In the past, I have written about a young friend of mine who works in a vegetable shop near my home. Following the incident with his borrowed bunny passing away while in my care (see Bunnies, Bangles, Blood and Being Caught Buck Naked) he was somehow oddly missing from his post at the veggie stand ~ never there when I happen to pass by. Thinking perhaps that he was simply on holiday for the eid ul fitr festival following Ramadan, I was not too concerned about his absence initially. After the passage of almost two weeks without him being in the shop however, I began to wonder where he’d gone. He had been a great worker ~ clean, conversational and always keen to choose the best of everything for me ~ while also being very fair with my bill. But since he had gone AWOL, the prices of my purchases seemed to be going up while the quality of my groceries (chosen by the very unhygienic and abrupt shop-owner) seemed to be steadily declining.
Picking up some bananas and mangos for my daughters a few days ago I asked the vendor where my friend had gone and, to my confusion, the question was ignored. Mister Boss-man packed up my purchases and handed them over, biding me farewell. Again I pressed him, “Is my friend’s work here finished?” Without meeting my eyes, he said “Yes”, then walked away.
I pressed onward, “Where did he go?” Somewhat rudely, he muttered “I dunno.” and it was obvious that he didn’t want to talk any more about anything other than legumes and cilantro.
For two days I wondered where my friend had gone, if I’d ever see him again and how he was. A young father with a gorgeous daughter the same age as my eldest, I hoped he’d found other work and wasn’t in a bad situation. I also wondered why he’d left his job. Had he be fired by his shifty boss for being too honest with his sales? Had he simply found work elsewhere?
Yesterday, while out driving with my family, we passed the vegetable store again. It seemed withered and wilted without our friend and as we decided not to stop, we wondered out loud where we’d go to buy our fresh fruits and vegetables hence forth. In a land where there are no chain stores serving up one-size-fits-all processed food and hormone pumped vegetables that last for weeks in the fridge (and with more colour and flavour in the “Del Monte” sticker than the food itself!), finding a good fresh-veggie seller is very important. Once connecting with a shopkeeper who is trustworthy and kind, they become very much a part of your day-to-day life and social structure. I recalled a line from my favourite film “It’ A Wonderful Life” where Clarence the angel reminds a bewildered George Bailey, ” Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he? “ My reputable veggie-selling friend was gone, and I felt voids in both my social life and my refrigerator crisper!
Suddenly ~ I jammed on the breaks, pulled off to the side of the road and bounded out of my Trooper without even shutting it off ~ my wife and daughters wondering what had come over me.
There was my friend ~ neat and trim as usual ~ proudly smiling over a colourful vegetable cart brimming with clean, bright produce, all artistically arranged in piles and pyramids before him. Mutually happy to see each other, we hugged as I asked in my broken Urdu “Is this your store? Alone?”
And indeed it was…. the trolly, the weighing scale… the whole shebang! I was so excited for him that I went crazy and bought almost a kilo of everything he had. As he helped me carry the groceries back to the car, he filled my wife and I in on where he’d been, why he left the other store and how the dream of his own shop had materialized.
An old customer of his had left Pakistan to work in America and recently returned home for a visit. When they met, the old customer scolded him saying, “You are still working in this little shop…under the thumb of somebody else?” In an act of tough love, the customer took my friend immediately to the bank, withdrew the equivalent of about $200 US dollars and gave it to him threatening, “You are going to have your own shop now. This is a loan and if I come back in a year and you are still working for somebody else I will never speak to you again.”
And so, my friend go hold of a cart, a scale and a supplier and, together with his younger brother, opened shop. Day one: he lost money. Day two: he broke even and day three ~ the day I stopped ~ he anticipated he’d make a 500 rupee profit!
We were so overjoyed for his achievement…now, as a “competitor” to the shop he once worked at, I understood why I’d been given the silent treatment by his old boss.
It doesn’t take much to change people’s lives in this world. $200 petty cash for one person can mean the beginning of a whole new future for another individual. So often I see people here in Pakistan who are treated as slaves by the wealthy and thus, really believe they are not capable of achieving their own dreams, having lost touch with their own worth or their own God given rights… independence, freedom from oppression and a stable life for themselves and their families.
To see any person, of any land, freed from the shackles of servitude to another individual ~ especially one who does not respect their human rights, dignity or freedom, is a cause for incredible celebration.
My best friend back in Canada, laid off from his factory job years ago, went out on a limb with a buddy and used his severance package to buy up a small business….and never looked back. Stories like that really warm my heart. (Anybody who’s taken a similar chance, please do inspire us all and share your story below in the comments section!)
As my young friend with the vegetable cart put my produce in the car he told us, our first purchase was free. “I only bought so much because I wanted to support your new business!” I told him, and we laughed as I pushed a wad of rupees into his pocket. He attempted to debate my assertive decline of his gifts, but by then a buzz of activity had descended upon his trolly and I urged him to get back to work, “Go! You have customers! Go!”
Back at home, lunch never tasted so good…and for the first time in months, I was happy that that my vegetable garden had been such a disaster this year. “Now I’m gonna buy veggies from him every day!” I told my wife.