My asking opens conversation and, as I root around for my purse, smiles are exchanged. Once I’ve paid I say goodbye, but she puts up a halting finger and disappears out the back.
Minutes later she returns with a piece of unidentified fruit.
‘Guava,’ she says smiling toothily, ‘you like guava?’
The admission that I’ve never, as far as I can remember, eaten guava prompts the appearance from under the counter of a massive old kitchen knife. One piece for me, and one for her.
Suddenly, out comes a little white pot. Uh oh. The healthy snack I’m about to be given is drenched in my week’s quota of salt.
‘Always salt,’ she grins, perhaps noting my surprise, ‘or some masala’.
My arteries clogging up in anticipation, I accept the gift and we bite juicily into our pieces of fruit. I’m hit by that sweet saltiness of a margarita or savoury lassi.
Goodbyes said, I head back out into the warming September sunshine and bump into my friend, her bright salwar kameez blowing in the breeze. She’s just finished her English class and is going to see her husband at his job in the local newsagents. I always see her in her home, and somehow the sight of her is associated with cardamom and tea and the pervasive spice smell that escapes from her kitchen.
Walking on I can almost conjure up that hot, dusty smell of fuel and Asian urban, the clamour of cars and rickshaws jostling for road space, the overwhelming now-ness of food, bartering, of blasting colour and sound. The breeze-craving heat that gets right to my core.
Woken up by an unexpected autumnal gust of cold-edged wind as the sun is consumed by a cloud, I carry on down the Cowley Road just a little disappointed by the realisation that I’m still here.