The life and times of a pavement vendor

“It is a daily struggle, some days are good but others like you don’t get no sale. But I prefer doing what I am doing because I don’t want to work with people right now,” Martha (not her real name) said as she kept her eyes peeled for the next customer.

“I come out six days a week from in the morning until night and some days I would make like $5,000 or on a day a little more, but remember I have to buy and restock so sometimes when the month come I only make like $10,000 profit but I have to try,” she continued.

Martha has been a confectionary vendor for a number of years and she occupies one of the busy thoroughfares of the city. She agreed to talk to me about her life as a vendor but made sure she requested that her identify remained anonymous.

She cuts the conversation to tend to two customers. They are both males and wanted cigarettes which cost $30 each. They paid with $40.

“You want mints?” Martha enquired and before the men answered she continued, “Because I know men don’t like walking about with coins jiggling in deh pocket.”

The men took the mints and she made an extra $20.

“Dah is how I have to do it sometimes you know, you have to think quick on your toes,” she said with a hint of a smile.

“It is not that I really want to be out here but you have to make a money and this is how I know to do it. I don’t have no children and I don’t pay rent so I does try to make it do but it does be hard me sister, real hard at times,” she said, as her facial expression reflected the hardship she spoke of.

“I does live outta town but I prefer to come in town and sell because I does get more sales here. You see where I living people get them own people who deh would buy from but in town anybody buying from anybody. I don’t have to pay to come to town so at least that is not another money I have to spend,” she continued.

“But let me tell you something, you see when them had the parking meter? Was real pressure. I telling you I get low pressure because business didn’t doing. I don’t want it to come back and if it come back I hope dem lower the price so people could afford it. People didn’t use to come and buy. I see me sales drop me girly no lie.”

The conversation is interrupted again as another customer, this time a woman, wants a cigarette. She received same, asked for a light and to remain at the stand to have her smoke. Both requests were granted with ease.

“I don’t want more pressure and I ain’t really want see that parking meter come back,” Martha continued as if there was no interruption.

“And is not only the sales gone down every time somebody stop at the stand is bare complaining how dem can’t afford parking and dem ain’t get money that is all you hearing. I know the government have to do something to get money and control the traffic, because leh me tell you out here I does see how deh does drive and is crazy. But it was too much money people can’t afford that,” she said in an almost pleading tone.

I enquired from Martha whether she gives credit at her stand.

“Yes! People come and deh ask and I does give because some a dem is like you regular customer. But leh me tell you sometimes they don’t pay you know thousands of dollars I does lose but wah a guh do I trying to make a money you know. Sometimes they would come and pay and then sometimes they does move out the area and no money for me,” Martha answered.

“Sometimes I does see some a dem but I does shame to ask them for the money,” she said with a laugh acknowledging that it is really the customer who should be ashamed.

“They does be suh shame that they don’t even turn dem face and look at me and I does just leave them. God knows eh?

“This life ain’t easy girl you know how much I went through and some people does believe because you have no children to mine that life easy for you but that is not true,” Martha said, switching the direction of the conversation.

She hesitated for a while and at that time two other customers approached; one bought a bottle of Coca cola and another a packet of biscuits.

Another man approached and he wanted to change a $500 note. “I want to give me uncle something but not the whole $500,” the man said. The uncle, who looked as young as the nephew, was neatly dressed and stood quietly next to him.

“You need to give you uncle the whole $500, what is $500?” Martha said as she proceeded to change the money.

“No, no I can’t give he the whole $500,” the man said as he proceeded to make a joke of some sort.

The money was changed, he gave his uncle $200 and they happily parted ways.

Martha took her seat again with a shake of her head but did not comment further on the incident.

“My life hard, leh me tell you. You know how much I does go through and to tell you the truth coming out here and sitting does sometime help me clear me head. Sometimes I don’t really make money and I want a shoes right now but I just to try and paste up the shoes and come out,” Martha said.

“Maybe one of these days I would come off the road because I would start getting old age pension and NIS pension but right now I have to stay and do what little I can do. Right now me body run down because I know I not eating healthy and up to date but I trying by the grace of God. I does go to church and I believe in God; I know He ain’t give up on me,” she said with some conviction in her voice.

“But I have a plan but I really can’t talk about it publicly you know…I want to talk more with you but you can’t print what I say. I don’t want that in public.”

I agreed and spent almost an hour listening to Martha, she cried (she hid it well as she dealt with the few customers that approached the stand), we spoke, I attempted to counsel and we spoke some more.

“I am glad we had this talk today, I feel a little better now and a lot of what you say make sense but I have to try,” Martha said as I parted ways with her.

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