For the first day or two, he doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. He is camping, he cannot call it living, in the flat above the shop, moving around the few pieces of furniture left by the previous tenants, the people who moved in after his parents died and whose rent allowed him to keep moving, keep travelling, to keep staying away.
The electricity is still on, a few bare light bulbs, a tiny plug-in fan heater, but no cooker, no fridge, It is neither better or worse than many of the places he has stayed over the last decade. He unrolls his sleeping bag on the sagy sofa, leans his rucksack against the table and drinks a cup of water from the tap.
He knows he should do stuff, contact the solicitor, tell the electricity board that he lives here now, buy a kettle, visit his parents’ graves, but he does none of this, instead, he stays curled up in the sleeping bag, reading a battered paper back he found in a hotel room in Amsterdam.
It is hunger that drives him to action, drives him to stand up and leave the flat. He needs to eat something, needs to buy cigarette papers, maybe even a newspaper.
when he finally emerges into daylight, carefully walking through the empty shop, locking the door behind him, he is surprised by how weak and tired he feels. His plans to head towards the city center seem too much now, instead, he decides to see what the parade offers, he reasons that there must be food shops, at least a convenience store and so he turns right, heads down the road.
As he walks, he begins to see just how much the parade has changed, all the old shops have gone, but their shape remains, the ghost of what they used to be and in their place, something quite different, but completely familiar to him and for a moment, he wonders if he has actually traveled home at all or is still somewhere else, somewhere far more foreign.
The smell of good food, matar paneer, samosas, cumin and coriander catch at his nose and he breathes them in deeply, almost feeling nourished in scent alone.
There is an Indian sweet shop where the dress shop used to be, windows piled high with pyramids of cream colored barfi, a line of women and children snaking out the door and each time the door opens, that smell again, sharp lime cutting against the underlying musk of condensed milk.
He joins the line and inside orders far too much food, is so hungry that he has already started eating the hot, oily samosa before he has even left the shop, takes huge bites, cramming the food in as quickly as he can.
The women watch him from behind veils, one of them sees his hunger, his pleasure in the food
“Good eh” she says and her accent is completely of this place, she sounds like all the girls he went to school with.
He nods, smiles and her eyes crinkle, nikab twitching in a grin.
He stands outside the shop, another samosa, bharji, chili, consumed in a few short bites. He begins to feel more human, more himself, walks on down the parade.
It is both different and exactly the same, small shops, family businesses, he can see old patterns repeated, new shapes imposed.
There is a halal butchers shop, chickens hanging in the window, an old man yielding a huge blade slicing down on lumps of meat, a sign in the window certifying that all the meat inside is pure halal, certified.
The green grocers has been replaced by a sari shop, the orange and greens of carrots and apples and leeks replicated in shocking silk and patterned cotton. A girl stands at the window, staring in, all her attention on a pair of jewelled sandals which lean carelessly on a bolt of cerise fabric, so bright it almost hurts his teeth.
The barber’s shop remains and is still a man only space, two men, boys really are gesticulating in the air, hands describing the exact tracks they want cut into their hair and the barbers nod,lean forward to the task, eye brows furrowed in concentration.
An RB track plays, something he has heard quite recently, but he cannot quite place either the tune or what city he heard it in.
He continues walking, wonders what his parents made of these changes, wonders if they fought in or surrendered, packed up and went away.
He cannot imagine his father closing the shop, had always assumed that it was old age that had caused the final decline, but now he can see another narrative. He shrugs, he went way, they stayed.
There is a hardware store, goods spilling onto the pavement, he pauses, considers buying a kettle, maybe even a better heater, but that sort of purchase seem to indicate a level of commitment,an agreement, he doesn’t know who to, that he is planning to stay, to make some sort of home.
He shakes his head, not today, he does not need to make any firm decision today.
There is a convience store cum dry cleaners cum post office cum off license and he suddenly realizes that for all of his childhood, boyhood,early manhood, before he learnt to run away and stay away, that there was never any alcohol on sale at the parade.
His mouth feels dry, he can almost taste the sharp sweetness of cold lager and he walks inside, looks for the cooler cabinet he knows he will find at the back of the store and nods to the man leaning on the till.
He buys traveler essentials, biscuits, chocolate, sliced bread and sliced cheese, fag papers and 4 cans of strong, cheap lager and as an afterthought a half bottle of vodka, something to keep out the cold, keep out the ghosts.
He starts to walk slowly back up the parade, wondering what he will do next, wondering how long he will stay, wondering how long before the sky begins to press down on him, pushing him back into movement, constant, constant movement.
At The Hatrack, he stops, looks into the almost empty window display again, it seems even more grey, sadder than when he walked out a few moments ago.
Inside the shop, he drops his carrier bags onto the floor and not really knowing what he is doing or why he is doing it, he begins to scoop up all the junk mail and take it out to the dustbin.
Rooting around in the almost empty kitchen cupboards, he finds a cloth and a tin of polish and walks back downstairs to the shop and with no thought, no analysis, nothing in his head, he finds himself leaning into the window display, polishing the naked wooden heads.