see,” Greg flashed a wide grin. “Come, come, this way.”

Timmy followed, Cambria to his side. As they proceeded to the living room, Cambria leaned in and whispered to Timmy, “Are you sure about lunch tomorrow? I could have just shown you to the local grocer. And you could have just picked up a bottle of wine or something you know?”

“No shit?” Timmy feigned surprise. “Too late for that now. I’d eat a big breakfast if I were you!”

She bumped his shoulder with hers.

“I’ll give you a hand. I’m pretty good in the kitchen.”

In the living room, the interior was light and airy, the walls, painted in a light colour. White or Cream Timmy could not quite tell. This because the room borrowed its colour from the fireplace, and from a scatter of votive candles. Shadows drew in and out like seaweeds in a sea current. A large four-seater sofa, dressed with a crimson cashmere throw, sat in the centre of the room. The couch demarcated the sitting area from the dining. In the far corner, a weary-looking rocking chair, painted in distressed white, lent a nostalgic ambience to the whole space.

From the living room, Timmy was led down a broad corridor. He was shown the second door.

“Well here’s your room.” Greg opened the door and ushered Timmy in.

“It’s not much but you should have all that you need. A slight draft comes in from the window on the right. But it looks like a still night so you should be fine. But just in case, there are extra blankets on the top cupboard shelf.”


“If you need anything, just let us know.”

“Actually. Don’t happen to have a spare toothbrush would you?”

“The Mrs keeps them stashed some place. I’ll have her pull one out for you.”


“Alright, I’ll leave you to settle in.”


Timmy studied the interior. The walls were buttered with white plaster, the floor, laid with terracotta tiles. Square lattice windows, trimmed in natural wood, nested between pigtailed curtains. Rustic accoutrements ornamented the walls—tarnished copper pans, retired oil lamps, old washboards. Like an art enthusiast browsing a gallery, Timmy stopped at each item to take in the details.

Himself a bit of a woodcraftsman, Timmy was captivated by the furniture in the room–a bedside table, a roughly rendered sitting bench, the bed and the clothes cupboard. He ran his fingers on the furniture, over the embellishments and joints, and across the finish. He knew right away they were all handmade, each piece with its own soul. Caressing the silky complexion of the wood, he knew a great many hours had gone into the effort. A smile formed on his face when he discovered some words indiscreetly etched on the headboard of the bed. Lenka loves Jamie Adams forever and forever. Although he had only known her for one car ride, he felt those words fell so aptly within her character.

A knock on the door surprised Timmy.


The door squeaked open and Cambria peeked in.

“Are you dressed?”

“Sorry to disappoint. But yes. Fully.”

They both smiled.

“I brought you a toothbrush. Pa mentioned you needed one.”

She walked into his room and handed the toothbrush to him. She had slipped on a Cream, satin nightie. Relaxed against her skin, her gown surrendered every nuance of her body. Timmy investigated her deeply, to see if he could draw any shade of what she was wearing underneath, if anything at all. To his disappointment, the material was spun too tight to be breached.

Once or twice, over the recent weeks, Timmy pictured himself having sexual intercourse with Cambria, but he stopped himself almost immediately, and felt guilty that he had sired such thoughts. This was a reflex that was ingrained in him, but only towards girls he felt a deep connection to, those he regarded as the special ones, his true loves.

He did not know for sure why. Why sexual fantasy was impermissible for his ‘one-and-onlys’. Perhaps it was the bible preaching to him. Perhaps, recognising the transience of earthly pleasures, he felt that sex was shallow, and to think of her in any way feral, soiled the essence of her. Timmy always believed you had to look beyond the flesh to discover the meat of a person. So maybe he felt that to deprive was to nourish, that the only way to arrive at the core, the pure, was to discover the beauty beyond the beauty. For him, the attachments he formed to the special ones were sacred, and lived on a higher plane. Above the realm of the physical. In a world comprised of heartfelt gazes, walks on the beach and the sharing of hearts, in a place where two can exists side by-side and be the equal of, neither dwelling above nor beneath, at a level where two could be apart, but at the same time, one.

It was a lot less kosher for Cambria. For a long time she had held that Timmy was doused in sex appeal, this going as far back as her tender days of knowing him, long before her desire for him had reached full blossom. Convinced by the yearning in her loins, she was certain that he was put on earth for a single purpose; to mate with her, exclusively, intently, fervently. Awash in a sea of carnal wanting, she allowed her imagination to flare unabated, and pictured in lucid detail what intercourse with him would be like. Taking into account his stallionesque physique and the athlete he was, she foresaw their love making to be long and glistening, his thrusts smooth but decisive. She promised herself, if fate so decreed, that they were ever to bed, that she would make herself fully accessible to him, malleable, bending to his every desire, whispering words he lusted to hear, groaning the way he wanted her to groan. She relished the notion that she, despite being in a position of servitude, would be in firm control as she drew his yolk from him. Him breaching her, surging, extracting every dimension of pleasure from her; and she, an eager receptacle, sheathing and unsheathing him, walking his pent up urges over the edge; the thought of it was unbearable.

In the end, Timmy still was human, a man with the defects of a man. Like a twinging compass needle, his eyes helplessly found their way back to Cambria’s body, drawn into its svelte defining ridges. She caught him staring. He realised it. She realised it. He felt embarrassed, and she, smug.

“Alright, hombre. Goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the field snakes bite.”


Cambria flexed her eyebrows and then chuckled naughtily.

“Goodnight Timmy.”


She eased the door close. He trapped in a last glimpse of her. And she was gone.

Flipping off the lights and settling warmly into bed, Timmy lay awake with his eyes open. Swaddled under the same roof as his beloved, and separated but by a facade of brick and plaster, he was overcome by a feeling far stronger than the rustic country charm that permeated the air. The walls breathed with her; he was breathing her air, and she, his. And he felt blissful. Sleep came to him slowly, gently, softly, like a whisper in the wind, and brought with it an overwhelming peace he had not felt in years.


While unpacking her bag, Lenka expressed casually to Cambria, “Timmy...” She slipped a hanger into a dress, dangled it, and hung it , “I think he is a really nice guy.”

“You think so?” Cambria chirped.

“Genuine smile, honest eyes.” She threaded and hung another dress.

“I think so too.” Cambria plopped her bum onto her bed and smiled to herself.

“Hey, since you don’t appear to have feelings for him... you mind if I have a go at him?”

“No. Don’t you dare,” Cambria snapped at her sister. Her reflex was not disapproving, but aggressive defensive, like the caustic hiss of a cornered cat. Cambria smiled deeply to herself, and shook her head, amazingly aware that she had just fallen prey to her sister’s cunning.

With Cambria’s territorial markings now uncovered, a mischievous grin formed on Lenka’s face. Shaking out a long skirt, she smugly enquired, an eyebrow raised, ”So how long has he been your heart’s only desire?”

Cambria fought down the urge to tell her sister everything. But failed miserably. Their conspiratorial girly exchange went on till the sun came up.

Ch 13: Easter Eve

Timmy’s eyes were still closed when he woke. The air felt cool against his face, and carried with it an invigorating potpourri of scents: thatching reed, sage, vanilla, thyme, lavender, apricot and manure. He opened his eyes and sat up. He spotted Greg through the window, scraping mud off a double shovel plow. One to normally be awake by the wee hours, Timmy was surprised to see the sun as high as it was. He tore off his blanket, slipped on his shoes and went outside.

He looked around him and knew they were on the onset of spring; the drab of winter giving to great swathes of colour. The sun was brilliant.

Timmy ambled up to the low stone wall separating the house compound from the farmed land. There, the air was suffused with the smell of freshly turned soil, the stretch of scored earth before him, like corduroy. Prim patches of flowers grew amongst the produce, bestowing upon their plot the charm of an ornamental kitchen garden, or French potager, except one done in grand scale.

When Timmy was young, his grandfather, Jorgen, imparted to him many lessons of the land. Jorgen Jorgenson had a way of turning the uninteresting, interesting. By incorporating into his teachings a unique sprinkling of science, history and wit, he was able to hold young Timmy’s attention for hours on end, and Timmy retained many lessons of his youth.

Timmy enjoyed discovering how things originated and got their names. Dandelion, he learned, came from the French words dents de lions, which meant ‘lions’ teeth’, identifiable by the flower’s jagged leaf.

Primrose was prima rosa, which in Italian meant the first rose, or the first flower of spring.

Celandine was a spring flower too, lending from the Greek word chelidon, the word for swallow. It bloomed in time for the coming of the first swallow in April, and wilted when the birds left.

Timmy stood and admired the beautiful landscape before him. Not all the flowers were in bloom. The ones that were–dandelions, primrose and celandine. Spring was indeed upon them.


“Good morning Timmy!!” The greeting left Greg’s throat with the vigour of a leaping spring.

“Morning!!!” Timmy returned with interest.

“Sleep well?”

“Like a baby.”

“Come, let me show you around.”

Timmy nodded.

“Very nice farm you have here.”

“This all....” Greg pointed with one sweeping motion, “is ours. From the fencing to the lone Maple, from there to the old barn. Two acres in all.”

“What do you grow?”

“Carrots, broad beans, purple sprouting broccoli, spinach and potatoes.”

Greg proceeded to introduce Timmy to the neatly partitioned herb garden within the house compound; dill, mint, rosemary, tarragon, chives, chervil and parsley, all residents of the patch. Sage, thyme, camomile and bergamot lived at the back of the house, beside the wind pump, in a hotter, drier part of the garden.

“In the stable we’ve got two horses and a cow. Molly’s our cow. She provides our dairy. In there, we’ve also got chickens, most of them layers.”

“That lovely lady there,” Greg pointed, “wandering by the log pile, is Josephine, our resident goose. But the Mrs would not be too pleased if she showed up on the lunch table. We’ve had her for ages, and she and Cora have gotten really close.”

Timmy grinned. He felt at ease around Greg, and could tell that Greg had taken a liking to him.

“We’ve got ducks over by the far fence. And pigs in the pen. Feel free to use anything you need. Except the old goose.”

The distinct purr of roosting pigeons caught Timmy’s ear, barely. He turned to look.

“How about them pigeons over there?”

Greg turned around and saw Timmy peering up at the roof.

“I’d love to do them up for lunch,” Timmy said.

“You want to do them in for lunch?” Greg asked quizzically.


Greg examined Timmy’s face to see if he was joking, but saw that he was dead serious. The mischievous boy scout in Greg came alive.

“I don’t see why not.”

He smiled sheepishly at Timmy.

“I’ll be right back.”

Greg marched into the shed by the house, and came trotting back, a double-barrelled shotgun cradled in his arms. Timmy was a little troubled by Greg’s enthusiasm. He also did not think Greg would take him seriously.

“You ever fire one before?”


Timmy grinned from ear-to-ear, still in disbelief that a flock of sleepy birds stood to be executed because he went off-the-wall with his lunch idea. He thought about it for a second before deciding, “You can have the honour, Greg. Blast away.”

Timmy figured everyone would get as much a kick from eating pigeon, as he would from cooking it.

“If you like, I’ll show you. She’s a side-by-side 12-bore, Webley & Scott. Fairly easy to use. I’ve had her since I was 13.”

Timmy, like most boys growing up, dreamed of the day he’d fire a weapon; a crossbow, a pistol, a rifle, a machine gun, a tank gun.

“I’d be flattered,” Timmy replied.

Greg flicked the top lever to the right, pushed the barrels down to open the breech, and loaded two cartridges into the empty chamber.

“I’ve just put in number 6, high-base birdshot,” Greg informed Timmy as he snapped the gun close.

“Urrrmmm. In English please?”

Greg chuckled.

“Inside each cartridge, there are little pellets. You know that right?”

Timmy nodded.

“Number 6 indicates the size of the pellets. The higher the number, the smaller the pellets.”

“Is number 6 considered big?”

“Yes, we’re using fairly large pellets. For the power. This is because feathers are pretty hard to pierce. But if we were shooting something more delicate, like say, clay pigeons, contact is more important than penetration. In those instances, we would go for a higher number, maybe number 9. When the pellets are smaller, you can pack more of them in. So there is greater spread, and a higher chance of contact.”

“I see.”

“And high base means high brass. High brass shells typically carry high-powered ammunition, and give us the punch we need when hunting live game.”

Timmy was in awe.

Greg handed the gun to Timmy. “Here, take this. This is the safety,” he pointed out to Timmy. “What you’ll want to do is stand about 40 degrees to the right of your target.”

Timmy did so.

“Nuzzle the butt of the gun in the pocket of your shoulder. You can use the line between the twin barrels as your sight. Exhale as you fire. As you pull the trigger, you can lean slightly into the shot, to compensate for the kick. This girl has two rounds.”

Timmy got tentative. “Hmmm! Maybe you should do it.”

“No worries sport. If you miss we’ll just head over to Charlie Wyble’s barn down by the creek. He’s got lots of these winged devils in his roof. We can have a second go there.”

Greg laid out the plan of attack.

“I’ll drive them out with a handful of pebbles. You take aim slightly above the brow of the roof. When they take flight, you take the first shot. You may lose your balance a bit. If you regain your feet fast enough, squeeze off a second shot.”

Timmy nodded.

“Ready Sonny?”

Timmy lined the gun to the crest of the roof, then nodded to Greg to indicate he was ready. Greg took a big step forward and launched the pebbles. There was a loud flutter of wings as the birds broke from the roof. Timmy nervously squeezed the trigger. His shot went high. But the round still managed to find a couple of birds, evident by the plume of feathers that burst into the sky. The blast was much louder than Timmy expected, and stunned him a little. Despite planting his feet firmly on the ground, he was knocked backwards and barely kept his balance.

Timmy noticed the flock had turned east. So he swung right, this time aiming a little lower to compensate for his earlier mistake. Another shot rang through the air, followed soon after by a loud metallic clank. Timmy’s eyes widened. The weathervane on the roof swivelled uncontrollably, like a basketball spinning on a finger. Timmy and Greg turned to look at each other, agape. Wrought in disbelief, they reverted their attention back to the roof. The weathervane wobbled on its axis as it started to settle. Timmy was able to make out that the rooster was now headless. And the arrow pointed not North, South, East or West, but towards Venus.

“Holy, Mary, Jesus. For crying out loud. What are you boys up too?” Cora marched out of the house and demanded an explanation, her tone unforgiving. Cambria and Lenka darted out of the house in a panic and joined their mother.

“What happened? Is everyone alright?” Cambria asked with great concern in her voice.

Timmy and Greg were on the ground, writhing in laughter. They tried to get words out of their mouth but choked on their mirth. Tears in his eyes, and clutching his belly, Greg pointed to the piece of twisted metal on the roof.

Spotting her father’s rifle on the ground, and looking up at the maimed weather vane, Cambria pieced together what had taken place. But why the two were playing with guns still escaped her. In her mind, she just wrote it off as ‘boys being boys’, and she was glad that no harm had come to her Timmy.

Cambria felt fuzzy inside seeing her dad help Timmy up by the elbows, and dust some of the loose grass off his shoulder. She could see that a bond was starting to form between them, and that made her happy.

“Really sorry for the alarm everyone,” Greg apologised to his wife. Cambria found it comical how the two boys looked like students reprimanded by their school principal; standing next to each other, hands behind their back, in front of a Cora who did not look a bit amused.

“Timmy here,” Greg brushed his nose with his hand, “was simply helping me with some pest control.”

Timmy chuckled. Cambria and Lenka laughed. Cora smiled. All because Greg snickered.


Cora made herself available to Timmy as he searched the compound for lunch ingredients. She was utterly impressed that he employed the right techniques when harvesting herbs; pinching basil off at the split of the stem, pruning chives three inches from the base, snapping sage off one sprig at a time. For basil he picked only the leaves that were drier and starting to curl, to make sure he got the ones with the most intense flavour; for the rest, he took only the young leaves, to avoid it being woody and coarse.

Timmy learned a lot walking alongside Cora through her garden. He discovered that Cora did not cook with bergamot, that she cultivated it to perfume the air, and to lure bees to the garden. And he learned about the different herb families, and what was unique or similar about them. She shared with him that savory could be used in place of thyme, parsley to replace cilantro, anise seed as a substitute for fennel.

As Timmy was reaching down for oregano, she stopped him.

“Use marjoram instead.”

“Why, what’s the difference?”

“Well, they are both very similar in taste. I just have an emotional fondness for one.”

“How so?”

“No, it’s silly. Really. Pick the oregano. You’re probably more adept at using it.”

Timmy smiled at Cora and waited.

“Marjoram has a long and colourful history. It was proclaimed that if a girl placed marjoram on her bed, that the Greek goddess Aphrodite would enter her dreams and reveal her life partner to her. Marjoram eventually became a symbol of eternal love. In ancient times, newlyweds crowned themselves with wreaths of marjoram, as a symbol of everlasting love and happiness.”


Cora’s story brought her closer to the topic she was most interested to raise.

“Are you married, Timmy?”

“Nope.”Timmy offered a regretful smile.”Unmarried, unengaged, unattached.”

“Have yet to find that special someone?”

“Yeah. But I think I’m close.”

“Who is she? Is she someone from work?”

Timmy chuckled. “Well, it’s still very early. I’d rather not jinx it. Yes, it’s someone from work.”

The look she gave him told him she knew. Having collected all that he needed from the garden, they wore their smiles into the house.


“Cambria at your service,” she announced from the kitchen doorway. “Need a hand?”

Timmy wanted badly to impress the family with his cooking, and thought better of inviting distraction into the kitchen.

“No I’m fine. Really.”

“I could boil some water,” Cambria offered. “Remove the feathers for you.”

“Nah, I think I’ll leave the feathers on. It adds a nice fluffiness to the dish I’m making.“

“Ha, ha smarty pants.”

Cambria started to curl an apron around her waist.

“Seriously, I’ll get some water going for you.”

“No, I’ll be fine,” Timmy insisted. “Scout’s honour. It’s a lovely day. Go soak up the sun or something. Shooo!”

She measured his seriousness.

“Alright Master Chef,” she conceded amusedly, “I’ll leave you to your mischief. If you need me I’ll be out in the living area. Just flail your arms and scream if something catches on fire.” She grinned and left.

Timmy’s food preparation methods kept everyone curious and left them baffled. At one point, he marched out of the house, tore himself two handfuls of sphagnum moss, and marched back in. The moss was being dried out by Greg for horse bedding A few minutes later, he stormed back out, and asked Greg if he could start a pit fire. Greg obliged. Before going back into the house, Timmy gathered two large gobs of mud in a pail. Greg reported the news to the girls.

About an hour later, Timmy marched back out with the pails, and sank several blobs into the deep bed of red coals that Greg had prepared for him. Cora and the girls snickered amongst themselves, and wondered if it was a lunch or war preparation.

Cambria popped into the kitchen just one other time, to see how Timmy was doing. He had his act together. Herbs and spices sat in neat clusters on a large plate. He had marinades and sauces mixed into separate bowls. All the burners on the stove were roaring. To her surprise, nothing was boiling over, and there were no dark plumes of smoke. He was quite a joy to watch actually, his movement around the kitchen deft and steeped in nuance. In the ninety seconds he allowed her to stay, he poured a brownish-burgundy sauce into a pan to reduce, swivelled to the worktop to chop some carrots and celery, bruised some mint with a pestle, and following that, swept different islands of garnish into their respective pots and pans.

Cambria drew great pleasure watching from the excitement Timmy was bringing to her household. She joined the rest of the family in the living room, and in great anticipation, waited with them.

Ch 14: Bon Appétit

They spoke, but without words, using their eyes to telephatise their amusement. Timmy pretended not to notice, but inside, he was deeply entertained by everyone’s quiet, with the way they sat at the table, hands on their laps, silent as a flock of sheep, each too polite to ask about the grey orb on their plate.

The lunch setting was immaculate. It was a gorgeous day out in the Cotswolds; cool breeze, warm sun, the air heavy with the scent of blossoms and herbs. On days like these, the Lanes liked to dine outside, beneath the shady tree next to the house. The rustic trestle table at which they sat was fashioned out of weathered oak, and had been on the farm since Cambria’s earliest memory. It had only been moved once, and it took six grown men to do it. Greg vowed never again to move that table, and was thankful all these years for the tree’s shade, and its long life.

Timmy saw to the finer details. A sprightly sprig of fresh mint was placed on each plate to keep the flies away, silverware was lined in the proper hierarchy and a dainty vase of flowers graced the centre of the table. Timmy chose one of spring’s early flowers for the centrepiece, one suited for the occasion—the pasqueflower—which he found on the steep bank bordering the farm.

Pasqueflower got its name from the Hebrew word Pesach, or Passover, which to the Christians was synonymous to Easter. Though very rare nationwide, the largest population of pasqueflower occurred in Barnsley Warren, a national conservation nine miles away. Timmy was elated when he discovered the flower had spread east to these parts.

Timmy stared at them staring at their food, and did not say a word. Once the awkward meter moved into the red, Greg spoke, the three girls, glad that he did.

“So what do we have here?”

Timmy grinned. “Furthest from me,” he pointed, “caramelised potatoes with a scatter of chives and basil. Next to that, a summery salad of rocket, romaine, cherry tomatoes and pomegranate wrapped in a tangle of green, red and yellow peppers. In the pourer is a citrus and sesame vinaigrette you can dress it with.”

They were all impressed.

“In your bowls is a soup I plagiarised from my favourite Caribbean restaurant. Lentil, potatoes, baby carrots and onions in a tomato and orange base.” Timmy paused for a second before introducing the main dish. “And on each of your plates, mud-baked pigeon.”

Not including the weather cock, Timmy had made five kills. Greg was very impressed by the number.

Timmy demonstrated what needed to be done. Holding a dining knife backwards, he firmly tapped on the grey orb. The crust neatly split open in the middle. With two hands, he pulled apart the halves. The feathers came off with the clay, unveiling a fully intact pigeon.

“Anyone need help with theirs?” Timmy offered.

There were no takers. The process was simple enough.

Cora was the first to take a bite.

“Never had anything like it. This is absolutely delicious. How did you do it?”

The rest eagerly dug in.

“Well...” Timmy started, “the pigeon was cooked with its feathers on, so it had to be marinated from the inside. The marinade consists of ginger, thyme, honey, star anise, onion, garlic, red wine, and...”

A pause.

“...and marjoram.”

Cambria noticed the smile that passed between Timmy and her mum, and noticed they had the look of two people who shared secret.

“Because of the red wine, my marinade had a light consistency and wouldn’t adhere to the meat. I didn’t want it sloshing inside the pigeon’s cavity, so I needed something to contain it. This is what I did in the end. I sponged up the marinade with tufts of sphagnum moss, and plugged it into the pigeon.”

Cora raised her eyebrows and continued to listen intently.

“As the pigeon cooks, the fibres in the meat separate, and the feather’s start to draw away from the flesh. This coming apart of fibres also opens the meat up to be flavoured. This is important. You see, once the heat penetrates deeply enough into the bird, the marinade in the moss turns into a flavourful and aromatic vapour, and passes the body tissue of the pigeon, fusing the flavour with the meat and moistening it. This steaming effect is also important because it keeps the clay moist on the inside, and prevents it from cracking. We need the clay to be pliant, so that it retains enough gummage. This is so that when you break the clay, the feathers are rooted out, not snapped off.

“Did you just use the word ‘gummage’?”

Timmy laughed as he poked his finger at Cambria.

“I knew you wouldn’t be able to leave that alone.”

Lenka leaned forward, and like an art curator trying to determine authenticity, examined her meal from every conceivable angle. “I see that the skin was left pristine, without any clay on it. How is that possible?” she asked.

“It is technically still winter, and the birds retain a large layer of fat under their skin to insulate against the cold. When heated, this oil rises to the surface and allows the clay, in theory, to hydroplane off the skin.”

As Lenka examined her food further, she excitedly remarked, “Hey, I think I found the entry and exit wounds.”

Laughs erupted around the table.

“So where did you learn this intriguing technique from?” Cora enquired, her voice thick with curiosity.

“It’s all made up,” Timmy joked. Switching to a more serious voice, “From all over I guess. Mostly from TV. I got the clay idea from an episode of Survivor, during which a local group of Aborigines cooked with mud. Watching Man Vs Wild, I learned that sphagnum moss is non-poisonous and retains fluid well. Heston Blumenthal taught me that star anise enhances meaty notes in a dish. I also attended a pottery workshop one summer, and it was there that I learned how the properties of clay changed in a kiln. Everything else, I learned from Denmark.”

“Denmark?” Only one of the four Lanes thought out aloud.

“My grandma lived there. She was the most amazing cook. When she was alive, I learned a lot from her.” Timmy smiled to himself. “I really miss her.”

Everyone sensed that she meant a lot to him. There was a brief silence at the table, in her honour, for her contribution to their meal.

Greg looked at Timmy and asked, “Cambria mentioned that you are a runner. What kind of distances do you run?”

“Oh, I run the marathon.”

“How long is that?”

“26.2 miles.”

“Yes, I always remembered it to be a rather odd number. I’ve always wondered how it came about.”

“Great story behind that,” Timmy answered enthusiastically.

“Please do tell.”

Everyone stopped carving, and gave their attention to Timmy.

“It happened way back, when the Greeks faced off the Persians near the village of Marathon. For the Greeks, victory was crucial to deny the Persians free passage to Athens. Though outnumbered, the Greeks prevailed. Pheidippides, an Athenian messenger, ran 25 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory. Having run over 150 miles two days prior, he collapsed and died from exhaustion, right after he announced these words, Nenikékamen. Translated, it means, we have won.”

They were all intrigued.

“How the marathon turned from 25 miles to 26.2 is another matter. For many years, there wasn’t a specific length to the marathon, and the distance varied from race to race in the first few Olympic marathons. All that mattered was for contestants to run the same distance, and that distance had to be about 25 miles. It wasn’t until the 1920s that 26.2 was set as the official length.”

“Why 26.2?” Greg enquired.

“They adopted the distance from the 1908 marathon in London, between Windsor Castle and Great White City Stadium.”

Greg was about to throw in another question but Timmy answered before he could ask. “And why use the 1908 Olympics as a benchmark?”

“Politics?” Greg took a shot.

Timmy smiled to affirm.

“I’ve got another question, Timmy. And I hope I don’t offend any of the ladies by asking it.”

The three readied their claws.

“In almost all sports, men have the upper hand on women, this, usually because of biology.”

Timmy agreed with a nod, and waited for Greg to get his real point across.

“But to me, long distance running appears more a test of endurance, than a test of raw physical strength, which I feel should even up the field. But still, there seems to be such a huge time difference between the men and the women.”

“Yes, the gap is quite big,” Timmy confirmed.

“I mean, look at Paula Radcliffe. Our female runner from Great Britain. Long, lean and muscular. Probably capable of completing the marathon in half the strides of those small emaciated fellas... well, what I’m trying to say is, if I were a betting man, my money would have been on Paula. She’s like a machine.”

“You seem to know a fair bit about running. You a runner yourself, Greg?”

“Oh no, no. But I developed an interest in the sport years ago, and have since kept a keen eye on it. Plus, you’ve probably already realised this. There isn’t much to do out here in the Cotswolds. And there’s only so much you can jaw on about with regards to the declining rains and receding water table. So we treat every page of the newspaper as a precious commodity. It’s our way to stay in touch with the rest of the world.”

After acknowledging Greg’s point with a smile, Timmy proceeded to shed some light on the situation.

“There is something you first need to know about the world’s best Kenyan and Ethiopian runners. They come from a part of Africa called the Rift Valley, and the altitude there is between 8,000 and 10,000 feet. There, the sun is harsh; the air, because of the altitude, is cool. There are no rivers, not a lot of trees, just red dirt roads filled with cattle herders and people carrying anything and everything on their head.”

Between mouthfuls, Lenka interjected. “Have you been there? You sound like you have been there.”

“Yeah. I travelled there for a month, on foot. From one dusty village to another. Since I was a child, I’d been interested in long distance running. So it was a dream come true for me, to see where the best did their training. It was an eye opening experience. Life in the Rift Valley is not easy. Everything is done by hand, and those who reside there are toughened from childhood on farms or in the fields. Theirs is a kind of resilience born out of hardship, forged within a crucible of famine and strife. Because transportation is limited, children, from the time they start schooling, run as far as 20 miles a day to get to and from school. At that altitude, running 20 miles is equivalent to running 50 miles at sea level. By the time they complete their secondary schooling, and decide to run competitively, most would have run 100 times further than the best athletes from other parts of the world. Also, because of the high altitude, and because their diet is simple, their bodies are conditioned to use very little oxygen, and very little energy. To top it off, they have light and slight frames.”

“But I’m sure there are women runners from those parts who run as far each day, work as hard,” Lenka pointed out. “Why haven’t they emerged to give the men a run for their money?”

Timmy now felt like he was on the stand. They were all anxious for his answer.

“Yessss. Good question.”

“This is where biology plays a part. Women, because they need added padding for pregnancy and child birth, carry around more fat. More fat means more weight.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” Greg asked. “I mean, doesn’t the fat get converted into energy, and come in useful, especially in a long race? The same way camels travel impressive distances.”

“Well, yeah. You have a point. Unfortunately, the fat only gets converted at the latter stages of the race. You see, a well-conditioned athlete carries glycogen to last about 20 miles in a race. Only after that does the body start to draw from its fat stores. Fat is an excellent source of energy. Each pound supplies about 3,500 calories of energy. Unfortunately for women, they carry a lot more than required to complete a marathon. And this becomes more a burden than an advantage.”

“How about muscles?” Greg asked. “Men have more. Does that play a big role in a marathon?”

“Well, men have about fifty percent more upper body strength, and twenty percent more in their lower body. But that doesn’t always translate into better running times. In long distance running, what matters is the type of muscles you have, not the size of muscles. For marathons, a body that has a greater proportion of slow-twitch muscle fibres always has the upper hand. This is determined by genetics.”

“Wait. What are slow twitch fibres?” one of the girls asked.

“Slow-twitch muscles contract with little force, for long periods of time, and are suitable for endurance running. Fast-twitch muscles are better for sprints, as they contract powerfully, and quickly. But they fatigue very rapidly.”

“Wow! I didn’t even know there was such a thing,” Lenka admitted.

Timmy took a breather to access if he had gabbled on too long on the subject, and if he should go on. He could not help himself.

“To add to the list of things going against women, men are able to store more glycogen, and hence have more energy. Also, women carry about 10 percent less haemoglobin in their blood, which restricts their ability to transport oxygen to their muscles. Lastly, women are more prone to injury. There are at least a couple of reasons for this. During childbirth, women produce a hormone called relaxin which relaxes the pelvis. This hormone causes the joints to become looser. Women who run after childbirth have a higher risk of knee injuries. Women also have wider pelvises, so their feet hit the ground at a sharper angle, which can result in overpronation. Overpronation can lead to injury if not corrected with the right shoes.”

“So, do you think a woman will ever be able to beat a man at the marathon?”

With the three girls glued to his every word, Timmy knew he had to be careful with his answer.

“I think anything is possible. But women do have the odds stacked against them. With the current field of women, I think it will be awhile before a woman will break the men’s record. As it is, the women have been struggling to break their own world record, which was set by Paula on home soil, in the 2003 London Marathon. It’s been ages, and no one has come close to that time. Not even Paula herself.”

“Your knowledge of the sport is impressive. You run professionally? Won any competitions?”

“No, Greg. I don’t run professionally. And I’ve not run in any competitions.”

“No?” Cora was surprised. “Why not?”

“Welllll...” Timmy hesitated on his answer. “I have a dream I’ve been working towards.”

“And what is that?” Cambria asked.

“I’ve always dreamed of one day winning the New York Marathon. And I wanted to do it as a rookie runner.” Everyone raised their eye brows.

“Why’d you pick New York? It’s such a slow course?” Cambria asked.

Lenka jumped in. “Wait, what do you mean by slow course?”

“In marathons,” Timmy explained, “it is to the runners’ advantage if he or she can maintain a steady rhythm and pace throughout the race. A slow course is one with lots of dips, inclines and curves. New York is considered a slow course because there are a lot of turns in the route. The race also takes you over 5 bridges through the 5 boroughs of New York, and each bridge has a steep incline leading up to it. Also, because the route is close to the sea, wind often comes into play and can be disruptive to a runner’s rhythm.”

“Is London a fast course? Where the women’s record was set?”

“Yes Lenka. London is pretty fast. But even faster would be Berlin, where the men’s world record was set.”

“So why New York?”

“For some time I’ve dreamed of working at Oddinary, an ad agency in New York, deemed by some to be the best in the world. I know this may sound a little juvenile, but I always had this vision of starting my career there with a bang, by winning the New York Marathon.”

Cora looked at her daughter, and knew her pain.

This was the first time Cambria had heard of Timmy’s plan for the future, and her heart sank. The thought of being a continent away from him was unbearable. She questioned if she was willing to leave everything and everyone behind to be with him. It didn’t take her long to decide. And so she searched her mind for all the potential ways to get herself there.

“So when do you think you’d be running in New York?”

“Ah, I don’t know Greg. When I feel I’m ready I guess. Or if Oddinary offers me a job.”

“Have you applied for a position there?”

“Well actually, they wanted to fly me there this weekend.”

“What happened?”

“Well, call it cold feet. But I thought about it further, and realised that I’m happy where I am. At Cream. Where my heart is.”

> Chapters 15-17

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