Do you ever look at people and wonder (or in my case conclude) what their lives might be like? It’s a habit I have. And enjoy. At the post office today I stared at Mustapha while I was in the line. Mustapha is in his fifties and he is always at the counter. I think he is the Post Office manager because the others direct all their queries to him. His face is rugged, like he has lived and seen a lot in life. His complexion is light brown, Asian no doubt. Mustapha never has an expression, he seems neither sad nor happy, just…there. The longest conversation I have ever had with him was ‘hi’, ‘grunt’.
Two spots away sits a middle-aged woman her name tag reads Maureen. I think she’s Asian although she kinda looks Mediterranean too. Her hair is in place and face very well made up. She seems to be enjoying her lunch- I spot some brown sauce, rice and salad. Her lipstick remains eerily in place despite the dripping sauce. I of course start to wonder what her life is like. Does she enjoy her life or despise her boss? Then she says something about there being some salad left and passes her polystyrene take-away bowl to Mustapha. Aha! They are married.
Now I start to imagine what their home might be like. I conclude that their home is very comfortable and very well decorated. Rugs and wall hangings from Cyprus, dark chunky wood furniture with black metal hinges from India. Rich burgundy soft furnishings with gold threads running through. The scent of spices hangs in the air. There is a large family portrait above the fireplace showing Mustapha, his wife and their three grown kids. Two boys and a girl. The first son is a doctor, practising in Canada. The second is the girl, she works as an accountant in central London and the last son, the one who refused to be a doctor, accountant or lawyer works for a nightclub and has started his own gig as a DJ on the side. Mustapha does not approve as he thinks he should have gone for a more serious profession. He is the one who point-blank refused to speak their native dialect when growing up and as a teenager brought a caucasian girlfriend home for dinner. He frowns each time he remembers the way she spluttered and coughed after her first mouthful of kesari bath, his beloved mother’s secret recipe passed down to Maureen. No one outside of the family knows this so it isn’t really talked about much. The family rarely shout, speaking in measured tones as though they don’t want to awaken the faux tiger fur rug that greets you in the hallway.
The knick knacks on the bookshelf tell the story about Mustapha’s immigration to the United Kingdom years ago. The photograph of him on his bike, with his mother in the bacground laughing heartily- something she rarely did after losing her husband years earlier to a bad illness. The black and white photograph of his young bride taken at their traditional wedding ceremony is framed in a beaded work of art, he promised to send for her once he settled in London and he did. That was 36 years ago.
Finally it’s my turn. The outsider attends to me, asking Mustapha a question about how to change the label on the parcel from Royal Mail to Parcel Force as the customer just realised Royal Mail strikes might delay the delivery of her parcel. Mustapha answers her without glancing up. Yep, he is unhappy with his third son’s choice of a profession and it’s all his wife’s fault for pampering him so. Life.