Inside Madeo’s mini mart, the place in Aranjuez where I buy dahi, a tray with eight breadfruits the size of grapefruits sat on the counter. I had never seen such small ones being offered for sale, but since Madeo was always keen to market unusual fare, I was intrigued.
They had a yellowish tinge that suggested a degree of ripeness, but his assistant could shed no information on their pedigree. I selected the firmest one because an idea had just popped into my willful head.
For a long time, I’d been wanting to roast a breadfruit on an open flame. I’d thought of pulling out the coal pot I’ve not used in years, but never bothered. Yet, this little upstart seemed the perfect candidate for a stovetop trial.
I handed over the ten dollars and considered it some consolation for not getting any dahi.
I went next to the stall just outside Food Basket on the Eastern Main Road in Mt Hope. I’ve taken to patronising there because in the beginning, every time I drove past, the sliced pumpkins sat there like inviting arcs of Golden Ray margarine (which I never use), promising all kinds of dazzling sumptuousness.
The first time I’d bought a piece much larger than I should have, and then spent the afternoon cooking about four different pumpkin dishes which then went into the freezer.
I’d found the young man’s inventory to be generally attractive, and although the space was small, he had enough of a range to suit my tastes. His courteous and industrious manner won me over.
He seemed to be perpetually sorting, weighing, cleaning, unpacking, and laying out the goods which he obviously selected carefully. I like chatting with him, watching the way he interacts with customers—he doesn’t hustle anyone, he’s not in your face, but attentive.
Although he looks so young, he brings that old-time feeling of neighbourliness to his profession.
When I got to the stall, which has since acquired a roof, he was moving around a little stiffly as he gathered up my selections. I noticed too that the produce didn’t have the hearty look I’d come to expect.
That same scant and slightly middle-aged look had shadowed Madeo’s air-conditioned mini mart on my last couple visits. It was alarming.
Noticing my own stiffness, he helped me put my bag into the car, explaining that he was sore because two nights before, he had fought with someone who had broken into the stall. Since he had put up the roof he left everything inside and was sleeping there to protect his property.
He sounded frustrated—he had been working so hard to build himself an income.
Every time I went there I would tell him that I admired his spirit and I encouraged people to support him because he was a young person who’d made a choice and was working diligently to support himself.
Just about a month ago, another man—this one in his early forties, who never seems to get a break—told me that the mini mart he had been building by himself, brick by brick, for months, had been broken into and the new chiller stolen. He had just begun stocking up the little space and was so proud of what he had done.
This theft, this casual demolition of his bricks of dreams, left him livid. He swore he would get back at the culprit, whom he felt he knew.
It’s hard not to be enraged at these injustices. Small entrepreneurs are having such a rough time. They can hardly carry more stock. Perishable goods have a very limited shelf life. The stalls without refrigeration depend on fast turnover.
They have to compete with the convenience of supermarkets and their wide range of local and imported produce. Shoppers tend to go for picture perfect vegetables and fruit. You can’t blame them.
There was a smallish slice of watermelon wrapped in plastic inside the stall. I asked for it. He wouldn’t sell it to me because it had been cut the day before. But then after I had made a few purchases, he handed me a sapodilla as I was leaving. It was four exquisite quarters of sweetness, so rich, that I had to eat each one at a separate time.
The next Sunday morning, rain pouring down and the kitchen looking sombre and silent, I roasted the breadfruit while frying bakes. My daughter was coming for breakfast and I knew the breadfruit would not call her.
The night before I’d taken down some cooked smoked herring with tomatoes from the freezer. It was the first time I’d tried to cook it, and I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
I had bought a zaboca that turned perfectly ripe as I sliced into it.
I was frying plantains too, and as I listened to the sounds of the kitchen and inhaled the smells wafting this way and that, I suddenly thought about Gabriel García Márquez.
It seems to me that in every single one of his books someone is frying plantains. It made me smile.
Ah well, if I can’t write like Gabo, maybe the next best thing is to be one of his characters, a Pilar maybe: roasting breadfruit, sizzling smoked herring, frying bakes and juicy plantains and slicing a buttery zaboca to serve it all up with gratitude for the simple things.