Every morning of the week, I would walk a little way down the street to get my breakfast. The little shop was manned by this frail middle-aged man who was a little hard of hearing, but rather earnest and endearing when it came right down to it.
Once in a while, a large, domineering man would sit on one of the benches outside, throwing orders and instructions at Samarda, the guy who worked the shop. ‘Tea, Samar. The kid’s been shouting for tea, you deaf bum.’ ‘Didn’t you understand the lady? She said no chillies.’
When Samarda meekly left for a loo break, the fat man would haul himself into the shop with a self-congratulatory sigh and take care of the shop.
This one time, Samarda got overwhelmed by the work, and, fighting back tears and determinedly gripping a hot kettle and a bunch of biscuits, he scurried away, not to be seen for the next three days. The fat man worked the shop for that time, all the while wearing a look of grim-faced fatalism.
Then Samarda returned, and the usual routine recommenced. I was surprised that the man had not fired Samar, and asked him about it.
‘But Samar’s the owner,’ he said. ‘It’s his shop.’
‘And you?’ I asked.
‘Oh, I’m a friend of his. O amar bandhu. My business is down the lane. I help him out once in a while.’
Samarda gave me his signature self-effacing grin.
‘Samar, Cha,’ the fat man said.