Thursday, 5 March 2015

One, Burgundy. Two, Plum - by Nazneen Ahmed

by Amita Murray

She walks up and down Whitechapel High Street going from stall to stall with her list. She settles on one. The scarf seller eyes her up with the predatory interest that comes with brand new, lost-looking customers. But her stiffness, her concentration upon her list, don’t make her seem lost. He continues to observe her, biding his time to intervene with the “sell”, but curious too. She’s different.

She pulls out scarves, one by one, inspecting the colours and patterns. She carefully pushes them back, not quite satisfied, sometimes glancing back down at the list. She pulls out a couple more and he decides it’s time. “6 for 10, sister, 6 for 10” he encourages. She nods dismissively, going back to inspecting the scarves.

He wonders briefly if he should try some Sylheti on her, on the offchance it might bring down that wall and he could begin what he did best, selling those things no one really needs but buys and wonders about afterwards. But maybe not Sylheti… Somali? Should he whip out some Arabic? She’s hard to place. Facially, there’s something different about her that he can’t quite identify. Her scarf is different to his regular Bangladeshi customers’ hijabs. She wears it high, two layers, with a thick braid to one side, like hair. How strange, to cover hair with something that looks like hair.

She begins to collect scarves that meet her approval, checking them against her list. One, burgundy. Two, plum. A couple of patterned ones. She pauses between a deep blue and a slighter greener shade, opting for the greener one. A final one, black with a multi-coloured pattern. She looks up and speaks in a stumbling posh Bangla, clipped with British edges, as she hands over a crisp £10 note, folded into three.

Yeah, not from here. He turns to put her scarves in a bag, feeling strangely vindicated.

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