She could hear his voice almost the instant she got off the bus – she knew it must be his, even though she couldn’t distinguish what he was shouting. As she came down Market Hill, it became clearer, “Banaaanas, only 50p a bunch”, a brief pause, “Luvvverly oranges, four for a pound”. As she threaded her way between the market stalls, she thought about what she had decided to do, and wondered whether, when it came to it, she would have the courage.
“Who’s next? Yes, Ma’am.”
“A pound of carrots, please.”
“That’s just over the pound – is that OK?”
“Yes, that’s fine” The practised twist of the brown paper bag.
“And a bag of onions, please.”
“There you are, luv. Will there be anything else?”
Here we go. “Yes, there is, actually. Did you used to live in Bolton in the 1970’s?”
A pause, “Well, yes, I did, as a matter of fact” He was clearly out of his stride – this certainly wasn’t part of his standard patter.
“And did you used to be friendly with a girl called Maggie?”
This really had nothing to do with vegetables at all. Unasked, a previous life started to return to his consciousness, and it wasn’t altogether welcome. “Er, yes I did know a Margaret.” He could feel some colour rising in his cheeks. There seemed to be an awful lot of people behind her, jostling to be served, and looking in his direction.
“In that case, I am your daughter.”
“Oh my God. I never knew – honest.” All the bluster and showmanship had vanished, as he tried to get a grip on what he’d heard.
She turned and pushed her way through the waiting customers, eyes down, stuffing the vegetables into her shopping bag.
“Wait! Don’t go!” she heard him call, as she set off between the stalls, but she didn’t turn again.
Perhaps it wasn’t just climbing Market Hill that made her heart beat faster. There was certainly a new spring in her step – she had done it. As she waited for the bus, she found herself thinking how uncharacteristically quiet the market seemed.
Chris Moller, 19Oct04