Show Me.

“Show me”

No, sorry Dad, I can’t. Not now, Sophia wanted to say, but she knew even one word would release a torrent of emotion. The brisk winter morning and the flecks of salt water whipped into the air had already moistened her eyes and loosened her tear ducts.

“Show me” he cajoled, but to no avail.

Sophia’s parents and her eldest sister were the only people permitted to see her off from the terminal. Friends, family and colleagues had farewelled her at the dinner two nights earlier where her mother had told the large crowd,

“Sophia’s work brings joy and hope, plus opportunity to so many people. We wish that for once she would focus more on herself and find…

but before her mother went there, Sophia shot her a look which said ‘not now mum, not now’ at which her mother changed tack,

…or at least that she could do this work closer to home.”

“You’ll do great things” is all her father could manage, lest he cry endlessly in front of his friends and family. That was not the done thing for an ex boxing and wrestling champion.

His little girl was departing, again, but this time there was no scheduled return date and a much greater risk which no one wanted to acknowledge verbally.

As Sophia felt the familiar warmth of her mother’s embrace, she found herself contemplating which melancholic musical score would best accompany this moment. The girl who eschewed modernity, who chose sailing over flying, paperbacks over kindles and letter writing over messaging, thumbed mentally through her vintage record collection searching for an appropriate title, until she switched her attention to her big sister.

The longest hug was reserved for her father. She was the baby of the family, and even when her work thrust her into battles with world leaders, corporate heavyweights and, on one occasion, a feared local warlord, she was still Daddy’s little girl.

The ship hauled itself from the dock, and once Sophia had finished waving, she slid her chilly hands into her coat pockets. There she felt a piece of paper. Unfolding the paper, she saw a stamp pasted in its centre. The stamp featured a koala, and it was the stamp which had sat proudly on the first letter she had sent to her father, all the way from her nextdoor neighbour’s house where she had embarked with boastful pride on her first epic adventure – a sleep over.

Her father had even sprinkled glitter on his letter in honour of Sophia’s insistence upon decorating her letters well into adulthood. She imagined her burly father hunched over his work bench surrounded by power tools and trophies, adding glitter ever so delicately to her parting gift.

The letter comprised of four words. Four words which always elicited a smile from Sophia, even in her darkest days. Four words her father had used to slice through her despair and sadness, her anguish and tantrums.

“Show me your teeth.”

Carrie’s Cafe Crawl.

Receptacles at the ready, the competitors in Carrie’s Café Crawl sized up their opposition.

A great challenge lay ahead.

Seven cafes.

One ingredient acquired secretly from each café.

One sandwich combining these ingredients.

Detection equals disqualification.

The casual weekly competition had morphed into a serious battle, and this week a heavy tension hung in the air. The source of the tension was abundantly clear, but no one would let it distract them from tantalising the taste buds of their own children who served as judges. Sandwiches would be judged on taste, presentation and one exotic ingredient. As to what qualified as ‘exotic’, Ambitious Annie was still impatiently seeking clarification.

Stealth was imperative. Stingy Steve thanked his equally-stingy parents for inculcating him into the practice of hoarding breakfast pastry and fruit at holiday resorts.

“That’s your lunch,” they would say, as his deft hands slid a muffin into his lap.

Dizzy Dave broke the tension temporarily when he asked;

“Who’s having coffee here?”

Dave had consumed a short black at every café on his first crawl, and had buzzed at dizzying heights for days.

Steve and Roddy ordered coffee, as Kylie arrived with adorable baby Ned and a stroller bursting with baby accoutrements. She also bought the Earl’s Pearls, which glistened in the tropical sun and hung proudly from her neck to signify her victory in last week’s competition.

Upon sitting, Kylie noticed the source of the tension. Ambitious Annie wore a pair of pearl earrings, in subtle protest at Kylie’s victory. Kylie’s own son had awarded 10/10 to the anonymous sandwich and its side of ice cream. Even an eight-year-old knew that Kylie was the only competitor equipped to transport a cooler box large enough to preserve a scoop of ice cream for hours in the tropical heat. Annie called the decision nepotism. Kylie called it her Baby Bonus.

Competitors performed their weekly Snack ‘n Slide at one café after another, while the judges worked up an appetite at tutoring college. The Saturday morning tutoring gifted the parents four hours of serenity and adult company, and now only Ambitious Annie expected any academic improvement from the extra classes.

At the fifth café, disaster struck.

Bev broke out in violent, lumpy welts, spreading rapidly from her neck. She was rushed to hospital for fear she had been bitten by one of the tiny, deadly bugs which inhabit these lands. The café crawlers dreaded the news from medical staff.

When doctor and patient emerged, all were relieved except Bev. Dijon mustard and tropical heat had caused the rash. The same Dijon Bev had smuggled from home in her top pocket.

“The Condiment Conundrum,” she offered as a paltry excuse. Condiments were the hardest ingredients to pilfer, but could make or break a sandwich. The sachets had burst when baby Ned writhed and twisted in her arms. The competitors thanked the doctors. Kylie thanked her Baby Bonus.

The Dijon Debacle had thus nullified this week’s competition.

What of the Earl’s Pearls?

Image: Van Thanh