His voice is direct when he addresses me. I can’t write his accent, because I can’t speak the accent. It comes from within him, visceral and connected, as if he grew out of the ground on which he stands, and it is laced with lilt and twinkle that I can only marvel at. My reply jars in comparison. My voice is schooled, not grown in nature but perfected and corrected, glass-house propagated until each vowel is tight and clipped, no word left abandoned by its final consonant, the last of which tucks every sentence neatly in.
I skootch in under the awning to avoid the curtain of water cascading from the tarpaulin behind me. It keeps me closer than I’m comfortable, so I buy time with flustering of my umbrella, and the noises and bustle that English people make to convey their managing in wet weather. He stands calm until our familiar charade begins.
“Please may I have six figs.”
“Ripe now, or ready in a couple of days?”
He assembles his wide right hand and its squared-off fingers into a delicate bird’s head shape and tenderly pinches the top of each fig, feeling for just the correct amount of yield. He moves methodically from fruit to fruit. I breathe in long slow breaths, in and out, to fill the time in which I have no words. The time in which I become aware of my breasts, warm inside my wet outer clothes, my nipples tightening as he moves between each pointed fleshy apex, our silence heavy around us. I’m unable to look away of his deliberate manipulation.
“…and I’d like 4 pears please. Are they good? Sometimes they can be so disappointing”
You see? I’ve used conversation, to diffuse the situation. I have brought it back out, out from my warm clothes, and from my erect nipples ticking in my bra. Back into the street in the rain, back to the safety of groceries and quality and value.
“Mine are always good. Have one.”
He passes me a pear, and takes one for himself. It’s a moment of shared appraisal so we stand, facing each other like wine tasters.
There isn’t a polite, disinterested way to eat a good pear, and this is a really good pear. We both sink our mouths into the flesh and quickly the whole fruit is wet and soft. It is so good that we don’t want to waste a single drop, of which there are many. They roll down our chins, our hands too wet to effectively address it. There is only the sound of lips and sucking wetness.
To sidestep I decide to convey my positive review before I’ve finished. I use words like MmmMmmm, and Uuuungh and produce a sort of frown/smile to show that it is seriously good. He just eats and watches, a half smile on his face and his head tilted a little in observation. He seems in no hurry to get to the part where he puts fruit in a bag.
It is always like this. Soon I will leave with my fruit and vegetables, out from under the awning back into the rain. My skin charged and ignited by his touch when he gives me my change, (one giant, gnarly hand cupped lingeringly under mine to catch wayward coins). I will politely say “goodbye”, and “thank you” in my chiming Kensington tone, with perhaps, a jaunty observation about the weather. But as I walk away I’m still thinking about his pinching, cupping hands, them sliding up my dress to my soft and yielding flesh. Up my legs, to the softest skin between my thighs and to the apexes of my breasts. I think too about juice dripping. In my head he is tender and efficient, arrogant strength metred out with deliberation, knowledge and care. The muscles in my thighs and back feel tense and watery at the thought of it. I picture how he leaned forward to reach the furthest fruit, and I’m imagining myself bent at the waist beneath him, pressed into the vegetables, a frown/smile on my face and saying “MmmMmmm” and “Uuuungh” into the apples and pears.