An afternoon stroll to the greengrocers

Turn left out the gate. I start gingerly picking my way over the frozen slush along the narrow lane. Work seems to have stopped for winter on the house they’re building over the road. The thin mortar is already cracking, the wooden scaffolding all that seems to be holding it up. It will be a rather grand three storey place when it’s finished, more ornate than structurally sound.

A group of young boys messing around on the corner, giggling in my direction and probably wondering what would happen if they throw a snow ball at me. I grin at them to scare them off.

Across one road and straight on. Other people too huddled up in scarves and hats; too busy minding their footing on the ice to notice me. A glimpse of brilliant white mountains against the bright blue sky caught as my lane crosses another, this time deserted street. I’d felt slightly apprehensive before leaving on this short walk. Once out, I feel free.

Then on, and on to a larger paved road, relatively empty at this time on this day. Follow the road round to the right, crossing over to the sunny southern side of the street where the going is drier. In the freezing clean air there is no noticeable stench from the large open drains either side of the road. A yellow taxi beeps for custom. A man’s head follows me past from his shop doorway. Stop in the mud of the junction waiting for a gap in the traffic.

Across, and past the few shops on the corner, swaddled with sheets of plastic and rugs against the cold. Squeeze by the bent tree and the sit up and beg bicycle that’s always leant against it, next to the large crack in the pavement.

To the man sitting cross-legged, raised up in his little cupboard of a shop, surrounded by the fruit and vegetables that always seem ready to crash down on him were he ever to pull out the wrong courgette or aubergine from the steep piles above him. He knows me by now, and tolerates my pointing and confusion with numbers with a soft smile.

I retrace my steps past the tree and the bike and the crack in the pavement to the corner. More traffic than before. As I wait I exchange hellos and how are you-s with the young policeman standing there. Plain dark green uniform that can’t be keeping out the cold, gun slung across his back, flat peaked cap pulled low, scarf wrapped around his head muffling the question he asks me. I didn’t understand it anyway so smile and shrug and watch for a gap in the cars.

I’ve been away and lost the knack of crossing busy roads by blithely walking over them. The policeman sees me hesitate. Faintly beckoning with a frozen arm he steps out a short way himself, allowing me to use his slipstream to launch myself across. I don’t turn and thank him, just laugh out loud as I walk home.

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