Hackney

Buses let people off at the narrow way. A steady stream of shops, loads of shops. Smell of fresh bread from the bakery at the corner. Mobile phones, curtains, shoes, groceries, vitamins, casual wear all pecked, picked, bought and sold by people moving in and out in a cultural rainbow of zigzags.

Brown, tan and peach figures hop from one shop to the next, bargaining and bartering, voices raised high in righteousness, singing. Children are whining and pointing. Babies are crying and laughing. Prams everywhere, forcing their way through narrow doors that open up into big displays of shelves; racks of things you’ll never need, but everyone needs them.

Grabbing and tossing, blue plastic bags filled high with trinkets. It’s almost Christmas, and the smell of green hovers in some shops as wreaths and pine cones are piled into shopping bags. Tinny radios play the songs everyone knows best. One rebel Reggae player breaks through with Bhuju Bhanton wailing a true sermon. He’s calling to customers – and then the smell. Jerk chicken with spices rich in flavor as the Caribbean itself. Bhuju says, ‘Come. Eat sumting dat will make ya feel right.’

Heads swirl, as the day moves on. Second wind and the negotiations begin again. Nothing costs what it’s worth. No one pays what it costs. The hurrying reaches a fevered pitch. Dinner time is approaching. Just a few more items to purchase, just a few more trinkets to buy. One more bargain.

Almost relentless, this bustling energy is finally reduced in pace and number by the setting of the sun. Orange streaks across the sky attract only a moderate amount of attention before giving way to the dark of night. Street lights flicker on. The whistling winter wind softly bites as it gently sweeps bits of rubbish down the road.

By midnight, only a few lone figures are left on the narrow way. The liveliness of the morning is replaced with the dispossessed movements of foxes in the nearby churchyard. A can from the rubbish bin falls to the pavement.

The wind drifts again softly down the alley to the corner shop. The Turkish man who runs it has a kind and large face. His shiny black hair curls up a bit in the front. He looks about 55 and wears the same dark sweater with corduroy trimmings every day. He’s been here for 12 years, but his English is still, “No so good.”

Someone enters the shop and the shopkeeper straightens his shoulders. His eyes widen. He awaits the slightest sign of indecision from his customer before scuttling to her side to help. He waves goodbye when she leaves. The shop is empty. His shoulders slump forward again. He waits.

Advertisements