“I would close up like around 10 sometimes, you know, because people coming from work does stop and buy. I does have to wake up back like three in de morning to go and buy meh goods cause if you nah early you wouldn’t get good things.”
Words of a 62-year-old fruit and vegetable vendor on a busy thoroughfare, and as she spoke she busied herself fixing the items she had on display.
It was early evening and I had stopped to purchase a few items – I qualified as one of the workers she was speaking about. When I stopped at the stall, she was lying on a bench fast asleep and I had to call out to her twice before she got up. Even as she did, she called out to a man to assist me but no answer came.
“He sleeping to,” she said sleepily.
But within a few minutes she was spry, and one would have been hard-pressed to discern that she had been sleeping just a short while before.
“You sure you don’t want nothing else,” she inquired, because even though I had purchased my items I stood around talking to her.
I shook my head and she stopped what she was doing and gave me a quizzical look.
“I does be out here most nights you know,” she said in answer to my question.
“I have to catch me hand girl, life not easy but you know you have to do what you have to do,” she added fixing her red apron in the process.
She is good at sales because through her prompting I purchased more than planned.
“You sure you don’t want some bora? And I have some good carrot here and look at the pumpkin, it fresh and nice I just cut it,” she said as I purchased some cabbage.
The pumpkin and carrots were eventually purchased but the bora was left behind because from its appearance it had seen better days.
As she tended to me, a customer of her shop, located behind her stall, returned a bottle.
“I can get a banana?” he queried, picking up the fruit even before she answered.
“Wah you say?” she asked, “Yea you can tek it.”
I smiled because by then the man’s mouth was already filled with the fruit and I wondered what would have happened if she had said no.
“He is a good customer, he does live around here and you know he does support me so I don’t mind giving he,” she said in response to my smile.
“You does have to help out one another that is how have to live. Is only dem young people now a days but long time dah is how we use to live. You see when me goods dem get lil bad and so and even though me losing money, I does give it to people and dem does happy for it. Is nah like dem spoil is just the sun, you know, does get dem looking lil dry and so people doan wan buy them,” she continued.
I knew exactly what she was talking about and I was about to point out that the bora and calaloo needed to be removed from the stall, but I held my tongue.
I asked her why she works all those hours.
“Girl, I have to live. Is not because I get house, it does have to get lil repair and so,” she pointed to her house located behind the stall and the shop as she spoke. It was not a mansion, but I heard the pride in her voice.
“I get children,” she said, as if she read my mind, “but dem big now and I don’t want to be like a burden to them because I know dem have dem own family and so.”
Inodded in agreement and could not help but recall that I had heard that statement many times before. I believe when my children are grown, I will also make that statement because even though they are still children I have already purposed in my mind not to be a burden to them.
“I have me husband, but he sickly now. I don’t really depend on he. He does help out and so but I now does gaffo to do most things because he not able,” she continued.
“Only on market days I does come out early in de morning but dem other days you know I does come out in de afternoon and go till sometimes like around the 10 o’clock in de night and even later because you see a gat a shop too and then is up in de morning early,” she added.
I asked her why she still works so hard.
“Man, I does take care of me self. Come on, I is 62 so I know I getting down and I have to take care of me body. Some days I don’t come out, you know, like Monday sometimes I don’t come out I does tek me rest. The most hard part is the going down early in de morning but a got to go you know,” she answered.
“Here, it gat people older than me who gat to work harder so I does thank God fuh his mercies because at least I still have strength to get up and work. And is years now I doing it and God has been good to me at least I have a roof over me head and so. I don’t complain but I does tek care of me self, a know I gat to eat good and tek me rest and so and I does try,” she told me.
As she spoke, she looked me straight in the eye and spoke very quietly as if she wanted to ensure that I understood what she was telling me.
“But you have to go now eh? You have dem lil children in de car,” she said as she looked at my two impatient sons who were peeping out the car windows.
I nodded and held on to my black plastic bags, which contained the purchases, tightly as I prepared to cross the road.
At that moment, she gently took me by the elbow, guided me to the car, opened the door and ensured that I was settled.
“Well drive safely now and enjoy you holiday,” she told me, as she waved goodbye.
The next day was a national holiday and she assumed quite rightly that I was not working. As I drove off, I saw in the rearview mirror that she had crossed the road and gone back to her bench.
I could not help but wish that she did not have to be out at that hour. But as she rightly said. we all “gaffo do wah we gaffo do.”