Short Story – The Baker by Afifa Tambe

Short Story - The Baker by Afifa Tambe

Her father, once the foreman, made his fortune on the work of his only child. A soft-hearted young girl who baked little, but plain, bread and simple grain rolls. Her currency was more tale than coin. For any simple sad story would have her part from her wares for next to nothing. And she would bring home nothing day after day, as the former foreman’s muscles grew soft and his axe remained idle by the door. The howling of starved wolves became a nightly accompaniment to their meagre dinner.

She was a small woman, and her appetite more so. Two bites of plain bread were enough to fill her stomach for the day, with the rest going to feed the foreman’s ferocious appetite. Her hunger for tales though was quite unparalleled. Long or short, fairy tales or lovers’ laments. She could feast on them for a thousand days. Myths and facts and falsities blended together and baked until golden brown and soft in the middle. Until the forest beside her bedroom window had grown back to its greatest splendour and still, she could feast on a particularly interesting tale for a thousand days more.


Once upon a time, in a land far away there lived a young girl by a great ancient forest. The forest was a beautiful place and dangerous too. The townsmen warned all the women away from its depths, for within its borders dwelt great starving wolves. Starving and dangerous. They would swallow whole any women who dared step foot in their hunting grounds. The woodcutters would fend them off with their axes and it was through their vigilance that the town and its women were kept safe.


The young girl was older now, her face more severe and the corner of her eyes weighed down by stress. Far past marriageable age and well on her way to spinsterhood. The sleeves of her dress perpetually rolled up in work and her skirts forever stained. Her father had passed many years ago during the winter solstice. Fell upon by starving wolves in defence of their little cottage. the moon and stars his only witnesses as the woodcutter’s axe finally moved from its languish.

Every solstice on the day her father passed, the simple woodcutter’s daughter would bake a cake beyond compare.

This year it was adorned with blue icing and little pieces of spun sugar glass, in deference to the tale of little Alice and her looking glass. The flour was freshly ground, and the butter churned just that morning.  As always, the cake was adorned with the figure of a wolf mid lunge.

The old mothers would always tut at the woodcutter’s daughter and her strange ritual. “To bake a cake adorned with her father’s killer? How ghastly a reminder of his valiant sacrifice!”

The young woman would save all year, to afford the adornments. She would keep the creation in her front window for a full workday. Then the mourning confectionery was taken out of the display and gone forever.  Some say that she would trade a slice for the price of a tale rare enough to be unheard, and every year young woodcutters’ sons would line up outside her door vying for her favour.


“Once upon a time.”  they would say, for all good tales occur once upon a time. “There lived a woman named Briar Rose- A girl named Anna- A beautiful widow.”

Here the young woman would turn back to her dough. For she knew what words she would hear of little Anna, brought here so far away from the snow and the ice queen. Of Briar Rose made to run through a forest instead of pricking her finger on the spindle. The old widow in the giant shoe torn away from her many children.

“One day” they would continue, “She found herself in the forest. As she walked through the woods she was attacked by a pack of great hungry wolves.” For all woodcutters’ sons knew that wolves craved human flesh and attacked any woman who left herself unprotected. “She ran as fast as she could back towards the town, but the wily wolves gave chase and were upon her!

“But!” The young woodcutters’ sons would interrupt themselves with a grand gesture. “Just as she was about to be eaten up by the wolf, out came a woodcutter from the nearby lumber yard!” Here they would favour her with a smile. “Upon seeing the brutish wolves attacking such a beautiful innocent, he swung his heavy woodcutter’s axe and took the beast’s head clean off! Grateful for her saviour and seeing his handsome face, she begged the humble woodcutter to take her as his wife.” By now even the youngest eavesdroppers knew who the girl was supposed to be, but still the young woodcutters’ sons would continue. “The humble woodcutter, understanding her gratefulness accepted, and they were married the next day.”


The young woman, for the older woodcutters muttered that she was a girl no longer, would simply ask whether they wanted loaves or rolls. The young woodcutters’ sons would quietly make their purchases and slowly disperse. Always followed by a suspicious laughter from the windowsill where the young woman would leave her rolls to cool.

Finally, when the sun had set, and the cake had cooled, the young woman would slowly close her shop, leaving its removal for last. She would carry it home in a hand-painted box, her wine-red cloak lashing out behind her like a maid of honour’s train.

“She’ll carry it to the foreman’s grave!” some of the older woodcutters would attest. “She cuts the cake an’ the wolf to honour her father’s sacrifice, too weak and frail to hunt down the beasts that killed her father in revenge, like a son would!”.

“Bet ya she eats it by herself!” the younger children would argue. “Ya can see the candlelight from the cottage all night, she proba’ly takes the chance to remember all of the good times she had with the foreman!”

Regardless, no one would see hide or hair of the young woman until over’morrow, when the small store would be open once more, fresh rolls cooling on the windowsill and loaves ready to be packaged.

Once upon a time, there was a small dying town of former woodcutters. In the outskirts of that small-minded town, next to the hewn remains of a great forest, lived a little girl who loved stories. Every night the little girl would tell herself of the great fairy feast that lived in the two bites her father would spare her. The fairy food would grow three times its size in her stomach, and in turn the bruises on her would grow three sizes smaller.

 Sometimes when a particularly hungry raven came to the broken window, she would spare it part of her feast. For everyone knew that fairy food was best shared with others.

One day, when the fairy food was far too rich for her simple tastes and her father was particularly energetic, she crawled out of the broken window to follow her raven friends on an adventure. Not too long mind you, for all little girls knew not to stray too far from home. Especially when their fathers were so very angry. The little girl plucked up her bright red cloak and followed her friends deeper into the hallowed belly of the forest. Her father’s bellow behind her, let the little girl know that she had not gotten too far yet from his vigilant reach.

The little girl had been on adventures before of course. But on this day, she found herself having followed her raven friends to the deepest heart of the forest and back. Her father’s voice chased her all the way to their cottage. This time the flat of her father’s axe caught the curve of the little girl’s head just as the door closed between them. The sharp of the axe pushed out through the wobbly wood and her own shriek joined the chaos.

The little girl huddled in the far corner of the creaky cottage, the door more axe than sapling, thinking of faeries and foods and favours. When she heard the howling of wolves, the little girl peeked through one of the knots in the door and beheld ravens and wolves and a man. Then she saw the red feathers of a robin and the sprinkling of faery dust and thought of feasts and tables and debts. Centre pieces and the cost of fine cake flour. For the little girl knew that she need not eat only two bites anymore.

And they all feasted happily ever after.