The children come to the shop in twos and threes. It’s too small for any larger groups, and besides, children seem to be bigger, less boisterous, more adult these days. Some of them barely look up from their €500 phones. I’m not old-fashioned (I’m only 25) but it seems nonsensical to me that you would give something so expensive to someone who spends all their days in mud and muck. But I don’t think these kids do; not unless it’s strictly organised into teams.
For the ones with a love for screens, I give them vanilla creams. Did you know that the reason old books smell so good is because the chemical that breaks down as old paper decays is related to vanilla? Books are possibly the only things that smell good as they die.
Those vanilla sweets I give the kids makes them sudden, voracious readers. Even if the only reading material in the house is a takeaway menu, even if they have always thought books were dull, my sweets make them race down to the library, or beg their teacher for more books, more books! The gadget lies forgotten, only answered when it rings.
For kids with no manners, the ones who can’t say please and thank you, I have my very special acid drops. It’s funny. It’s almost as if they get an insight into what working in a hotel restaurant for a decade must be like. The lack of appreciation, the unreasonable demands, oh, these pre-teens see it all. Now I am not saying my drops are responsible for these visions. Not at all. But they always say please and thank you the next time they’re in.
There’s one little girl I’ve been watching for a while. She always comes in on her own. She tends to linger back behind the other kids. I’ve seen her, deliberately stopping at shop windows and gazing at things no nine-year-old could possibly want to buy. She watches and tries to make herself invisible as the other kids go past. Once, I saw two older girls try to grab her schoolbag. They pushed her around a bit, laughed, and went on their way, malice lighting up their features.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the underdog.
So today is a Thursday, the day this little one gets her pocket money (I always know the schedule. Some kids have money for sweets every day. Others just once a week). When she comes in I will pop three very special treats into her bag of goodies.
A bulls-eye. Old-fashioned and belligerent. It will give her an air of toughness that will fool the bullies. They will leave her alone.
A strawberry swirl. It will let the rest of the world know how sweet she is, and they will all want to be her friend.
Finally, a dark and bitter orange crème. She will keep her decency, her humility, and find her talent.
It’s good to work in a job where you can make a difference.