Friday, 15 May 2009

Shop Girl and the Local Economy

It’s been a difficult week for independent businesses.
The pub across the road has been boarded up.
“We’ve been hearing all sorts of reasons why,” confides the owner of the cafe, lowering his voice. “Infestation of bats, apparently.”
“Bats? I hope we don’t get them!”
“No, not bats! Rats!”
And that’s just one of the possibilities.
An inside source tells me they’re refurbishing. But either they’ve boarded it all up with the builders within or they haven’t started yet.
I go to the ‘all and everything’ African shop to get some disposable table cloths and find a bailiffs notice stuck on the door. Where am I going to find a disposable table cloth now?
It’s sad. The owner could never find anything you wanted but he was a nice guy.
Back at the shop we have our own problems.
A lanky white-haired man strides in with a bottle of white spirit under his arm.
“Now, am I right in thinking you sell hoover bags?”
“Nope, try a few doors up.”
An Indian man holds up a memory card from a camera.
“Nope, try a few doors up.”
A black man comes in carrying a folder.
“Do you do shipping?”
“Nope, but you could try a few doors down.”
Veronica creeps up on me on Friday with her endless bags of second hand jewellery.
A more mysterious regular customer had come in only moments before.
He’s a Nigerian lawyer and journalist who appears every few years to, in his words, ‘monitor’ my progress.
“That sounds creepy,” I say. “I’m going to blog about you now just in case you turn out to be a psycho.”
Lately I’ve forgotten how I’m supposed to talk to customers.
Veronica ignores the lawyer sitting on the stool by the counter and proceeds to shows me her wares.
“I haven’t got any money,” I say.
But she passes me the silver earrings anyway. I’m surprised to find I really quite like them.
“You won’t see another pair like it,” she says.
A couple come in and are looking at a chandelier. I’ve seen them before and sense they're probably quite serious about buying. We need a sale and I want to help but between the lawyer in front of me and Veronica at the side, I’m locked in.
“Okay, I’ll have them,” I say.
I think by buying the earrings Veronica will go and I’ll have a bit more space to sell something of my own.
No such luck.
“Have a look at this necklace,” she says.
“Hang on.”
I squeeze passed her to answer a few of the couple’s questions before leaving them to deliberate.
The thing is, the necklace is lovely too.
“Vintage,” she declares.
And cheap.
So I buy the necklace and off she goes.
The lawyer stays where he is.
“Do you want anything?” I ask him
So I leave him be and attend fully to the couple.
Then Veronica marches back in.
“Can I use your phone?” she says. “It’s a free number.”
I hand her the phone because it’s quicker than not giving it to her.
“There’s no dialling tone. Can you have a go?”
“I need to help these customers.”
“Let me try,” the lawyer says.
“No, she’ll do it for me,” Veronica says.
The couple glance at each other; confused or worried, I don’t know which.
I expect they’ll escape now, while they still can.
My counter is under siege, I can’t get in front of it or behind it.
“It’s free,” Veronica keeps saying. “I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t.”
It’s one of those moments when I wonder if my life will ever make any sense.
“We’ll take it,” the couple say.
But maybe it doesn’t have to.

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