I walked into a
'What you coming in here with the black eye for? I tell you before, you shouldn't get black eye; Makes you look tough. People say you been fighting. No one likes a tough woman. Women getting into fights - unattractive. You been answering back - giving back-chat. That's no good.' I stifle a yawn and choke a disguised, unexplainable laugh at his tone. 'How is Jack?' He asks, as he puts the last of my shopping into the Saver Shop carrier and hands it over the counter. 'Three pound ninety nine. You got nothing smaller than a twenty? Forget it. I get it off Jack when he comes in later for electric. He's a good man. No more back-chat, you hear, young lady. I don't want to see you coming in here with the black eye - showing it off and bruises all over the place. It's not clever. Stay in the house next time, you hear me...'
'You come with me'. Mira beckons me to the back of the shop and I follow. She grabs my face by its swollen chin and turns it this way and that, inspecting the livid bruises as a doctor would. Her eyes burn her anger into me. 'You've been back-chatting,' she observes. As she lets go of my face, I look down and worry that I might actually laugh. Opening my mouth, I start up a clichéd excuse for my appearance, but she interrupts, 'It's not funny, why are you smirking? And why do you want to come out looking like like this? You bring shame on your family.' I am starting to feel ashamed. I try to tell her that I didn't want to come out but had to get something in for dinner. 'You english girls should learn to hold your tongue. Keep your opinions to yourself. Learn how to manage your man and you can do anything you want. But no more back-chatting.' With a stern wag of the finger, she walks off leaving me standing speechless by the onions.
Then as she joins her husband behind the counter, Chindy, Mira's sister appears from the stockroom. 'Oh my goodness! What in heaven's name have you done this time? You come with me.' She takes me by the hand, leads me out back and sits me down in a threadbare arm chair with biscuit crumbs and a flowery cushion on it. 'I'll bring us some tea,' she announces. She places the tea on a box of baked beans and doesn't ask me any questions, but I see them swimming in the pools of her eyes. It's almost like sympathy and I want to cry. 'Drink your tea,' she orders. I take a sip of the piping hot sweet, sweet liquid which burns the gag in my throat and jolts me back to my sense of dignity. I want to tell her something so I say I don't take sugar. 'Nonsense! You drink your tea . Sugar does you good,' she insists. 'Now, what happened to you?' I start to sound the words - I wal...'Don't give me that old 'walked into a door' business - I know how this thing works. You have to end it once and for all. You leave the bastard, or better still, make him leave." I start to say, but it's n.... 'What do you mean - it's not that simple?' she hisses, 'get the bastard out of the house and change the locks.' I'll give you a number. My friend Bhanu works for Women's aid, she'll help. Very good listener.' Chindy swipes the cup from my hand mid sip, spilling splashes of over milked tea down my sweatshirt. 'You go! Make that phone call - this has got to stop now.'
I do as I'm told; pick up my shopping and start for the exit at the front of the shop. But before I get to the door, in walks Jack, all brash and hearty. 'Thought I'd come and pick you up Sweetheart. Next door said you'd be here.' Turning to Mr. Ahmed, he says, 'I'll have ten quid on me electric card, thanks mate.'
'I was just saying,' says the shop keeper, 'that Jack's a good man. How's business?'
'Great Mate,' chirps Jack. Then turning to me, he says, in his best 'stage voice', 'get you a nice bottle a red, but don't go drinking it all at once - don't want you falling down the stairs again, do we?'
Jack heads out of the shop and I follow. No one seems to notice when I walk back in to pick up the shopping I'd left behind. 'So, not back-chatting this time...' says Mr. Ahmed.
Mira says, 'I knew she hadn't walked into a door.' and Chindy rolls her eyes, incredulous. No one mentions the three pounds ninety nine pence. And only the door seems to notice me leave.