This story is by Sara Khoukhi and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The 75th prestigious Paris district. Outside of the imposing Richelieu’s amphitheater at the Sorbonne’s University, this glimpse of joy and optimism produced by the very occasional Parisian bright sun is quite admirable. Emily is staring at the masterpiece standing above the white head of professor De La Croix. As long as the academic engraves an epicurean quote on the whiteboard, the air in between the benches can tell that most of the students have a plan for this exceptional Parisian weather.
Yet, since it’s midday, lunch IS a priority! With three of her friends Emily will join the new “salad bar”, order a nonfancy three ingredients salad -quinoa, pickled corn, and lettuce- for two euros … The bistro offering other salad supplements for extra coins has almost become the hit of the season. As a supplement, and unlike everyone else, she only opts for one boiled egg… Back to another amphitheater, another class then the school day ends and the real story begins…
As Garcia Marquez once said « Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life »
By the moment of the day when the sky gets progressively dressed in early orange instead of shiny yellow, Emily would take a glance at the mural pendule of ‘’The Mirama Chinese Restaurant’’ where she has been taking this part-time job since she moved to college. It is indicating four o’clock, so she takes off the black overall. Practically, out of washing the white « China » dishes for two hours, the 13.5 euros she earns is not a phenomenal sum. But at least, they allow her access to a little secret garden, her little secret garden…
Emily is now on the subway she took from the Maubert station. On the seat next to her, a flyer says: « Take your life in hands! ». Despite the peace of paper is a panty-liner advertisement, Emily feels she has to take something in hand so she doodles on the same page :
Manifesto of bulimic me :
1/Next time, make sure you pick a bistro with a glass in the bathroom so after you spew you don’t look like a polliwog.
2/Always find an excuse to avoid that skinny salad bar(it’s much better to spew delicious cheesy pizza than horrible quinoa!)
3/Or if that detox clinic is unavoidable, previously find a way to bring a dozen tartines then an excuse to swallow them before lunch break.
For so long, the screech of the brakes, the voice generated by the female automatic voice, added to familiar smells she can already smell make her heart beat faster.
In front of the « Patisserie vegan de Paris »,123 boulevard Voltaire- the vegan bakery of Paris- where she stands right now, Emily feels happy, she feels released and free. Caressing the metallic pieces in her pocket, she’s already smelling in her mouth the figs aroma of the house specialty she’s used to. Through the glassed showcase, she can see the reflection of her favorite dessert, a red shiny figs tartlet…
A red tartlet made of multiple layers, a crunchy base of Breton shortbread, thick and crispy, a vanilla diplomate cream, candied figs… She can already anticipate that succulent and lovely taste ….
Almost in, a golden plate suspended from the latch indicates that the bakeshop is closed. The joy on her face is almost to turn into fury, the same madness of a drug addict between two sniffs… The fury is so immense that she doesn’t notice the entrance door was ajar, she kicks it and it opens!
Normally, the place would emit warm noise. Today, despite there being no one, the glow is still soothing. The bulimic lady hesitates a while before extending her forearm inside of the refrigerated display, then promises herself not to exceed the sum of 13.5 euros. So she picks a ‘’cake pincer’’, and a plastic tray from a stack on the counter.
The blonde meringue lemon pie based on basil and aquafaba, aside with the red figs tartlet is the usual combination she would opt for. Therefore, it seems that she is swallowing everything without getting anything put on the tray, too late …
And the washed away delicacies succeed: a chocolate ’’éclair’’ then a caramel ’éclair’’, a couple of ‘’viennoiseries’’ … The half-dozen pretty macaron boxes, I don’t even tell you about them!
Indeed, the ajar door didn’t only lead her to the bakery, yet to one of her deepest scars: bulimia. Earlier in the day, in the salad bar, she pretended to eat. The healthy salad she takes every day, and even the portions she has at home around the same table as her closest family members are just the trees that hide the forest…
Only ten minutes in, and here has she devoured half a tray of pastry, she wants to stop, yet, she can’t, she’s limitless!
On the side, she notices that also the door leading to the baking room is opened, wide opened! She’s now boundless more and more, who can stop her? Instantly, she gets in and….
On the wheeled shelves next to the oven are stored tens of green paper boxes with the name of the Parisian pastry shop engraved with beautiful golden characters… Somewhere on some shelve in the middle, a light radiates as if by magic. Marvel, she makes no effort to reach the box where thirty pieces of ‘’Vol-au-von ‘’, a fluffy salted appetizer, stuffed with smoked salmon, chive, and creamy cheese.
Two seconds after, and the mine of wonder that almost settled gave way to a boundless desire to absorb everything! The boxes pilled up, the crumbles falling down, Emily is again boundless. Truly, behind this unstoppable boundless human-machine, behind bulimic Emily, hides a quite fragile one. After infinite suicide attempts, after all the pressure she underwent to be the ‘’Sorbonne’s’’ undergraduate, all the bullying she undergoes day-to-day by her parents for being their only child who hadn’t opted for a well-paying career, medicine or law… Boundless is she right now and boundless are her deepest scars… Suddenly, behind all the equipment, she distinguishes a white shape, something like a … toque….
While the young sophomore is standing icy, trembling with all that flour in her stomach, the lady with the white toque seems so comfortable that she doesn’t even notice Emily’s presence in the oven room.
Serenely, she’s getting multiple layers of trays out of the huge professional ovens, spreading beaten eggs on other trays of buns. Every gesture is almost familiar to the point that Emily’s fear of getting caught in flangrante delicto almost disappeared. Damn! How absorbed was she in the act! She thinks, when the women dressed in white finally says:
“So, Em, did you enjoy that pastry?” When the sophomore is barely realizing what’s going around she sees that the other lady is A SPITTING IMAGE OF HER… Why couldn’t she notice that incredible similarity? Because she’d cold feet? Because the woman was back turned?
“So, how does it feel like to be boundless ?”
From head to toe, aside from the facial resemblance, the points of divergence, too, are significant… The imposing gaze clearly inspiring self-confidence, that hourglass figure…Overall, all what Emily has never possessed…
” Who are you? Why do you just pop in ?”
“Why do I pop in? I don’t exist! I am that shining green box, I am your…”
“Stop it !” Emily shouts.
The lady dressed continues her tirade, ignoring Emily’s mad supplication…
” I am an illusion of boundlessness, your illusion of boundlessness… In front of tons of food, you thought you were limitless. Full error and misleading trap: that’s what is it… Your bulimic side is trapping you making you think that eating reasonably, you become limited…While …”
“While what ?” The sophomore curiously asks.
“While you were jumping on food like a bear on a hive, without ever feeling the stings …”
Emily’s now on the edge of melting into tears, she is brought straight to her malaise zone…
“Though, I am also a plausible version of you, a possible you…”
Wiped out by the surreal exchange, Emily sits on the white sprinkled flour, takes her head between her hands and engages in a long monologue :
“Shhhh! If you don’t exist then I can shut you up!”
Emily finally, truly takes events in hand.
“You only exist in my head, that presumed green box only exists in my mind.”
Fearing another episode in the psychiatric ward for delirium and hallucinations, Emily is now moving earth and heaven to kick the foreigner copy of her, continuing her cascading words…
“I am only limitless when I decide on what to think about, I am the master of my desires, own thoughts, and ideas! And you are a TRAP…“ She grasps the green box that has now lost its brightness as if under the effect of her consciousness, tears it up and the lady disappears as well as this borne, so heavy…