Good food starts at the Spanish Town market
The place smelled like cabbage. That and something minty. I asked Radcliffe the handcart man standing next to me if he thought so too. Sniff, sniff. Radcliffe moved his nose up and down as he tested the air. He seemed puzzled.
"No, mi don't smell noting," he said, shrugging.
We were at the Spanish Town market on a Friday afternoon. This is always a busy period at the market and this week was no different.
I had been chatting with Radcliffe as he leaned on his wooden handcart that was decorated with reflectors. It even had a license plate at the front. He was taking a break from shuttling goods for shoppers to the nearest taxi stand. I asked him, as he took a sip from a bag juice, if he got a lot of work that day.
"Yeah man, yuh nuh see how mi wash wid sweat?" he said. People were moving all around us. Many of them were dressed in the kind of clothes people wear to an office job. Others were slumming it in more comfortable sandals and short pants. Vendors were making loud sales pitches.
"Onion, onion right here!" yelled an elderly woman wearing what looked like an apron. Her head was wrapped with a purple scarf. Next to her, a man with dreadlocks held aloft a large pumpkin. "Yellow, yellow pumpkin," he said.
A bespectacled woman with red clips in her hair came over to us. She was holding large plastic bags filled with produce. As she looked Radcliffe up and down, she cleared her throat.
"Yuh is one ah dem cyart man what going to run wid mi ting dem and meck dem drap off?" she asked sternly. Radcliffe frowned. "No sah! Mi careful wid people tings. Mi nuh drap noting from mi ah push handcyart till now," he declared.
The woman paused a moment, then handed him her bags. Radcliffe hurriedly placed them on his cart then wheeled off with remarkable speed. The woman frowned and was about to say something but by then Radcliffe was already well on his way to the end of the street. She had to scurry to catch up with him. The last I saw of the pair, Radcliffe was taking a sharp left turn with the woman running after him, waving her fist in the air. She was shouting something but she was too far away for me to hear what she was saying.
A few minutes later I met Miss Lerlene, a fair-skinned vendor with bright eyes. Her spread of onions, thyme, lettuce and cabbage looked fresh and attractive. I told her so and she seemed genuinely proud.
"Well, mi really glad fi hear dat, mi son," she said, shaking her head. "Mi like when people tell mi so, for mi nuh like sell tings what don't look good."
I asked Miss Lerlene where her produce was grown.
"Is Manchester and St Elizabeth tings, yuh know," she said.
"Mi buy dem from a man name Alvaranga. Him have a farm up dat side. Him grow good tings, even though him price dem high."
I asked her where she was from.
"Me is from a place name Devil's Race Course, yuh know. Dat is into St Catherine," she said, smiling. "Mi born and grow up there. Nice place."
As she spoke she was caressing a small melon that was in her lap. It was a little strange, and when I could ignore it no longer, I mentioned to her that she seemed to have great affection for her inventory.
The woman chuckled. "Heh hey! Yes mi son, yuh right," she said.
"Yuh see di food what dem eat into dem big restaurant ah town and ting? Is good market food why it so nice. Market like right here," Miss Lerlene smiled.
"Mi nuh seh di cooker dem nuh have talent yuh know, but we who sell di food have tings fi do wid it too. We take care of di food from early, so dat when people carry it weh go cook it, den it will taste good too. Yuh haffi love yuh food if yuh want it fi love yuh back," she said.
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