The old man is right at the back of the shop, looking out from under his flat cap and using his walker as a seat. His glasses have seen better days but he has put a collar and tie on. He has made an effort. His eyes are cloudy, but still curious and he isn’t missing much. He is having his morning out, resting among the cabbages and carrots. He has probably come to see Maureen. Maureen knows everybody by sight and most people by name. She looks after people so well when they buy their veg that a lot of people voted for her in the local elections and many of them popped their heads round the entrance of the shop afterwards to tell her so. She even smiles at visitors.
The old man is right in front of the vine tomatoes that I need and I wonder whether I can tell him to move. I don’t need to. He watches me get my plastic bag and follows my eyes as I stare at them, wondering how ripe they are and whether they are worth it. When he sees that I have made my decision he moves his walker to the right and watches carefully as I put them in the bag. “Good tomatoes them.” I nod and smile, and while I look for a few russett apples he pushes his way doggedly towards the till at the front of the shop. He has moved now, he might as well keep going. I line up behind him as he gives Maureen his two carrots and starts to talk to her. “I don’t make much effort these days like, now I’m on my own. Needs a woman for that sort of thing.” I wonder how long it is since he lost his particular woman, and whether he will cut his carrots in the same way that she used to when he gets home. Maureen smiles sadly. “I know just what you’re saying.” He talks on, waving his hands and sharing the small details of his morning which nobody has seen. Maureen nods, and shakes the carrier bag which she has waiting for me anxiously. She doesn’t want any of her customers upset. Finally he has finished. He can think of nothing more to say and the only thing left to do is hide the carrots in the bottom of the old shopping bag which is resting on the front basket of his walker. He doesn’t need it. I expect it is there because his wife used to use it and he doesn’t like leaving it behind. He gives Maureen, and the rest of the shop, a huge grin before he leaves. “What I reckon is, if you can get out of bed and you’re standing up you’re not doing so bad.”
I walk back home silently, humbled by the thought that there might come a time when buying a couple of carrots will have to count as my entertainment and glad that he is still brave enough to get out there and do it.