There is this little shop next to our house, the one in the wall. You know which one: it’s the place we silently ignore all week until, one day, one is too tired to walk to the big shop and, what the hell, let’s just get into that tiny door in the wall.
The first time I walked in, it had been raining and I had my scarf wrapped around my hair, which gained me a ‘Salam Alaikum!’ when I got in. I timidly removed the scarf from my head and blabbed a quiet ‘Sorry, I don’t speak Arabic’. The old man at the counter smiled and replied, ‘I can forgive you for that’. The shop is minuscule, but has everything you need in it, one choice per item. I only need toothpaste and yogurt, and indeed I get toothpaste and yogurt. I struggle a bit to get the yogurt, because it’s stocked on a third shelf too far away even from my desire of height.
A couple of days after, when I enter the shop, all the yogurt is stocked on the first shelf. That yogurt is very good. I approach the counter to pay, and give a curious look to some even curiouser reddish fruits in a box on the counter. The old man asks me, ‘You like lychees?’, and I respond ‘I don’t know, I have never tried them’. The old man puts four in my hand and says, ‘You try them, and once you’ve liked them, you come back and buy them’.
I do like the lychees, but when I go back the day after to purchase them, it is not lychees any more but mangoes. Boxes of golden, ripening mangoes, four per box. I ask the old man if I can buy a box of mangoes, and he spends ten minutes opening all boxes and feeling each mango, to ensure I get a box with completely ripe mangoes.
I find out that the old man walks from his house to his shop every morning at 7.15, only few hundred metres of narrow streets and brick walls. I meet him one morning, after changing my usual route to the office. He is very tall when he is not standing behind the till, and I suddenly understand why the first shelf is sometimes almost empty. He smiles and says hello with his hand, like an old friend. I smile back and I wish him a good day. I know I will meet him later, in his shop in the wall, and somehow this is the very first and most solid certainty of the day.