“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
I met a guy at the petrol station this morning. Dark haired, Mediterranean heritage, wiry body. He jittered constantly, as those on large doses of speed do; his hands, eyes, legs and speech all falling over each other for attention.
He was standing in front of me in the queue to pay, quibbling over the cost of cigarettes and repeatedly asking about newspapers.
“How much are the cigarettes?… 25 dollars? But I’ve only got 23!… I’ll give you 23 for the cigarettes and the newspaper. Although I need two newspapers don’t I? What if I miss some news?… What?… No! I said I’d give you 23! I don’t have 29, I only have 23!… But I need them… Nonononononono, I need them.”
With four people behind me and the guy becoming increasingly agitated, I lean forwards and offer to add another 6 dollars onto my petrol.
The attendant looks relieved and immediately takes my card. The speeding guy spins around and peers closely at me, “Thanks mate. Thanks so much. I wouldn’t normally accept but I got to get them, see? I’m on my way to my parole officer. Just out of jail. Yup, just last week out of jail.”
I smile at him and start typing in my pin as he peers a little closer, “Hey mate, I know you, don’t I? Yes! I never forget a face! I know you from somewhere! Where is it?”
I finish paying and look over at him. He looks vaguely familiar, but in the way that all strangers who insist they know you look vaguely familiar, “Maybe,” I say, “are you local?”
“Nope.” he jitters, “Nopenopenope. Not me. Just out of prison. Just out. Been in a long time this time. Ha! Got out though, yes I did! Hey! Are you on the prison board?”
“No.” I smile, watching the index and middle fingers of his left hand as they tap a furious, syncopated rhythm on his thigh, “When did you go in though? May be we knew each other before?”
He suddenly rears up on his toes and squeals in excitement, “Yes! Yesyes! I knew I knew you! You know Dave and Linda! And plumber Ron! You! I know you!”
And it hits me who he is. Eight years ago I was living with a woman called Linda, who was friends with a guy called Dave. We spent a bit of time together and he had a friend called Frank who would occasionally come along. Dave was worried about Frank because he was drinking too much and had just started taking drugs. Dave said that Frank was a guy who couldn’t help how much he drank once he started and became nasty after too many beers. Frank’s job as a high powered executive in an advertising firm was under threat because he’d attacked a client when drunk, and his wife was threatening to leave.
Eight years later, this man standing in front of me; just out of jail, off his head on speed at 10 in the morning, without enough money to buy cigarettes, was practically unrecognisable from the successful family man I’d been introduced to so many years previously.
“Ah!” he shouts, pointing at the road, “My bus’s here! Gotta go see my parole officer! Yupyup, gotta go! Good to see you mate! I never forget a face!”
And he runs down the road, cigarettes firmly clasped in one hand, the other waving frantically at the bus headed away from him, his flannel shirt ripped from armpit to stomach, his trousers held up by string.
I climbed slowly into my car, all worries and plans about my life temporarily stilled. And sent out a quiet word to whichever powers in the universe save us from the worst of ourselves, asking them to show him as much love as they could spare this day.
And then I came home and slowly made this bake. I’d planned something complex and a bit flamboyant this week. But in the end my heart needed simple and loving. Something to still the ache for those who haven’t managed to make it through this day without a painkiller for their soul. Something that reminds me of where I came from — and of where I am.
- 150g unsalted butter, softened
- 225g peanut butter (I’ve used both crunchy and smooth in this recipe and either work well)
- 260g light brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1½ tsp vanilla essence
- 185g plain (all purpose) flour
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- A pinch of salt
- 100g great quality white chocolate, chopped roughly into small pieces (today I used Green & Blacks. Dark or milk chocolate also work well)
- 100g shortbread, roughly broken into chunks slightly bigger than the chocolate, about the size of a fingertip
Preheat the oven to 170˚C / 325˚F
Grease a 20 x 20cm (8 x 8 inch) square cake tin and line with baking paper
In a large bowl, cream the butter and peanut butter together until very soft. Add the sugar, eggs and vanilla and continue to beat until completely incorporated
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt and gently fold into the peanut butter mix until just combined
Separate half the mix into another bowl and carefully stir in the shortbread
Stir the chocolate into the remaining half
Spoon the shortbread mix into the prepared tin and spread right to the edges before adding the chocolate mix on top and smoothing with a palette knife
Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown and almost firm in the centre (always err on the side of caution here, slightly underdone is gorgeously fudgy and definitely preferable to overdone)
Allow to cool in the tin, before removing and cutting into squares
Eat. Smile. Repeat.