He sits outside the shoe store every day, this thickset man approaching his middle years. To his back, the faded cursive letters proclaiming ‘shoes mended, soles repaired’ and on his face the last warmth of the sun before Winter turns the brightness cold and damp. In the shop window is a mismatched pair of heels, poked haphazardly through a dusty old trellis – like you’d grow a rose bush on. The shoes have not grown; the leather has faded pale blue but has been dusted so heavily with time that the upturned heels seem black with accumulated grit. The man wears a tracksuit and is slow to smile. It was his father’s shop before him and perhaps he was called back from happier climes to honour the wish of a dying patriarch. Sometimes, he goes inside. The little bell on the door chimes wearily as it closes behind him. The sound of cobblers’ hammers industriously beating new life into worn and loved leather can be imagined, though no sound at all comes from the dim little room.
It is a cavernous space, this supermarket. Pallets of canned goods are formed into rough aisles on the scratched linoleum floor. If you look up you can see the pale stains of old storms on the ceiling tiles, above the gently swaying fluorescent tubes. Several buzzing ranks of refrigerators stretch into the distance, crammed with a thousand-thousand little yellow trays of meat. It’s busy, too. A fleet of trolleys squeaking and squealing their way around, growing more and more ponderously full with each aisle passed. The staff are all draped in shapeless red smocks, the one manning the checkout closest to the exit sports also a little pair of fluffy pink rabbits over her ears – it’s cold outside and the icy wind sweeps over her with every groaning operation of the automatic doors. But she smiles warmly and always has good advice about how best to cook whatever produce you’ve sent rolling down the belt toward her. Her kitchen must surely be full of the rich scents of soul food and perhaps also a bevy of giggling children running amok as she prepares dinner after another long shift.
The young man works the night shift at the local gas station, the bright lights pouring over him and out through the heavy security bars of the windows to paint the broken asphalt white; apart from the dim and slowly clicking numbers on the bowsers, it’s the only light around. The shifts are long but it’s a job. The gold chains around his neck and the braids under his cap are always jangling happily as he wraps up boxes of beer or plucks packets of cigarettes from the shelves. He salutes his friends by briefly pressing his fist to theirs; he salutes others with a broad smile. Except the troublemakers, of course; but they don’t seem too frequent and he carries himself in a manner that makes it clear he can deal with troublemakers. His sister is always on the phone, ringing-up bills and selecting cigarettes one-handed, whilst talking to absent friends. The intricately painted nails on her fingers flash equally-deftly over the keypad and the register. The neon-bright swirls of the slushy machine spin endlessly through the night, purring softly.