Yesterday, my lovely spouse and I went strolling to one of the markets in Kingston Upon Thames, London, the Monday market, hoping to find some bargains. My partner is sheltered in the car and I am going out to feed the parking meter. A Japanese couple, perhaps Koreans, dressed casually (they are not tourists, they are locals – my brain notes the useful information) pass near me, the man glimpses at me momentarily and moves on, my image does not engrave on his eyeballs.
“Excuse me”, I ask him in a strictly kosher Israeli accent, as I realize I cannot understand what the parking meter demands of me without my reading glasses, which I left in my bag in the car. Well, clearly, it wants money, but under what conditions? “Can you please assist me?” The couple stops, glances at me surprisingly. “I can’t read the machine. What do I have to do, how much money should I put in?” I send him the helpless gaze of a distressed female, which I keep for times like this, including the need to change a tire, because why get dirty, when there is always a male who rushes to assist in order to feel superior? Indeed, I don’t mind letting my fellow-man feel good, as long as it helps them to assist me…
That person adjusts his belt, sticks out his masculinity and draws near to study the secrets of the appliance. He scratches his forehead, while his docile quiet wife stands behind him politely and tries not to stick out. After studying the complicated instructions of the device thoroughly, he repeats the directions loudly, for me. The words pass over me, without entering my consciousness. It is a foreign language, not my mother tongue.
“You see”, the person explains slowly and patiently, noticing my empty gaze. “It says here, you should put two pound per hour, OK?”
OK. I thank him, bending towards him with a wide bow, according the custom of his people, sending an apologetic smile to his patient spouse. The woman curved her lips slightly. Sadly, we parted with 4 pounds in favour of parking lawfully, hoping that two hours would be enough.
I’m going back to my spouse. Obediently, she sticks the sticker onto the car’s window. Should a parking warden arrive – s/he won’t give us a ticket, G-d forbid. It’s better to pay 4 pounds instead of the threatening 100. Reflecting in the car’s window, a woman’s silhouette goes beyond me, advances heavily, dragging her feet one after the other, heel to toe, very slowly. My consciousness does not pay her any attention; I forget her existence within a split second.
Although the air stood still and the wind didn’t blow and the promised rain had not yet drizzled on our heads (it started to fall heavily in the afternoon), it was colllldddd! Before leaving the house, I wisely wore my wool warm gloves and a matching hat, which covered my ears that usually freeze, without paying attention to my beloved’s remark that I look strange, as “the English do not wear hats in this time of year, only when it’s really cold and this weather is not considered as such.” What do I care about these Englishmen or women? My ears are very important to me, certainly more than what these strangers will think about me.
We are walking leisurely, arm in arm (despite the hat on my head), anticipating spending a pleasant day, browsing the goods and purchasing. “Poor thing”, my merciful spouse whispers to me at the sight of the stranger, crawling with measured steps, “she has surely had a stroke, see how she drags half of her body.” I was busy capturing the sights with my camera. From the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the slim woman, wearing a thin shirt and brown trousers, made of delicate cotton. I nod my head. The woman stopped, slowly turned to the side, casting her coat on the cold low brick wall on the sidewalk nearby, with the berry bushes behind, seating herself.
“Crow-Crow”, a big raven lands near her, crows loudly, stamps his legs, waiting to be fed. I guess they were old friends.
We are getting near, my camera clicking. The raven flies, taking off and finds shelter on the highest pole in the neighbourhood. Our eyes meet. The woman smiles at us politely with her weary lips. Casually, she took out, from somewhere, matches, an elongated, gold faded colour tobacco box, with cigarette paper, and punctiliously started to arrange them, entirely concentrated. I look at her hands, her exposed fingers playing with the stuff.
“Colllldddd!” I complain to my beloved. She smiles at me and teasingly censures why I left my warm country precisely at this time and came to this damp and gloomy place. The unfamiliar person stopped her activity, her ears straightened when she lifted her head towards us. “She’s from Israel”, my spouse hurried to explain to the stranger, ignoring the security instructions for the Israelis abroad, she never got. With all my heart, I hope the unknown person is not a potential terrorist and she will not draw a knife on me. I don’t have the energy for street fights, especially not in this freezing cold.
“Oh, Israel”, the local woman drags her words, leaving them to ice up in the cold air. I don’t have a clue what she is thinking about. Her tone of voice did not give it away. At least she didn’t attack me.
We continue walking, leaving the mysterious lady to her own devices. The market appeals to me, I’m sure I’ll find my heart’s desires there, mainly some bargains. I didn’t find any. My spouse explains that the recession affects the displayed merchandise. It is just a market. I was looking for cheap, bargain, souvenirs of England, but nada, nothing at all. I didn’t look for quality, but didn’t expect rubbish either. In Israel, at the Carmel market in Tel Aviv, we have better quality. I was quite disappointed.
Two hours later, our legs are weary. Fine rain, annoying, starts to fall, threatening to wet my camera. I put it back to its case. I am done with the photo shooting for today. We rush to the car. The raven is running in panic, back and forth, passing his gaze from us to the road, seeking an explanation, its eyes try to understand what they see: a silent ambulance stood in the middle of the street, its lights flashing, it loads into its belly a zipped plastic body bag.
An orphaned box, its black edged mouth open, shreds of tobacco on the berry bushes moving in the wind.