The Story of an Ice Cream Maker

Wiam Najjar

© Copyright 2022 by Wiam Najjar


Photo by Alexandra Tran on Unsplash
Photo by Alexandra Tran on Unsplash

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Karen drew the curtains and looked out at the first morning of her vacation in Italy. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath full of new air. After spending a long and tough work year, she decided to give herself a break. Italy would give her the best medicine. Rome's bright days would make up for foggy and misty London. Morning breeze brushed against her cheeks and stroked her long black curls. She held the window sill and smiled bubbly. It would be it-vacation.

Preparing to start her tour, she stood attentively in front of the mirror looking at her hair. Should she tie it, plait it or let it loose? She pondered for a second, and then acting upon her childish impulse, plaited it. With her fringe pushed to one side and her dark plaits on each side of her face, she looked more of a college student than of a woman in her late twenties. She smiled pleasingly at her reflection in the mirror, packed her backpack and set going. ''Rome! Hurray,'' she cried excitedly.

Strolling in the streets of vast Rome, she couldn't help reflecting on the aesthetic architecture and the marvels in sculpture. Karen felt as if she was flipping through a Roman epic. She was overjoyed being in that wonderful place. She was happy to wander leisurely in that unfamiliar country with her camera hung around her neck, hearing distant voices speaking the smooth and tickling Italian. She was strangely content with yielding to her eccentric notion of not studying Italian before visiting Rome.

Karen had no mind to either have any tête-à-tête or comprehend what her fellow humans were babbling around her. She felt for the first time in her young life that she was utterly and blissfully alone.

Ambling about and humming a tune, she passed an ice-cream trolley. It was small and unornamented. Something about that simple trolley attracted Karen. It had only one label stuck to it with the global compound word: Ice Cream.

The young man who managed the trolley was tall and slim with small brown eyes and messy brown hair. Harry Potter! She remembered J.K. Rowling’s description of Harry’s hair and giggled. He was that kind of man one would take for seventeen or thirty-five. She was staring at him thus when he asked gently, ''What flavour does Miss prefer?''

He spoke with an impeccable English accent that amazed Karen. She was about to ask him if he was indeed English when his smile stopped her. She felt the blood rushing to her cheeks. Looking at the flavours, she was surprised to find only the two classical flavours; vanilla and cocoa. She ordered cocoa, ‘‘If he pleased''. Karen watched how he scooped the ice cream as tenderly as he would nurse a child. With the same puzzling smile, he handed it to her. After taking it and paying, she was expected to leave but she didn't. He, with the same smile, raised his eyebrows enquiringly. Karen was embarrassed but didn't know what kept her grounded there. She asked if she could eat her ice cream by his trolley and he didn't mind. As she stood there, he assured her that she would never taste anything like his ice cream even if she was to travel the whole world. There was some strange confidence in his tone and unwavering defiance in his eyes which sent the shivers down her spine. She switched her glance between him and the ice cream; shrugged her shoulders and licked the ice cream. It melted in her mouth. She never tasted such heavenly ice cream before. She looked approvingly at the young man who smiled triumphantly. While Karen enjoyed her ice cream in supplicating tranquillity, the young man simply watched her. When she finished, she beamed and offered her hand. ''Karen Cole,'' she introduced herself. Taking her hand, he shook it heartily, introducing himself as Alex. Without dropping his hand, she expressed how honoured she was to have met such a brilliant ice cream maker, and she never tasted the like up to that moment. She let go of his hand winding up her statement with; ''The future is yet to come.'' With that shaking and defiant smile, he reassured her that she would never taste the like. Karen felt as if that young man with the vague identity of Alex was particularly challenging her and she rose to the challenge. She thanked him, wished him a good day then resumed her walk in beautiful Rome. Alex stood gazing at her until she vanished, smiled widely and muttered, ''Karen Cole.''

The moment Karen turned her head and walked away, she felt a hole in her heart deepening and the ‘’plum seed growing’’. She had a spontaneous thought of going back to where Alex was but dismissed it as childish and paced forward. The emptiness she felt was there.

When Karen resumed her daily life after going back to London, the first thing that would attract her attention wherever she went was ice cream. She started noticing ice cream everywhere; at malls, shops, parties; practically everywhere. And an irresistible desire overcame her whenever she spotted ice cream; to try any cocoa flavour she could lay her hand on. Every time, and after a few licks, she'd throw it away, shake her head and mumble to herself; '' Alex, you were right.'' Not knowing why she did it or how to stop, Karen was magnetised to ice cream. No matter how hard she tried resisting the cocoa flavour, she never managed to. Alex's smile would flash in front of her eyes and she would hear him say; ''You would never taste anything like my ice cream.''

That year dragged out slowly and Karen felt like it would never end. Nothing attracted her anymore but ice cream. Her friends tried cheering her up but to no avail. None of her addictions worked: football, pop, fiction, TV series, handicraft or coffee. As the year barely winded up, she found herself packing her stuff and taking the first flight to Rome. She was determined to find Alex, confess that no other ice cream tasted like his and ask him to kindly get out of her head. Yes, Karen realised that only two things occupied her mind in the dying year, Alex and his ice cream.

Once she reached the street she met him in, she held her breath and stood shaking for a while before she brought herself to walk to the exact spot. When she gathered her courage and walked towards the place, her disappointment was great. There was no Alex and no ice cream trolley. Thinking that he was certainly moving about the place, she searched randomly for him. When she concluded that way useless, she bought a map of Rome and started crossing out every street she'd been to. Karen spent her summer holiday searching for Alex. She even learned a little Italian to be able to ask people about him. There was no trolley and no Alex as if the ground opened up and swallowed him. Karen didn't find Alex. She went back to London feeling the emptiness that had budded up a year ago growing grandly ready to drown her.

Years passed and Karen regained her cheerfulness. But she never got over her ice cream obsession. Her friends believed she was possessed by an ice cream spirit and grew to call her ice-creamaholic. None of them had the slightest clue about the name buried deep in her soul. The emptiness was always there but Karen trained herself to think of ice cream abstractly as if her ice cream tale existed by itself.

Karen was a crazy pop fan. She had the habit of walking across the Thames at dusk with her headphones on, listening to her favourite pop songs and moving along the rhythm.

One evening, five years after the ice cream episode, while strolling across the Thames, she caught sight of a trolley that looked so familiar to the vivid memory in her mind. She shook her head and rubbed her eyes unbelievably. But the inscription was so similar to that simple ''ice cream'' she couldn't but approach it, though reluctantly. Her heart beat so fast. She was scared it'd pop out of her breast. What if it wasn't the trolley?! What if it was an apparition?! In the few moments she walked she had a thousand thoughts and was about to turn back a thousand times. But she found herself close to the trolley. As she tried to call out, words failed her. Finally, she managed to call, ''Alex''. The guy behind the vehicle turned swiftly. With the same expression he wore five years ago, his eyebrows raised and that unfailing smile, with his hair in the same state as if he didn't brush it since, he sounded cheerful enough when he cried; ''Why! Karen Cole!’’

Karen brushed off the tears which forced themselves down, saying more to herself; '' Brute monster!'' His smile widened as he stepped closer asking; '' Why are you crying, fool?''

She fell weeping when those words were uttered. Alex –even to his surprise- folded her into his arms and stroked her hair. He said nothing while Karen shed all the tears she suppressed for five years.

After swearing at him to her heart's content then calming down, Karen narrated to Alex her journey to seek him. Alex was stunned and touched. He held her hand throughout her narrative. When she asked what he did for five years, he shrugged his shoulders and coolly answered, '' Sold ice cream.''

While Karen told her story, Alex did nothing but smile his puzzling smile. Though dying to know his departure date, she was too scared to ask. After they sat quietly for some time, Alex asked if she'd like some ice cream. Karen told him to go to hell with his ice cream. For the first time, Karen saw Alex laughing. He laughed his head off that his tears fell down his cheeks. Though surprised, she was pleased and joined him.

Finding he had nowhere to spend the night and terrified that she might lose sight of him, she led him to her cosy flat. They wore the night off talking about everything and nothing at all, she leaned on his shoulder and he stroked her hair like old couples.

When Alex woke up in the morning, Karen was already up and busy in the kitchen. She brightened up when the sound of Alex bidding her good morning reached her. She turned to him with rosy cheeks of standing before the oven. Her countenance, the rosy cheeks, the smile, the apron, the kitchen gloves and the dish in her hand, sent a warm shiver through Alex's body. Karen felt his eyes sparkling and blushed till she could be no redder. To deviate the awkwardness, she presented the dish to him all smiles; saying rather joyfully, '' If your ice cream is the best, my Danish pastry is incomparable.''

Karen saw the light in his eyes dim as he took a piece of the cake and bit into it, and then smiled that neutral smile of his. Karen felt offended and hurt. Tears jammed in her eyes and she was about to run out of the door when Alex held her hand and whispered, '' Ageusia'', and finished his Danish pastry.

Wiam Najjar, from Amman, Jordan, is a writer at heart and a school principal in mission. She leads teachers and students and then goes home to her sacred haven; writing. She’s been published in online magazines and writing blogs and was shortlisted in the 2018 Memoir Magazine #MeToo Essay Contest.  You can check out her articles on MyDramaList and her blog WiamNajjar's Haven.


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