There is a small Italian man at the market, he speaks with such a strong accent that sometimes I just can't understand a word. He carries a laptop case all the time, which he just sees as a handy padded bag, and wears a small cap which makes him look like a schoolboy - a schoolboy with a white moustache that is grubby yellow on the ends.Last week he cornered me, he was eating some bread. "Ah bake it mahself" he said "wow, well done" I said "Iz very easy" he said; suddenly just a bit too close to me.
When I'm out buying I don't really like to partake in idle chit-chat, I'm too focused on the matter in hand. So the scene that ensued was utterly horrifying . . .
"Iz simple, you just need flour - you know flour? - white flour, stroooong flour. Iz on offer in Tesco now, you know Tesco? Iz just down the hill on left, that Tesco, very good offer, buy one get one free. You take flour, you need salt, not too much salt, just a little salt, otherwise iz too salty, you know? . . ." And so it went on for bloody ages, I felt my energy being sapped from me. I knew I could just walk away if I wanted, but politeness seemed to have rooted me to the spot. Bloody manners - driving me nuts.
Just when I feared I might cry he seemed to wind down a bit - I jumped on the opportunity and said, as cheerfully as I could muster - "brilliant, well you didn't bring any for us folks!" - I rolled my eyes jokily and turned on my heel to flee.
"wait!" he said . . . "I got some for you . . . to try" he put his arm up to his elbow in the laptop bag and when he pulled it out there was a crumbling boulder of bread in his fist.
He gave it to me . . . I took it in my hand . . . and in slow motion I raised it to my face . . . I could see it coming closer, it looked dirty. As it got near them my lips turned inwards, puckering, trying to protect my precious mouth from the dry, greying lump. He was watching me expectantly. I put it against my face but my mouth wasn't open, I just couldn't open it.
Then suddenly my head cleared, my hand dropped, I looked right at him with the quivering look of someone that had just been rescued from the firing squad and hurriedly walked away. I've discovered the limits of my manners.