In my quest for chocolate, I stumbled across a small lane, hidden away between buildings so tall I couldn’t see their roofs. I stumbled into it, having been lost among a sea of similar shop signs claiming sales, and discounted goods.
I’d already gone in about 30 stores hunting for a normal, everyday, bar of milk chocolate goodness, to no avail. Oh I’d found chocolate don’t get me wrong, but triangle things with nutty shards, or covering strawberry’s that were better off in cream.
All I’d set out to get that morning was a simple bar of milky, melt in the mouth, tastiness.
Peering down the dark lane, I made out one shop sign poking out from above a hidden door, like a beckoning finger. I quickly glanced around before entering because, even in the plush end of Manchester, you don’t want to go down dark lanes alone. It felt okay, so I edged in towards the door.
Squinting up I could just make it the words, Chocolate Confectioners, purveyors of fine sweets since 1832.
Okay! I thought, worried now it may be closed as no light shone out anywhere.
Gently pushing the door it opened however. I half expected a loud noise of creaky hinges, but I expect that only happens in creepy books and movies. No sound but my heavy breathing and the swish of air as the door vanished in to the darkness of the room beyond.
Stepping over the threshold brought a sudden beam of light overhead and, further in the shop seemingly behind another door, I heard a bell tinkle. The door opened, almost nervously if I’d I’d been imaginative, and a small man no taller than 4 foot came rapidly up the aisle, which I could now see was piled with boxes of different colours and shapes. The almost cloying, sickly sweet smell of chocolate assaulted my senses as he got nearer.
He must have been creating in a back room as I arrived. He wore a once white apron now streaky with dried chocolate over checkered trousers. A tall chefs hat perched precariously on his head looking as if it would slip to the floor at any moment.
‘hi’ I started…. But he held up a small chocolate covered hand and waved towards the shelves…
‘oh, shhh’ he whispered… ‘please’.
I frowned, puzzled. But I did as he asked and he darted out a hand to grab mine, leading me rapidly towards the room he’d emerged from.
I followed him, curiosity getting the better of me. I suppose I should have been worried but he was so small, so unassuming looking, that I followed without fight.
The door closed quietly behind us and he let go of my hand, gesturing towards a tall green leather wing back chair. I sat. He shuffled further into the room towards a kettle which he proceeded to fill at a large sink situated along one wall. Huge racks of pots and pans squeezed against each other drying on one side of a Belfast sink, and a pile of brown encrusted knives, spoons and more pots sat on the other waiting, it appeared, to be cleaned. The kettle sat between large glass bottles filled with all kinds of dainties. Marshmallows, hundreds and thousands, small chocolate ribbons, icing sugar mice staring at me, noses squashed against their glass cage.
Not a word, bear that spoken before we’d entered, had passed our lips. I hesitated now but, feeling this was all a little… Well, odd, I needed to say something.
‘um’ I started. He jumped. A mass of apologies burst out from both of us and we talked over each other then just as abruptly fell silent.
‘chocolate’ I said, stupidly. I couldn’t think what else to say.
He smiled then. A beam that lit up that little pale face. ‘ah, yes!’ he exclaimed! “You came for chocolate!’ and he walked to a nearby shelf and drew down a velvet box.
‘for you’ he said as he reverently laid it on my lap, backing away looking at me expectantly.
I carefully opened the box. Blue velvet, silver edging, tiny silver hinges with a tiny silver clasp.
In the bottom of the box lay a blue wrapper, filled with silver paper, surrounding, I assumed, chocolate.
I looked up and saw him grinning at me, eyes sparkling.
‘yes!’ he squealed, ‘taste! Made just for you!’
I gently peeled back the blue wrapper and slid my finger along the edge of the silver paper. Soft brown came into view and I felt the silky softness of a perfect milk chocolate bar. But wait…. My name was embossed on the bar?!
What was this magic? I went to ask him but suddenly it didn’t seem to matter. I’d watched stranger things happen on YouTube. I broke off a small piece and placed on my tongue.
The Chocolate Was Sweet. Creamy and delicate it ambushed all common sense and thoughts of magic or strangeness melted away in a sea of pure delight.
He rushed over and closed the box, hiding away the bar. He thrust it back onto the shelf and without a word he dragged me up and out of that room, pulling me towards the main door and almost threw me out…. Leaving me shocked and dazed looking at a closed door where he’d been just a moment ago.
I stood for a long time just trying to make sense of what had happened. Trying to decide if it had happened at all. Then I slowly made my confused way home…
The next morning I awoke to find a letter on my doorstep. It seems my uncle, who I had never met, had died leaving me ,as his sole beneficiary, the proud, if perplexed, owner of a chocolate confectionary shop that had been closed over 30 years before.
When I visited the following week I found, on a shelf in the kitchen, a small velvet box with a 30 year old slab of chocolate with one small bite missing.