Bread is important to villagers. It is so important that at certain days no less than four different bakeries turn up with their vans. Deciding which one to choose depends on who you are vaguely related to. In my case, I chose by coincidence. The one you choose, you stick to. Simple.
On Wednesday and Sunday a special type of sourdough bread is delivered by a stern looking lady who calls me names like darling, heaven and gorgeous and who is Master in the Art of looking Someone Up and Down, like so many other Galego women.
The remaining days my bread is delivered by a lady whose alternative career might have been formula one driver. Feared by donkeys, cats and whatever might be in her way. Loathed by villager C who normally utters a swear word or two when she comes past.
There are times we eat more bread. There are times we eat less bread. When I didn’t have chickens yet, I used to give leftover bread to my neighbors, who’d feed it to their chickens and the donkey, but there was always a bit of self-consciousness involved from my part. People don’t really like being given things. Not too often anyway, just in case you’re expecting something back.
And although eventually I got chickens of my own who’d eat left over bread, I still ended up with my own version of a grain mountain in the form of a big bag of old bread. A dilemma.
I had considered buying less bread, but we liked fresh bread every day and if I’d buy less bread the bread lady would in effect suffer from that. It would give people reasons to talk. The bread lady might wonder why I didn’t buy her bread.
It was villager T who provided me with a possible solution. I noticed him rummaging through the large containers at the edge of the village, his German Shepherd for once sitting next to him, waiting. He was getting leftovers out of the container for the dog, he explained to me later, after I commented jokingly if besides being the village drunk he had planned to become the village beggar too.
I thought, if I just leave the bag of bread in the container, visible on top, villager T or anyone else for that matter who wanted it for their animals could just take it. I thought that was an excellent solution. I’d not have to make anyone feel uncomfortable. And so I did.
A few days later, on a Sunday, sitting outside with a bunch of other villagers, there was quite and odd conversation taking place. It was about bread. One of the villagers who I knew well was more or less declaring that her granddaughter always ate the bread from the day before and how a bit of staleness never hurt anyone, or something similar. Others chimed in. Suggestions of how with old bread you can make french toast. You could say there was a bit of an angry atmosphere. But I blamed it on the way Galegos talk. Always this uncertainty if there is a genuine reason for agitation or if it’s a mere chat. It’s village suspense.
It didn’t dawn on me they were indirectly hinting at me. It didn’t even enter my mind.
But the Stern sourdough Bread lady didn’t do hinting. That very Sunday she held the bread protectively against her chest, as if unsure she could trust me with it, unwilling to hand it over to me. And then she leaned towards me and whispered the words. ”I know you throw bread away.”
I opened my mouth to deny it but the way she looked at me made me decide otherwise. She knew. It was like being face to face with the bread Gestapo if there ever was one. Explaining my reasoning would be complicated. offerings of ”but I am trying to keep the bread economy viable” would be futile. I had committed a grave sin.
“How.. how did you know?” I managed to utter eventually. Sometimes owning up is the only way. It worked. “Villagers. They know. They talk. You mustn’t throw bread away.” she said to me eventually. My village life flashed before me. I’d be ousted by the village. Pitchforks, everything. No one would ever talk to me again.
There was a look of pity in her eyes. “People talk. ” She repeated, “But don’t worry too much. People also forget.” And with that she handed over my bread, reassured me with a nod, got into her van and drove off, leaving me behind with the hope that indeed, they would forget.