The Gym

It was a Friday evening and she was in the kitchen trying to recreate a dish she had a couple of times at a Tapas bar.  It smelled great.   Hopefully, it would taste great too.   It was a low calorie recipe because she was watching her weight.  This morning when she stepped on the scale, she had gained a couple of pounds.  Must have been those sweet treats her co-worker Jill had been tempting her with.  She must really cut them out.  Jill was slim and trim and didn’t have to worry about the unwanted pounds.

There were no sweets or salty snacks in her flat.  She munched on sesame seeds and almonds.  Occasionally, she finished a bag of unsalted Kale chips in one sitting.  No alcohol or ice-cream.  She had long given up those guilty pleasures.  Instead, she drank lots of water and used almond milk in her cereal instead of dairy.

A few months ago she started going to the gym and that is where she saw him.  She noticed him every time he walked in and used the equipment set up in the areas where she could get a clear view of him without being obvious.  He was a fine looking man, tall, athletic build and fit.  She watched him work the machines in awe and noticed that she wasn’t the only one who was enjoying the show.  Other women made sure that he knew that they were around and liked what they saw.  Several of them conveniently found themselves on the treadmill next to him or doing leg curls when he was lifting weights.  For the most part, he spoke to them and he seemed friendly but she could tell that he was not really there to socialize.

The woman were slim and beautiful.  More up his alley, she thought.  He would never notice me.  She felt so self conscious in her tee shirts and sweatpants.  She dared not wear shorts in public or tank tops with leggings.  She didn’t have the body to carry off those things.  And she would rather go unnoticed than to attract attention for the wrong reasons.  So, in a gym with statuesque, curvy and athletic women, she didn’t stand a chance with the Adonis.

She smiled as she remembered that evening at the gym when he went over to where she was on the chest press machine and stood a few feet away lifting free weights. Of course, her heart was pounding like crazy and she tried to appear calm as she started to do her exercises.   Furtively, she raised her eyes to look at him and at one point he turned his head.  They eyes met and her heart stopped when he smiled at her. Nervously, she smiled back.

The next thing she knew he stopped his routine and went over to her.  He put the weights down on the floor and held out his hand.  “Hi, I’m Rafe.”  What an incredible smile he had.  Up close he was even more handsome.  And those eyes…

She took his outstretched hand and felt his fingers clasp hers in a firm grip.  “Gail,” she managed to say.

“I have noticed a couple of weeks ago that you have been very disciplined in your training.  I was wondering if I can help you in any way.”

It took a few moments for her to response because the fact that he had noticed her for sometime floored her.  “This is my first time working this machine,” she admitted, feeling a little embarrassed.  “I’m not sure I am using it correctly.”

He inspected the apparatus.  “Yes, it’s important that the machine is adjusted to your dimensions so you can have an optimal workout.”  He adjusted it for her and stood there while she did the exercises, encouraging her.  When she was done, he suggested that they take a break.  They talked and she was aware of the stares that they were attracting from the other women.  Eat your hearts out, ladies, she thought in glee.

After the break, she decided she would try the shoulder press machine while he went on the chest press machine.  Then, it was time for her to leave.  She thanked him for helping her before they parted company.  Since he didn’t go to the gym on Fridays, she had to wait until Monday to see him again.

That was several weeks ago.  Since then, every time she went to the gym, he joined her and they worked out together.  Sometimes after leaving the gym, they went for a bite to eat.  This week, she hadn’t seen him at all and couldn’t help wondering why. She missed him terribly but hoped that he was all right.

The coconut and squash dhansak was done and she was just turning off the stove when the doorbell rang.  She glanced at the clock.  It was seven-thirty.  The dinner smelled so good, her mouth watered and she wasn’t thrilled that someone was at her door when she wanted to just sit down in front of the television and eat.   She removed her apron and hurried to the door.  She peeked through the keyhole and when she saw Rafe standing there, she immediately opened the door.

She was so happy to see him.  He looked absolutely gorgeous in his denim jacket, white tee shirt and jeans.  She smiled broadly.  “It’s so good to see you,” she exclaimed.  “Come on in. ”  He stepped in and she closed the door.

As he removed his jacket, he commented, “Something smells really good.”

“It’s dinner,” she told him.  “I just finished making it.  Have you eaten?

He shook his head.  “I’m sorry to be dropping by unexpectedly like this but I had to see you.”

“Where have you been?” she asked.  “You haven’t been to the gym at all this week.  I called and asked.”

“I had to go out of town on business.  I got back late this afternoon.  I came straight here from the airport.  Did you miss me?”

“I did,” she admitted, her heart skipping a beat when she saw the expression on his face.

“I missed you too.  Let me show you how much.”  He reached out and pulled her into his arms.  His lips closed passionately over hers and she hugged him, kissing him back.   They stood there for several minutes as they exchanged hungry kisses.

Then she drew back, breathing heavily.  “You must be hungry,” she gasped.

“I am,” he muttered and then, he added with a sheepish grin, “You mean for food.  Yes, I am hungry.”

“Make yourself comfortable on the sofa while I go and get dinner ready.”  While he went into the living-room, she hurried into the kitchen.  As she shared out the dinner, she thought of how she had struggled with her body image but just now Rafe had made her feel beautiful and desirable and for that she would always be grateful to him.

 

Source:  BBC Good Food

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Papa Joe

August 12, 1952.  It was a date she would never forget.  It was the day she buried the man who had been a father to her for over twenty years.  It seemed so surreal.  Papa Joe was gone.  She stood there alone in her grief, shivering although it was a hot and muggy day.

She stared at the ground where Papa Joe lay.  The tears rolled down her cheeks as she cradled his worn Bible, remembering how he used to read it to her when she was a child. When her parents had died he took her in and raised her as his own. She had grown to love the old man as if he were her very own blood.  Many of the townspeople had a problem with the widower raising a black girl and didn’t hide their displeasure but Papa Joe ignored them.  His business began to suffer.  Papa Joe was a tailor.  He knew that business would pick up again if he got rid of Cassandra but he refused to do so.  Even if he went bankrupt, he would never part with her.  He vowed that only death would separate them.

It was Papa Joe whom she shared her dreams with.  It was Papa Joe who comforted her when she went home crying because of the racial slurs and taunts.  Papa Joe was the only one who knew that she loved a man she had no right to love.  She had known Dr. Baker since she was a child.  He used to stop by and see Papa Joe.   He was always kind to her and brought her treats.  As she grew older, the visits became more frequent.  Papa Joe was no fool.  He could see that feelings were developing between them and he warned her, “You and the doctor have to be careful, Cassie.  This town will not take kindly to a relationship between a black girl and a white man.”

One night when Dr. Baker visited, Papa Joe excused himself and went to his room.  As soon as they were alone, the doctor took Cassandra into his arms and kissed her.  “I have wanted to do that all day,” he whispered when he raised his head to gaze down into her face.  “I know that there is a considerable age difference between us but I love you, Cassandra.  I tried to stay away when I realized that I had fallen in love with you but I couldn’t.  I had to see you.”

“I love you too.”

“I’m leaving for Paris in three weeks and I would like you to come with me.”

“Paris?” she exclaimed.  “Why there?”

“I have always wanted to go there and set up a practice.  My mother was French and your family was from Haiti.  So the language won’t be a barrier for us.”

“I can’t go to Paris with you, Robert.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t leave Papa Joe.  He has been so good to me.”

“Joe would want you to be happy and you won’t be as long as you remain in this town.”

“I can’t be happy knowing that he is here all alone.”  She could see the distress on Robert’s face and she reached up and touched his face.  “I love you for wanting to take me away with you, but I can’t.  I hope you understand.”

“I do,” he sighed.  “Well, I better be going.  Please say goodnight to Joe for me.”  They kissed and then she walked with him to the door.

“Goodbye, Cassandra.  Write me and let me know how you are doing.”  He gave her a piece of paper with an address on it.  She took it.  After a lingering look, he was gone–perhaps out of her life for good.

That was three months ago.  They had exchanged letters since and when Papa Joe died, she had written and told Robert.  She stood now at the grave, the tears falling.  Papa Joe had left the house to her and all the money he earned from his tailoring.  She had the money locked away in a box.  She didn’t want to go back to the empty house.

She had no idea of how long she stood there but the biting cold prompted her to start making her way back to the house.  She had just reached the front porch when she saw a car pull up and Robert got out.  He walked over to her and taking her arm he led her up the steps.  “I’m sorry I didn’t make it on time for the funeral,” he apologized as she unlocked the door and they went inside.

Once inside and the door was shut, she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.  She sobbed, letting out the pent up grief that had closed around her heart like a fist.  Robert stood there, holding her until the sobs subsided and then ceased.

When she was spent from all that crying, Robert took her over to the sofa and sat her down.  “Joe wrote me this note,” he said, handing it to her.  “I think you should read it.”

She wiped away the tears before she reached for the note.  Frowning, she slowly unfolded the paper and read it.  Dear Robert, I know that you love my Cassie and that you wanted to take her away from this cursed place.  If I know my dear girl she will not want to leave me.  She feels a sense of obligation to stay and take care of me as I have taken care of her all these years.  I don’t want to be a burden to her.  She is young and deserves to live her life.  There’s no future for her here.  I know that she loves you and that it broke her heart to be separated from you.  She thought I wasn’t aware, but I could see the unhappiness in her sweet face and I could hear her crying in the night.  She had sacrificed her chance for happiness for me.  I haven’t told her but I don’t have much longer to live.  When I pass on, which should be any time soon, please come and take Cassie away from here.  Take her to Paris where you and she will be free to love each other.  She can use the money from the sale of the house to pay for her fare.  I am sorry that I won’t be there for your wedding but know that I wish you both all the happiness in the world.  Please take good care of my precious girl.

Yours sincerely,

Joe

Fresh tears fell.  “I had no idea that he was dying.  He was tired more but I just thought that it was to do with age.  I am thankful that I was here for him.”

“Now, you can get on with your life.  We have his blessing.  Let me take you to Paris.”  He reached out and took her hands in his.  “Cassandra, I want to marry you.  Let me take you to Paris.”

She nodded.  “I will go to Paris with you,” she said.  Her life here was over.  There was nothing to keep her here.  Her future was with Robert now.  She would sell this house filled with so many wonderful memories and leave this town which had been the source of her unhappiness.  Yes, she will go to Paris and marry the man she loved.

 

crying african american woman in the 1950s