I shifted the box on my shoulder as it’s sharp corner bit into me. I kept turning my head to see where I was walking – and it was important that I could see. Caledonian Road is always teeming with people, and the shops spill onto the pavement.
Thing is, despite the many people, none gave me a second look. And, I’d never looked more guilty of breaking and entering in my life.
“Ah, Zak!” I could hear the k in the way he said my name.
“I forgot to put a microwave in your flat. You want one, yes?”
“Actually, that’d be perfect. We only have those two rings, so it’d help a lot, thanks.”
“OK. Walk with me. We go to my place where I keep such things, and you take whatever you want.”
So, we walked down the road, an ill-matched pair if ever there were one. My Cypriot landlord was a small man, but he craned his neck up at no one. He occupied a greater space on the pavement than I did – and I overtopped him by a head, and let’s just say I couldn’t hide from anything by standing behind him width-wise, either.
He stopped and picked up a rather beautiful, fruiting chilli plant from its stand in front of the Turkish grocers’ shop.
“You like these spicy things?”
“I do, yeah. Where I grew up, Mexican food is probably the most common thing we eat. The spicier, the better.”
“We use these much in my food from Cyprus, too. I love hot. Hot food, hot weather, hot everything.”
So far, I was enjoying his enthusiasm. He continued to gush over his botanical wisdom. His words always flowed effortlessly – and with little pause. So, I had to rethink his last bit for a few paces.
“Sorry, I missed that. Chillis?”
“Yes, chillis, tomatoes, potatoes, and chocolate – so many things we eat – the things we love to eat! They are a gift. From space. Outer space.”
He waved upwards.
Yes, I had heard him right.
“Er, space? I think they’re from Mexico, aren’t they?”
“Well yes, Mexico and Guatemala and those places. But that’s where they are from here. The best things we eat were brought down from out there. You know they have those big temples, yes? Pyramids in the jungle! Who would build such big things in the middle of there, eh? Those people, long time ago, they build those things to let aliens land. And, they gave them such things as these.”
He brandished the potted shrub with a gesture very much like a barrister’s closing statement. “I have provided indisputable counsel, and my case rests” the chilli plant waving said.
We had to walk back a bit, so he could return the chilli. He continued to tell me how we’ve lost so much we could have had from our benevolent, interplanetary friends. Wondrous technologies, limitless medicine. They once never died from cancer in Central America, apparently.
So, onward we walked. One of us a bantam kingpin, the other a baffled, outsized student. We came to a corner flat, and many keys emerged from my landlord’s pocket. I still wonder how he managed to stuff a grapefruit-sized clutch of keys into perfectly-tailored clothing.
“Here we are. Microwaves are there, near the cookers. I keep many things here. Take, and I’ll lock up.”
So, I selected a still shrink-wrapped box from the flat-hoard of white goods. The place held more stock than a decent high-street homeware shop. He struggled with the door for a bit, while I looked on – head turned at a weird angle. He pulled at a robust chain for a while, then dropped it and kicked it back inside. He rattled the door for a bit, finally pulling it to, and waved me off, back to my subterranean flat with my very own, brand-new microwave.
I stopped to buy some chillis from the Turkish grocer, who was only mildly amused that I conducted the transaction from beneath a heavy box. But, I couldn’t resist. And, you never know: I might make contact with an offering of extra-terrestrial produce.