Photo ©Pedro Ribeiro Simões
She plods back and forth to the market, the little old lady, as she has done for decades. First it was to feed husband and children, then just husband, and for the last lonely years, herself alone. The daily routine—three potatoes, two carrots one leek. Occasionally she braves the expense of the butcher for a chop, a slice or two of ham, and on Fridays there’ll be a bit of fish.
Back and forth, day after day, she treads the same path to the same market stall. She has always gone to the Pollo’s stall. Remembers Luciano Pollo when he was an eager immigrant, keen to get on and make his mark. Now his two sons run the stall, stepping back in their turn, to hand over the reins to their own children. She knows where she is with Pollo. The prices written in big chalk figures, and they never change much anyway.
The supermarket is another thing entirely. The isles crammed tight, crammed full of things she doesn’t recognise. Prices written so small she can’t read them, shelves too high, too full, too close. And at the checkout, the hollow fear that the bill will be more than she can afford, and no one to ask with a smile to just give her a half a bunch instead.
I often see her on the library steps on her way home from her shopping. They get the full sun and she sits, face raised to the sky, eyes closed, letting her parchment skin absorb the gentle warmth. I always assumed she sat because she was tired. I know better now.
This morning she was there, her stick at her side, basket on the ground by her feet. She’d been on an expedition to the supermarket, had the plastic bag to prove it, and she’d bought a jar of honey. She held the jar up to the light, turned it round and round, inspecting every centimetre of the label, the smooth glass, the rough stippling around the edge. Her face was alight with pleasure, her lips slightly parted, her old, watery eyes shining. She held the jar up to the sun, ran a trembling finger around the shiny gold lid. Then her attention changed, her head tilted to one side as she listened. Above, in the guttering, a robin began his song.
I waved, she smiled, and nodded her head, unable to find even the familiar few words of greeting. She still held the jar to catch the sun, raised her eyes to the bird, smile broadened in complicity, too full of joy to speak.
I slowed my steps and thanked the ancestors who made me, that I too had the eyes to see the little things, the ears to hear music on a city street, and a heart to love every feather of a robin’s wing.