Charles, popularly known as O-Boi, had been in the business for as long as the regular users of the High Street could remember. He came only when the sun was up of course, for in his line of work rain did more harm than good. He’d been there for a long time. He’d watch others come and leave. Most of them were drifters, selling all kinds of things. He never once felt threatened when someone sold the same goods as he did. He had his own customers, some of whom would circle the place till they saw him, just to buy from him.
“Ei O-Boi! If you no come, I no go read newspaper be that,” one customer had jokingly said in the late 90’s. He’d been surprised when Charles didn’t take a single pesewa for the paper. To Charles, that statement was, to date, the best compliment anyone had ever paid him. He appreciated those kinds of customers. The ones that took a few seconds off their busy schedules to exchange a few words with you. Not the other kind, the oh-so-mighty suit wearers that always frowned, as if they had all the nations problems on their shoulders, and to stop to return a good morning, or even pass a comment about the day’s headlines, was to disappoint the nation. Charles couldn’t stand those. But he never openly voiced his feelings of course. That was very bad for business.
Another kind of customer he couldn’t stand, no – in fact, hated, were the indecisive ones. Like the one he was chasing right now.
He panted, his heart beating in his ears. With every breath he cursed himself. What kind of disgrace was this? A whole O-Boi! Chasing a car! In his line of work, there had to be pride. Everyone knew that anyone who ended up having to chase a car was new to the business of hawking goods by the street. One had to have a sharpness that could only be honed by experience in order to avoid running. You had to do extremely quick math, move fast when you saw a potential customer and always have change at the ready. Always. Also there were some unwritten rules that you needed common sense to understand. When the traffic light showed red, you started from the TOP of the queue of cars and worked your way down. If you worked your way up, you were probably going to have to run when the light turned green. Cars in front were always under pressure to move. Horns had an effect on drivers, Charles had realised a long time ago. But today was one of the days he wasn’t really thinking straight.
For starters he had given this customer the goods before the taking the money. Secondly, he hadn’t looked at the denomination(s) of the note(s) before hand in order to start calculating what amount of change would be warranted. And thirdly he had waited for a customer he had unconsciously (and correctly) pegged to be indecisive to come to his own conclusion as to whether to buy or not, without coaxing him to agree to the former by teasing him with a glimpse of the day’s controversial headlines. Yes, he definitely wasn’t thinking straight. And so he had to run. And run.The only place for the car to stop was a few metres away. And when the driver zipped past the stop without even slowing down, O-Boi knew he had to stop running. For he had met the type of customer he hated the most.
The one that didn’t pay.