Deli on West Broadway // 01 December 2011

The Puerto Ricans behind the hot foods counter don’t talk to the sushi guy to their right. He silently tends to his sweet bundles, shining black skins and powdery dollops of mint green, not looking left.

But the Puerto Ricans talk to each other. In muffled, joking Spanish, they throw home-town comments away from the glass-topped, scalloped cream cheese bowls and towards the bank of steel microwaves. It’s dirty humour, harmless wry perviness about the girl who comes in, asking for a vegetables wrap, no cheese, every second day. She hates too much the mozarella, they say, enveloping each soft consonant with cavelike, bear shoulders. But she’s too skinny. Flakita!

The Chinese ladies at the till don’t speak English, save for numbers. One apple? One dorrar. They too don’t speak to the sushi guy on their left but they bark, unsmilingly at their clients, tout droite.

The sushi guy, meditative and coy, checks the free miso urn. A stir unsettles the proteins into a rolling cloud flurry like a snowglobe, flecks of seaweed caught in its currents. The Puerto Ricans stole the only block of tofu. He blinks, the steam has turned his glasses to blind light. He’s thinking of his daughter’s birthday, tomorrow. She will be six. He nods at the girl as she walks past with her wrap. She smiles. Always walks past, he wonders.

The suited man – thin, black necktie and sharply white shirt – orders a New York Hero. The whirring meat-cutting blade makes its way through a giant, red-centred hunk of beef. The sushi guy’s gaze turns to the bloody meat and the shining, plastic wrapped hands and brown arms gripping its deadweight. Candles, he remembers.

Seven tirty, the till woman tells the girl, her free hand holding a daffodil yellow umbrella. No, she says, no bag to carry her lunch, thank you. Next!

Elephantine roses, $4 a pop. Lily stems a metre tall. Curling petals and brash pink chrysanthemums crowd the door. Rain’s coming down now and the red awning shelters the oversized blooms outside the worldly little shop of horrors. The Chinese women stare out the splashes thrown onto the pavement by passing cars, a sports car sits empty outside the Grand, opposite.

A limousine pulls over in front of the expensive hotel and a bell-boy runs, black umbrella aloft, to meet the opening back right door. He glances to his left, a crescent of springtime yellow catching his eye as it disappears round the corner.

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