I walked down to the market this evening to buy some textbooks for my
daughter's new school year. I bought three out of the six needed at the
first shop, and another one at the next. The third shop I went to had an
old man slowly adding up the prices of a stack of items, while a crowd
of customers gathered around.
In the shop was also the man's young daughter, who was doing much of the
fetching and carrying. She darted out to ask for some change from a shop
nearby, then returned and started dealing with the waiting customers. I
asked for the two remaining textbooks, and she checked and said they had
only one. Another customer asked for a certain kind of pen, and she went
to see if they had any. A third customer gave up on the man and stepped
around to her side of the counter.
Throughout all this, the father was (while still adding up numbers)
grumbling about her. When she left to find change, he complained that
she had not braced the flip-top counter correctly. When she asked him
where something was, he would reply as if greatly put upon (paying no
heed to the customers). He ignored some of her questions, and snapped
at her when she repeated herself to double-check if they had the other
She brought the textbook from a shelf to the counter. Then she took a
sheet of plastic and a roll of sellotape, and covered the book with a
few swift, well-practiced movements. She took my hundred-rupee note, and
politely asked another customer what they wanted while looking for
change in the till. When she couldn't find change, I offered to come
back for it later; but she asked if I was sure I didn't need anything
else (pen? notebook? file?), and I realised that I could use a new pen.
By this time, her father had finished with the stack, and moved on to
the next customer. Then he scolded her for being in his way.
I've always been bad at judging ages, but the girl looked only a couple
of years older than my fifteen-year-old daughter. Or perhaps it was her
spectacles that made her look older. I smiled and thanked her when she
handed me the neatly-wrapped textbook and pen, but she was already
turning away to attend to another order.
I never did get that last textbook.