Vignette 4: Market day

Vegetables in an open market
Picture by unserekleinemaus on Pixabay

The cock crowed loud and long. His magnificent yellow throat feathers shook as he stretched his head up to its full height, ignoring for the present the strip of cloth that secured his right leg to a battered metal table. It was market day at Berea Park.

Urban farmers were setting up stalls along the length of the road that ran around the park. Folding chairs were placed along the park railing and those who had not secured the prized places under the trees opened umbrellas. Tables were unfolded, hand carts secured, crates hefted out and arranged along the floor. One woman carefully swept the paving around her stall and rolled out grass mats. Others simply lined up their crates, bags and buckets and sat down on a stool behind them, ready to wait, patient.

Already people were gathering, with shopping bags tucked under their arms; the canny shoppers heading straight for their favourite stalls and appraising the wares with some scepticism. Ma Molly was making a slow procession from stall to stall with two boys behind her, each pushing a squeaking shopping trolley.

"Morning Sihle. How much for that bag of potatoes?”

“Twelve standard greds.”

“And the onions?"

“Five greds.”

“OK, I’ll take those. Do you have any greens today?”

“I have spinach, but I’m asking money for it.”

“Hmmm. Why? Nothing that special about spinach.”

“Hasn’t been growing well this season. I had to use special lighting and air cleaners. It works, but it cost me.”

“I don’t have money, not with my all my kids.”

“I know,” the gangly young man smiled sympathetically. “Try Amila over there, she’s got cabbage.”

Ma Molly ran the orphanage in Rissik Street and had many mouths to feed. She collected child support credits for each one. The government credits were enough to get by on, but didn’t allow for luxuries. Sometimes it was hard to feed them the variety that she knew was good for them.

“If you send one of your kids over at 5 o’clock I’ll give you any spinach that I haven’t sold. It doesn’t keep.”

"Thanks, Sihle. Greetings to your father.”

“Good day, Ma Molly.”

As Ma Molly walked away, Sihle raised his eyebrows in the direction of his peon on the table, “Did you get that?”

“Seventeen greds transferred. Trust me. I’ll tell you when it doesn’t.” Sihle had added a traders module to Bea only a few weeks back, when his father decided that he could handle the stand alone. He was still a little nervous.

Thulisile watched the market from her balcony. She loved the bustle, loved watching people stand around in groups catching up on the local news.

One of the better outcomes of the food riots in the early 2020s had been more and more urban farming. In the days that followed the looting, with widespread shortages, people realised that they would need local food supplies to supplement what came in from the farms. 

It was Thuli's mother who had put together a street committee and negotiated turning half the park over to a vegetable garden. Thuli remembered well her mum's tireless conversations with neighbours and city officials, convincing them of the benefits. Her father had less time for talk. He developed aquaculture kits and their balcony had been given over to his experiments with trays, piping and pumps. Thuli had accompanied him to the community centre to meet with other enthusiasts, discussing what they had learnt, sharing ideas and equipment. 

Now, in addition to the thriving garden in the park, most roofs and many balconies in the area were planted up. The community centre had a stash of equipment that people could use, as well as knowledgeable volunteers always willing to diagnose a leaf rot or advise on farm design. 

Back in her twenties, Thuli had done a course in Growing Food Basics, but after some half-hearted attempts at growing vegetables on her balcony, had decided that she was not a farmer. She’d enjoyed her father’s produce while it lasted, but today the balcony sported some colourful (and indestructible) geraniums and not much else.
Grace appeared over the edge of the balcony, hovered there a minute and then settled on the railing. 

“Sihle has spinach, good sweet strawberries and fresh herbs today. Do you want him to set some aside for you?”

“Yes, thanks. All three. I’ll go down and get them after I’ve finished my coffee. I need to talk to Gorata.” 

Watching the market was one thing, but Thuli wanted to go down and be part of it. Market day was a day for taking the pulse of the neighbourhood, listening to the conversations and figuring out how people were feeling, what was going on.


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