The Greengrocer

I have a distinct feeling that he is extremely touchy for all his exquisite politeness and friendliness, very easy to hurt, I’m sure, and I go about him as carefully and warily as I can, always smiling, approving, falling in with him wherever possible at all, praising him for his efforts, abstaining from any rash remark, staying calm, waiting if necessary. I feel he could not bear contrariety, would fret over it for days and weeks, wondering what he did wrong. I could not bear to see him hurt. He is such a kind, friendly, obliging man; tall, well-fed, in his fifties, a lot of curly grey-brown hair, round face, glasses – Tor. His wife’s name is Deen.

I met him really only because my broken wrist forced me to think where the nearest post office was. There was nobody else in the shop when I entered it for the first time to hand in a letter. He politely inquired about my arm, and it turned out that I had broken it in the very place he and his wife had come from a year ago. This discovery was followed by half an hour’s chat, exchanging experiences and considering advantages and disadvantages of different places. They had left the West because they did not like to see the sea come into the hotel they had been running the front way and go out the back way on several occasions. Since they left, the hotel must have been run down, he said with regret, having been back to have a look. Together we elaborated all the good points of the place we were living in, now – really there could not be a better one – except that the post office business did not do too well, his salary had been cut.

How could I not support him, I felt, and moved my family allowance and somebody’s pension I collect from another post office to his. Ever since I have been seeing him regularly once a week. He called me Mrs. C. when I came in, Mrs. C. when I left and Mrs. C. in between times, if he did not say thank you, a model of exquisite politeness. I felt uncomfortable after a while, and now we are on christian names terms, which makes no difference to the politeness. I thought it wise to mention at the beginning that I would be no more than a post office customer, producing most foods myself. So when I enter his shop, he awaits me in his little cubicle, smiling, ready to do for me what he can.

We have a few stamp collectors in the family and this is where he comes in most useful. He will spare no trouble to give me the most personal and individual attention possible when it comes to selecting stamps from sheets of new issues. The best part is, of course, in the very centre, a white strip of paper running across and separating the two halves of the sheet, the so-called gutter-block. Extracting for example four stamps from such a block is a valiant exercize in accuracy and patience, requiring sympathetic hands. He is not a stamp collector, but tries hard to oblige. I do not look too closely when I see these big fingers pull on the stamps, he also used his pocket knife once to help him. I just take what he will give me, not meanly checking for every single little tooth. My son can do that at home and exchange them, if there is any damage, at a different post-office, of course. I would not have the heart to upset him after all his efforts. So far we have been lucky.

If we cannot have the gutter-block, our next choice is for the corner-pieces with white paper on two sides. After that it’s the stamps from the edge of the sheet with just one side protected by white paper, the choice there is a little bewildering because one finds different types of markings on the edge, in various shapes and colours or just black lines. He patiently waits for me to explain which stamps exactly I would like. He ma kes me feel like a queen.

He is so extremely polite, he will not even let me put my own stamps on the envelope : “I will do it for you”. What can one do ? Suffer it quietly, hoping he does not put them too near the edge, moistens them properly so that they stick on all sides and in general handles them carefully. Of course my father complained later about one of them being loose ! In future we shall buy the stamps, put them on the envelope at home, guessing the payable amount, forfeiting some of it in the case of over-guess, then take them to be weighed and assessed, asking him to add small amounts if needed. He normally volunteers to stamp this beautiful envelope with great care, receiving full marks for that from my father.

Once I had a heavy envelope which required a specially high value. He chose a fine new issue with white paper on the edge, I was delighted to see it, but oh ! he tore the precious paper off before moistening the stamp and sticking it on the letter. I had to bear it with a smile and was glad not to be a stamp collector.

Last time I saw him I was his first customer – he had not yet put the money into his drawer. I saw where it came from : out of flat, oblong, bright orange zip-round bags, quite thick packs of five and ten pound notes held together in the centre by something like a paperstrip. I told him I knew now what to go for and where the next time. He warned me : these bags sometimes contain sandwiches ! Apparently the postmen use them for an all-purpose bag, which may have its merits. I marvelled how he put these scruffy looking wads of money into his drawer without checking them. He admitted that he cannot be approached on a Friday when he has to do the balancing.

The other day there was a discussion about the efficiency of postal services in different countries. One lady had received a letter from Japan within three days. This was unanimously credited to the Japanese. Another lady had to wait for a letter from South Africa for over a month – who was responsible for that ? And why do letters from Paris take six days ? They are a patient race : “ never mind; as long as you get it in the end” .