Well, maybe it’s down aisle 3.
I try aisle 3. Bread. Strange jars of cabbagey, pickly things. More bread. Larger pickly things. Even more bread. Dear god, Latvians like their bread. Sadly, I’m not after bread, I’m after what is apparently the rarest of things in Latvia – a jar of curry sauce. And if it’s in this supermarket, it’s not down aisle 3.
Okay, maybe it’s down aisle 4…
A soft, leathery hand wraps around my wrist with a grip of iron, stopping me in my tracks and whirling my handbasket around in front of me, slingshotting a small tub of curry spice towards the checkout. I turn to find – nothing. Then I look down. She’s around 500 years old and wrapped in a shawl, and she’s peering at me with fierce glittery eyes. They nail me to the spot.
She gestures upwards. I follow her wizened finger.
“Tomatoes? To-Mah-Toes?” I say, slowing down my speech and painfully drawing out each syllable – because that always helps when the person you’re talking to can’t speak any English.
She stares at me like I’m an idiot, then impatiently shakes her head. I move along the shelf, pointing at adjacent items until she finally nods. Ah, it’s the broad beans. This poor old Latvian dear is too short to reach her broad beans, and needs a relatively tall stranger to help out. I’m happy to assist. It’s the least I can do, love.
“There you go. Now if you’ll excuse me…”
Again the leathery handcuff closes over my wrist. I’m tugged down the aisle. She needs pasta.
After this, it’s onto aisle 7, for pipe cleaners. And onwards.
Quarter of an hour later, I’m getting annoyed. “Look, I know you don’t speak English, but can you understand my tone? I really do need to go….”
“[incomprehensible Latvian, with hint of pleading]”.
We’re back onto aisle 3 now. And I’m now reaching things for her that she could easily reach herself. This is getting out of hand.
“I’m sorry, but I’m supposed to be making curry for my girlf…”
“[incomprehensible Latvian, with an edge to it]”.
“Oh, yes, absolutely. I couldn’t agree more, you daft old bat. You think so too? I’m glad we think the same thing. Oh yes, I do love to stand here in the middle of a bloody supermarket agreeing with you, it’s the chief reason I’m here in Riga. Maybe we could do this again tomorrow! If we’re not actually still here tomorrow! Perhaps we could just keep shopping for your crap until one of us dies!”
She frowns and clutches her basket to herself, leans forward – and says, in perfect English…
“You are a very rude young man”.
Then she strides off, her nose in the air.
So if you’re ever in Riga, Latvia, and a 500 year old woman in a shawl comes up to you and gestures towards some pipe cleaners on a high shelf…
Reach out for the nearest stick of bread (there’ll be a few within reach), hit her over the head with it, and then run like hell.
Image: Unhindered By Talent