The Wizard Bakery
- onAugust 2, 2016
- Vol.32 Summer 2016
- byGu Byeong-mo
- The Wizard Bakery
Provided he kept his mouth shut, people saw a man of intellect, an artisan or an expert, unpretentious yet with a certain mystery. They saw his silly paper hat and the ponytail peeking out beneath it, his face the color of finely sifted baking powder, his meticulous, graceful, efficient gestures. A baker with talent enough to keep his shop running on word-of-mouth alone without joining a franchise.
I’d always seen him that way until one day, I pointed a pair of tongs at a piece of pastry that sort of resembled a streuseltopped bun but with some questionable modifications, and asked what was in it.
“Oats, rye and—” the girl behind the counter started to explain, when a voice interrupted her.
I looked up and saw the baker standing in the kitchen doorway, just beyond the girl’s stiffening shoulders.
“Finely ground liver of a newborn baby. Three parts liver, seven parts wheat flour.”
The tongs slipped out of my hand. Clank! The metal scraped the floor. I didn’t really believe he had put liver, dried or raw, in the bun. And if it did contain liver, it would have to be from a pig, and not a newborn. (Refrain from imagining that unsettling taste.) But why was he joking about ingredients? It would only be a matter of time before the rumor would spread that the neighborhood baker was a little cuckoo. The Apartment Complex Women’s Association, with all their concern about falling real estate values, might even join forces to drive him out.
The girl swatted him on the stomach with the back of her hand and told him to stop kidding around. Of course, he was kidding. As I sighed and bent down to pick up the tongs, I spotted wafer cookies on the next shelf. He saw what I was looking at.
“Titi bird shit,” he said. “Spread ever so thinly between two wafers. Glazed with a syrup made from marinated raven eyeballs. They strike a delicate balance between sweet, bitter, and sour, rather like Ethiopian coffee…”
“Are you trying to drive all of our customers away?” The girl jabbed him in the side.
Why was he teasing me with such lame jokes? Just to see how far he would go, I pointed at something that looked like jelly candies.
“Pack of three cat tongues. Persian, Siamese, Abyssinian.”
I slammed the tongs on the countertop with a loud clank. The girl took them in the back to wash them, while the baker adjusted his hat and laughed.
“I’m not joking. I am telling you the truth because a kid like you would understand.”
Who are you calling a kid?
I looked around the bakery. The pink and yellow-checkered wallpaper looked cozy. Hanging crookedly on the wall was one of those crudely designed calendars, the kind they hand out for free at banks or churches every year. The display case, where the pastry lay in straight rows and columns, was so clean there wasn’t a single handprint in sight, and the handle gleamed gold under the overhead lamps. But overall, there was nothing fancy about the place, and in fact, it was closer to run down. Nevertheless, there were no cracks in the walls, and no streams of unidentifiable liquid trickling down the walls and stinking up the place or giving it a creepy air. It was more or less sanitary. Just your average clean and humble neighborhood bakery. The baker looked normal, too. No matter how hard I looked, there was nothing creepy about him at all, despite the things he’d said.
Stuttering, I asked him if there was anything he could recommend for a normal person to eat, and grabbed a bag of plain rolls, no sausages or cheese or anything else in it, and set it on the counter. Surely there was nothing in them besides the basic ingredients, like flour, eggs, and milk. I tried to act casual, but whether he had been joking or not, it wasn’t easy after hearing him recite those atrocious ingredients. But then, as he passed the girl on his way into the kitchen, the baker offered, unsolicited, “Instead of flour, I collected Rapunzel’s dandruff…”
I lifted my hand, stopping him before the girl could interject, and put 2,500 won in change on the counter. Assessment complete: the baker is nuts.
I opened the door and stepped outside. Suddenly, I felt as though the dingy neighborhood bakery was in the middle of a dark forest, the kind of forest that appeared in fairytales: “Once upon a time, there was wizard who lived in a deep, dark forest, and he made different pastries every single day. Each time a breeze passed through the forest, the leaves would rustle, carrying the scent of those pastries out, out, out, to the edge of the woods.”
The moment I got home, I would have to tell someone about the place and ask if someone shouldn’t do something about the crazy man in the bakery located on the first floor of the third building from the bus stop, you know, if only for the sake of the neighborhood children…
But who on earth would I tell?
Returning home and opening the front door, I would confirm that no one was there to listen to me. Wasn’t that why I bought the rolls on my way home in the first place? So I could take a mouthful of bread and a sip of milk, chew on the sentiments of a day that was neither too dry nor too soggy, then store them in an airtight container and pack them away somewhere deep inside?