‘The small shop on the corner looked
father in a room suddenly electric with shock. The stare he offered his father showed outraged innocence; but alive, not live. Ian-Aziz had no understanding of the dazzle of kisses that had then quite as sparkingly as that slap come at him, nor of the particular way in which his father had offered to carry him high aloft later in the bright tickling of snowflakes that they shouldered in the last of the park afternoon, when they should have been in the shop, and had later tucked him into the sledge with his cousins, like he might set a mango in its box of tissue for a present for Amrit Aunty.
Approaching the shop on the corner slowly up the hill, clinging to railings while printing and lifting high sugary boots through the pressed and rising snow, came Clara and Donald, come to visit his mother, not wanting to very much. And so the more determined to do it, filled with grim seasonal goodwill.
“ We’ve to take her something sweet,” said Clara into her scarf, “to make up for it all.”
“Right enough,” disagreed her husband, as far as he might dare. “Right you are,” he said, to make it entirely clear he disagreed with whatever it was his wife was driving at. He quite liked the odd disagreement with her; they were that happy, tussles pleased them as a form of involvement one with the other.
“ You wait, I’ll go down and find something,” she said, making it plain, for her part, that she would put herself out for his mother though hell froze over, also wanting to protect him from her care for his no-longer-young bones on the stone steps down.
The small shop on the corner below the level of the street looked welcoming anyhow and bright to Clara, the spillage of fruits at its front, tangerines among their leaves in boxes, spathes of wrapped fake flowers, gay coloured buckets and plastic panniers, before the lighted window in the billowing whiteness almost like a hearth in the stoniness and chill of the street.
She noted the freshly salted steps, the hospitality the grit and salt together offered.
Clara looked around the small shop. She felt as though, in all her coats and jumpers, layers and scarves, she would fill up its crammed space and get stuck in this cave of jumbled light and warmth.
“Good evening dear. Compliments of the Season,” said Mrs Ghosh, who didn’t know Clara, so she mustn’t stay hereabouts. “Anything special for you?”
“A bag, please, yes, a 5p bag. And two tins tomatoes, and this” – she took up a spiny pot of heather and laid it on the counter between the evening paper and the Doritos – “and these” – she bunged over some teabags in a box and two rolls of digestives, one plain, one chocolate, “and dog-biscuits, gravy flavour, please, and a litre of Vladivar and 20 Quality Street, 10 green, 10 the lilac ones with the wrapping, please, in a bag; another bag. A paper bag.”
Mrs Ghosh had known there was a meaning in those sweets they gave one another at auspicious times of the year. She had just known it.
She put a few of her cut-out cardboard shapes into the creaking plastic bag of messages, a tree, a moon, a star.
It was dark beyond the shop, darker to look out into
The author Candia McWilliam