People tended to make up their minds quickly about Charlotte Eggleton. In a way – of course – they did so about everyone, and yet Charlotte seemed to draw their ideas and impressions to attention more than other people usually did. Unfortunately for everyone involved, most of the thoughts people had about her were of a negative kind that, had Charlotte known about them, would have hurt her feelings in a familiar and therefore all the more severe way. She had grown up with people looking at her a certain way – scepticism edged deeply into their eyes – and with their whispered conversation as a haunting soundtrack to her life. Over the years she had worked hard at getting used to the piercing feeling of people starring at her back and had resolved in building a dividing wall between herself and others, all the while turning more and more into the person they had always thought her to be. For even though she had never uncovered the true extend of what was said about her, the power of their words had long ago sneaked underneath her skin and had started to change her from the inside out.
As you catch your first glance at her from across the courtyard, naturally, you don’t yet know about any of this; don’t even know her name, let alone who she was or what other people believed her to be. Like all the other new acquaintances you are about to make, she is just another blank page, ready to be filled with shared experiences. A blank page wrapped in an oversized green coat, the dark shoulder-length hair swept to one side by the wind and a pop of red lipstick expertly applied to an otherwise natural looking face.
Charlotte had been born into a cold winter day and had been separated almost immediately from her birth mother, as a pair of men – one the epitome of a French chef, the other an English gentleman with a love for farmer’s markets – had adopted her long before she had even cried her first breath. From there, life had taken her around Europe in big circles and had taught her tolerance and a love for food above any other thing in the world. Yet, from the very beginning, life had also shown her the harder, more unpleasant side: like neighbours in Ireland unable to understand how she didn’t have a mother and treating her differently for it; like children in Vienna not wanting to play with her because she didn’t yet speak their language until she remained silent all together; like her classmates in the UK mocking her for the French melody to her words and the French ones for ordering tea with milk and biscuits at every chance she got. Every unpleasent experience edged a little scar into her heart, hardening it until it beat slower and colder, making her more selective and careful with the people she surrounded herself with and, in turn, causing all the more of them to shy away from what looked like arrogant and self-centred behaviour. In the end, it was mainly her fathers who kept up her spirit, introducing her to new recipes and cultures at every one of their stops around the continent, never failing to tell her just how loved she was and how much they valued her opinion, for Charlotte seemed to have developed a natural fine taste for food. All three of them often ended up talking about one single component of a dish for hours, discussing and debating until one or all of them ended up laughing in the slightly exasperated way one only gets around family members. And so, the years went by, Charlotte growing from a little shy girl into a young rascal with a taste for the good things in life, as she had long ago learnt that she could only achieve her high-set goals, if she went for them, concentrating first and foremost on herself. This ambition payed of in terms of education where teachers were awed and somewhat taken aback by her endless will to learn and her power to execute any academic challenge flawlessly, secretly adoring that strange quiet girl that seemed to think herself so high above everyone else.
At the age of eighteen she finally settled in Paris, the city she had felt most welcome and at home in during all her previous travels, for it combined the ultimate Frenchness she identified with so much and a certain element of internationality that made her unique English quirks less obvious. She could hide herself away from other people’s looks, sitting in Shakespeare and Company, reading the oldest and thickest cookbooks she could find. Generally, Charlotte never stopped educating herself on all food related topics, attending classes at the renowned Cordon Bleu cooking school and working a part time job at the restaurant her fathers had opened in the French capital. They were no longer traveling, no longer chasing the perfect place or the ‘somewhere better’, for Paris seemed to be all of it and more – it only had taken them a couple of visits to realise it. For the first time in her life Charlotte seemed content with where she was and who she was surrounding herself with. The few friends she had found had understood instantly that she housed a soft core underneath a hard shell, earning her the nickname of Egg, which Charlotte wore proudly and gladly from the very first moment onwards. As fellow Eggletons, her fathers liked the nickname too and started calling their daughter by it more and more often until her given name disappeared almost completely from daily use. The years that followed were some of the best and happiest in Charlotte’s entire life and yet, happiness didn’t decide to stay with the family for too long. After no more than three years in Paris, death stole away one father’s life, throwing the two remaining family members into a dark hole, where nothing seemed the way it used to be with their fine Englishman no longer by their side. Once again Charlotte changed, never adapting to the new situation but instead running away from it in the only way she knew how to: by leaving Paris and her own happiness behind on an impossible quest of finding her father’s roots and one last way of making him eternally proud. She didn’t know where or how to achieve this goal of bridging life and death, of binding memory to infinity and yet Charlotte was nothing if not resourceful, leaving for the journey as soon as she had set her mind to it. Little did she know, she would be finding so much more than her father’s hidden past on her way.
Her voice sounds like bird song when you finally get the chance to introduce yourself: “Charlotte”, she answers, a French tint heavily lining every syllable of the word. You notice how she doesn’t spend time on niceties, and yet you can’t bring yourself to mind as she exudes a certain charming quality. Maybe it’s the eyes, you wonder, as you take in the two big emeralds painted on her face: “My friends call me Egg”, you can’t help but be surprised by being given this extra bit of information. “Egg”, you smile, repeating the word, never once questioning the absurdity of the nickname.
Charlotte travelled for sixteen months through previously visited places and entirely new countries, all the while trying to conserve one father’s memory, while also staying close to the other and their shared values. These were her new challenges and Charlotte – ambitious as she had always been – was ready to lose herself in order to beat the odds; in order to achieve everything, she had set her mind to, never once slowing down until she had done exactly that. It wasn’t long after she had finally settled once again that she realised what these months had cost and gained her and how they already had and would continue to influence her life from here on out.