The bus screeched to a halt in front of Hambre Town Hall. “End of the line, folks,” announced the driver, flinging open the entry door. Lucy uncoiled from her seat, groaned, and stretched. Her back crackled and popped as she stood up, releasing the tension of 23 hours folded into four different bus seats. She shouldered her pack and trooped down the aisle, giving the driver a bleary nod before tripping down the steps.
The door squealed closed behind her and the bus drove away, leaving Lucy in the pre-dawn darkness. She inhaled and lifted her arms over her head. “Mmm,” she sniffed. “Something smells good.” Mingled with the scents of dew and bricks and fading night came a whiff of cinnamon followed by the smokiness of bacon and the astringency of basil. Lucy’s stomach made an enquiring noise. “That’s what we’re here for,” she said, smiling.
Lucy meandered down the road. It wound between coral-stone houses studded with window boxes. A bit of fog hung in the air, diffusing the glow of street lights. Then she rounded the corner and smiled. Light spilled onto the sidewalk from an open doorway, illuminating a hanging wooden sign that read “The Raven.”
A shadow flicked past the doorway, then a head popped outside – a waiter dressed in black with thick curly hair and a wide smile. “Hungry?” he said, half in question half as statement of fact.
Lucy laughed. “Ravenous.”
“Come in, come in! Here, sit at this table.” The waiter flipped open a large menu and slid it onto the table cloth in front of her. “What would you like to eat? Hmm?””
She perused for a moment, then ordered the “Chef’s special” and a coffee with cream.
The waiter clapped his hands and bowed, “A true gourmet, excellent taste. Chef’s special it is.” Then he whisked away. Lucy smiled and ran her fingers over the table cloth. She’d made it. Finally. After the eighth hour on the bus she’d begun to wonder if the trip would be worth it. Doubt had turned to regret when she’d run out of salted cashews and dried pears at hour thirteen. But now? Well. Things were looking up.
When the waiter returned with her coffee she asked him for recommendations.
“First time in Hambre?” he asked. “I’ll make you up a list of my favorite places.”
“I’d like to try a variety,” said Lucy.
“Of course!” The waiter fished a pen from his pocket and wrote rapidly on his menu pad. He paused, tapping his chin with the pen, then nodded, ripped the paper off and handed it to her. “That should get you through lunch.”
She stared at the list. Six restaurants in six hours? “Thanks,” Lucy managed.
The waiter grinned at her dumbfounded expression then dashed off to the kitchen, emerging a few moments later with a steaming plate. “Chef’s special!” he announced, setting it down in front of her. “A huitlacoche omelet seasoned with fresh cayenne, epazote, caramelized onions, and goat cheese, with a side salad of mangoes and pomegranates.”
“Wow,” said Lucy. “It smells amazing.” She took a deep breath, inhaled the delicate aromas, and sank her fork in deep.
Twenty minutes later she emerged from the Raven with the waiter’s list tucked in her pocket and a bunch of scrawled comments in the blank notebook she’d brought in her backpack to document the experience.
She’d planned to wander around town to walk off her breakfast, but to her surprise, her stomach was grumbling again after only a few blocks. Fortunately, the street she chose led her right past The Victual Factory, item one on the list of recommendations.
It was a large brick building, resplendent with fresh-cut flowers. A crowd of other foodie tourists populated the tables, all of them humming appreciation at the contents of their plates. Lucy chose a table by the window and perused the menu. By the time the waitress returned for her order, she was so hungry that she splurged and bought three pastries. Perhaps the bus ride had made her extra hungry. Her order came on an earthenware plate set off with orange and strawberry slices. The pastries were made with powdered almonds and vanilla beans and filled with pockets of buttery fig and drizzles of cardamon honey. Lucy savored every bite.
When she left, she walked four blocks, reached downtown, and realized her stomach was still hollow. Odd. Well, eating was what she’d come to Hambre for, so she might as well take advantage.
Lucy’s next stop was the Famine Club where she ate a plate of roasted root vegetables topped with chopped arugula and slivers of smoked salmon. Then she went to the Chop Stop for Thai soup and tarantula sticky rice. She ate truffle scalloped chicken breast at the Savory, rosemary blackberry cheesecake at Relish, and a roasted apple and ham panini at the Gallery Inn.
At a quarter past noon, she stumbled back into the street and stared around, eyes wild, pinched herself, and gripped her backpack straps. Her stomach gave a little flip, then grumbled. She was hungrier than when she got off the bus.
A group of tourists emerged beside her, walked across the street, and went into another restaurant, smiling and chattering. None of them seemed the least perturbed.
Lucy grimaced. Then she shook her head and stalked down the street, her steps carrying her towards the bus stop and a ticket out of town.