Everybody has come to see the refurbished village shop.
Last week the shop was full of half-dressed workmen looking half-busy ripping out all the shelves, counters and chiller cabinets. Tins of mulligatawny soup and packets of bran flakes were available only in NearbyTown - a three mile drive away. This morning NASK is sweeping rubbish on the pavement outside. A new reality is restored.
Local people poke and peek inside with no intention of actually buying anything. They walk around the interior, peering at every last bottle and jar to get their revised bearings. There are magazines in the corner where the Post Office used to be. All the packet mixes and cook-in sauces have been reshuffled into new positions on fresh shelves. The old wooden floorboards have been covered by fresh grey lino. There are cabinets full of milk and Lambrusco where the cash desk once stood. A lonely electronic balance on the shop counter is the only indication of the new 'open-plan' Post Office.
A queue has built up at the till where NASW is smiling broadly. A small child stares blankly over her mother's shoulder, unaware that anything is different. A blonde lady with over-sized sunglasses waits patiently to buy her Daily Mail. At the counter a pensioner hunts for change to pay for her half-weekly shopping. The conversation is lightly sprinkled with approving mutterings.
Barely a breeze disturbs the unmown hay standing tall across the village green. White clouds streak the sky like smudges of flowing horsehair. Another car turns off the lane and pulls up on the gravel outside the shop. Three old freezer units and a greetings card rack stand forlornly beside the postbox, awaiting new owners.
NASK looks up from his sweeping to greet the arriving shoppers. Yes, it's very different here to the business he used to run back in North London. No, you don't normally get tattooed Sri Lankans running village shops in rural Norfolk. And yes, it'll probably take a decade (or two) to earn back the tens of thousands of pounds he's just forked out on this upgrade. But at least they completed it on time.
The emerging villagers smile politely. The new shopkeeper may not be one of them, but now at least they can buy stamps and Marmite again. Maybe one day NASK and his wife might even know all of their customers by name, just like the old owners did. And NASK smiles back. The shop's clientele haven't all deserted him for the big supermarket in NearbyTown. He hopes his new village empire will survive long enough for him to recoup his investment... and perhaps, just maybe, long enough for him to be accepted.
NASK - New Asian Shop Keeper NASW - New Asian Shopkeeper's Wife