I made my first Christmas cake last year. It was a bit of a production. I foraged far and wide for the ingredients: dried fruit, slivered almonds, brandy, gluten-free flour. The fruit soaked in the brandy for a week and gave out head spins to those foolish enough to open the container. For some reason or another, the baking itself was to take place at my parents’ house. It went without a hitch. A beautiful, gluten-free Christmas cake, heaving with fruit and glazed to shining perfection. My work was done. The cake was left with my parents and I went home. I hate Christmas cake.
A week or so later, stopping by for coffee, I asked for a review.
“How was it?”
It was good, they assured me. Lovely with a cup of coffee for morning tea.
“The taxi driver really enjoyed it too.”
An unexpected review. They invited a taxi driver inside for a cup of tea and a piece of cake. Rolling my eyes at this old-fashioned behaviour, I chastised them. Inviting a stranger into your house? After you’ve come from a Christmas function where alcohol was most likely consumed with vigour? And a taxi driver? Collectively they’re not known as the most trustworthy bunch of people, at least in Brisbane anyway. My long-suffering parents let me finish and then exchanged a look. A look with a long history and, most likely, a long future of making me feel like a child who’s been told they’ll understand when they’re older. But I want to know now!
“We had a chat with him…” my mother explained. He was a young man, probably no older than my younger brother. He spoke with an accent and came from Afghanistan. They asked him how long he had been here, if he liked it, if his family and friends were here too. The young man started to get upset, though he tried to hide it. He was a refugee, his family, his parents, were still in Afghanistan. They had turned into my parents’ street by this stage and the young man had fallen into a stoic silence, his voice raspy when he asked for the house number. I can just picture my parents exchanging another one of their looks, and my mother leaning forward in her seat, straining against her seat belt:
“Why don’t you come in for a cup of tea and some Christmas cake?”
The young man refused, out of politeness and embarrassment, plus he was working.
“Take a break,” my Dad offered.
The poor man didn’t stand a chance. To say no to my parents you need to weave a delicate web of distractions, alternative suggestions, procrastination and, finally, shifting the blame on to external factors like boyfriends, work or the alignment of the stars.
So he parked at the end of the driveway and came in for a much-needed cup of tea, piece of cake and two pairs of sympathetic ears. He didn’t stay long, but I’m sure Mum tried to convince him to stay longer. And that’s how my Christmas cake got its review.
“There’s only one slice left, just enough for Dad’s morning tea tomorrow.”
I was taken aback by the whole story, and vaguely responded with something about making another cake and charging per slice.
It’s strange how something simple, like a cake, in the hands of the right people can be something so much more. I’m sure it was to the taxi driver and it certainly is to me. But, in what also is a testament to my parents, they have probably forgotten about it entirely. It was a small and habitual encounter, something they’d do for anyone at any time. It’s probably sad that a simple act like this sticks in my mind so firmly, and that my initial reaction was one of cynicism. It’s just kindness. Something we definitely need more of. I hope my parents don’t mind me sharing this but there needs to be a place in this hard, suspicious world for tea and cake with someone who needs it.