An-an leaned down and pointed the tongs at the croissants. “This one, sir?” she asked the customer on the other side of the glass shelf.
“No,” the man in pink shirt said. “The bread on the left.”
“This?” An-an asked, pointing at the heap of stone bread beside the croissants.
“I said on the left,” the man said, raising his brow.
An-an cursed him in her mind. You hate me not because I’m slow. It’s because I’m a woman and you’re not. I have ovaries and you don’t. Using the tongs, she put a couple of coconut bread in a plastic bag. She then handed the bag to the customer.
The customer gave An-an twenty pesos and walked away from the bakeshop. An-an thought, You’ll be nice to me when I’m rich, when I’m already married to my Prince Charming, the heir of this bakeshop.
“Hey,” Babylyn called An-an. “Give me the money.”
Startled, An-an came to the cashier.
“Your tactic won’t work with me,” Babylyn said, bending over the cash register and snatching the twenty-peso bill from An-an’s hand.
“I’m not trying to pilfer it,” An-an protested.
“Whatever,” Babylyn said. “There’s a new batch of bread from the kitchen. Put them on the shelf.”
Holding back her anger, An-an walked away from Babylyn. Wait till Sir George takes me as his wife. I’ll fire you first thing after the wedding.
“Don’t mind her,” someone whispered behind An-an. She turned and saw Dodoy, one of the bakers. He was carrying a tray of freshly baked pineapple puddings.
An-an stepped back. “Stay away from me,” she said in a lowered voice. “And stop telling our co-workers you were my boyfriend. It might reach Sir George.”
“But I was your boyfriend,” Dodoy said. “And what is it to Sir George?”
“You were not my boyfriend. For crying out loud, it was just for a week, and we were in second year high school then.”
Babylyn said aloud, “Will you two lovers stop whispering and start working?”
The other counter girls laughed and teased An-an. Her face flushed, while Dodoy smiled and scratched his head.
An-an took the tray from Dodoy and arranged the pineapple puddings on the shelf, working fast to distract herself from embarrassment. The baker walked back to the kitchen.
An-an was seething inside. She hated Dodoy for persistently courting her. After they graduated from high school, she left the village to look for a job in the city. Months later, Dodoy popped out as a delivery boy in the grocery store she had been working for. She resigned from the store and applied in a bakeshop. She was hired as a counter girl. Not long after, Dodoy was hired as a baker.
An-an had rebuffed Dodoy countless times. She had left the village to have a better future. She had no intention of going back there to spend the rest of her life as a farmer’s or baker’s wife. She wanted to marry rich, here in an urban area.
Another customer came, a big woman. Like the effeminate man before her, she dealt with An-an in a condescending manner. “I said just twenty pesos on banana cakes, thirty on sweet buns,” she said. “You exchanged them.”
As she fixed the order, An-an thought, You hate me because I’m not old and fat like you. I have my future ahead of me.
The woman paid with a five-hundred-peso bill. When An-an handed it to Babylyn, the cashier said, “I don’t have enough change. Tell the customer to wait a while. I’ll just ask Sir George for smaller bills.” Babylyn locked the cash register and modeled her pants to the manager’s office, near the kitchen.
The big woman sighed in impatience when An-an relayed to her the information. An-an attended to other customers. After a while, the woman complained, “Miss, I’ve been waiting here for five minutes.”
An-an noticed, too, that Babylyn was taking long. “I’ll check on her, ma’am,” An-an told the customer, and went to the office.
She was about to knock on the door when she heard giggles. Right away she recognized the voices to be that of Babylyn and the boss. Bewildered, An-an turned the doorknob and pushed the door open.
The couple inside were caught off guard. Their hands were all over each other. Babylyn straightened herself out and gave An-an a murderous stare, while George just grinned and didn’t bother to remove his hand off the cashier’s steamed bun.
An-an banged the door close. She felt as though everyone had betrayed her. Instead of going back to the front of the bakeshop, she rushed to the kitchen, tears flowing down her cheeks.
Dodoy saw her. “What’s the matter?” he asked.
She didn’t answer. Dodoy took her in his arms, and she let him. She felt his hand patting her back and after a while playing with the strap of her bra.
She didn’t stop him. She didn’t want to do or say anything. All she wanted was to cry. She would cry until her tears flooded the bakeshop, the commercial district, the whole darned city.