I’m back in mum’s shop for the first time since 2001. It looks different. It doesn’t smell quite the same.
I’d stood outside for a while before I got the courage to come in. Even after travelling all this way I still thought I might chicken out at the last minute. I hadn’t even thought about the fact that she might not run it anymore. She might have moved away.
But when I walk in I know the shop is still hers. And that she isn’t here.
I’d made the decision to come back long before I actually did it. Second guessing my decision the whole time on the train. But I know that if I don’t come back I’ll just keep feeling like I should. Not for Mum. Maybe a bit for Alan Sebastian. Mostly for me.
There’s a teenager at the counter. The way he sits hunched over reading a book reminds me of Alan Sebastian.
He’s not a teenager anymore. My brother. It’s weird to think he’s thirty-one now. And it’s weird that it’s weird because he’s my twin, and we will always be the same age.
The kid takes my order and I sit on a chair near the window. He doesn’t ask me to pay which surprises me a bit because people had always paid when ordering before. But things change.
The chairs and tables are different; everything has been re-arranged. I feel offended, almost, that they didn’t consult me. But they couldn’t, could they.
Time passed here, just as much as it did for me.
And time passes again as I sit here in the shop where I used to spend so much time and I wonder if I still have time to leave before anyone knows I’ve come. Maybe I’m just not ready.
Alan Sebastian never worked in the shop alone. I did sometimes. But even when it was one or both of us, Mum always came in to close. She could never trust us, I guess. Or just needed to keep control. So I’m surprised when the kid locks the door and starts counting the till.
“I didn’t pay yet…”
“I wasn’t going to charge you,” he says without looking up and I suddenly realise that he does look like Alan Sebastian, but blonde.
“Don’t distract me, I’m counting.”
I’d thought a lot about what I would say to Alan Sebastian. And I’d also thought about what I might say to Mum.
I hadn’t considered what I might say to Mani.
“I assume you know where the broom is?”
“Unless that’s moved too,” I sigh.
But the store-room looks mostly the same. I stack the chairs and sweep the floor just as I did the last time I was here.
Mani’s finished counting. He’s watching me.
“Mum never let me close the shop,” I tell him.
“Okay,” he says.
He looks so grown up. But when think about the fact that he’s almost fifteen I think about who I was at fifteen and he suddenly looks very very young.
“Does anyone know you’re here?” he asks me.
I shake my head.
“Okay,” he says.
He’s unsure of me. I’m unsure of me too. Perhaps I could still leave. Ask Mani not to say anything. I can tell, somehow, that he’d keep that secret for me. Maybe he’d even be relieved.
But I keep sweeping, until the floor is clean.