Daily bread does not land on my doorstep; I must fetch. So, in the murky early hour after first Mass, I make my way through the back lanes that take me to the bread shop. It is not a pleasant journey. Dingy, shuttered shop-fronts line the pavements on either side; pavements that one cannot use because the previous day’s garbage has been put out for the collection that has yet to be accomplished. The contents spill out onto the road, thanks to rummaging canines, cats and the hopeful crows. One has to walk in the middle of the road to avoid the odd squelch and snapping teeth, the occasional remnant from the previous night’s hangover – denizens of the local ‘joints’ – and the amorphous, swaddled shapes of the still sleeping homeless who make the pavements their bedroom.
It’s not a long journey, but the surroundings make it seem so. I hurry past my daily encounter with now familiar squalor, with purposeful determination. Today, the bread shop is manned by the father, a courteous old man who patiently waits on each customer. He reaches out for my shopping bag and fills in the items as I recite my list – bread, buns, butter, milk, eggs. He takes my money and hands me my change. I shoulder my bag and sidestep a couple of eager cats playing tag and waiting on the probability of a punctured milk pouch – there is a crateful of them at the entrance. It’s time for the return journey.
In the time between, the conservancy gang has visited. The garbage has been picked up and the road swept clean. The pavement dwellers have gathered up their bedding and melted into an invisible background. The shop fronts are still shuttered but in a few hours they will be humming with arriving and departing customers who require the barber, the chemist, the tailor, the electrician, the stationer, photocopies, hot snacks – name it, you’ll find it; practically every need is met! Come evening, the bars will thrum with customers ending their day by getting high to remedy a low. And then shutters will down, some by nightfall others in the wee hours.
Shifting scenes on a temporary canvas – painted over but not obliterated. A living pentimento!