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Matriarchs of the Market

On certain days of the week, the market in Charlestown becomes the center of the island, with an intoxicating aroma of a bountiful earth, when the stalls fill up with freshly dug vegetables, ripe fruit, local herbs and spices. It is run almost entirely by women who raise their families by the means of their gardens.

Some of the ladies at the market remember me as the little boy who hid behind his mother when she did her shopping on Saturday mornings. They still hold me like they just caught me running around their stalls; grasping my arm with hands hardened from generations of work, like tilling stony soil, and grips softened by decades of nurturing, like soothing fraught children.

When I went every Saturday with my mother to the market she taught me to shop. She explained how sometimes some of the fruits and vegetables were married to each other, which meant you couldn’t buy one thing without buying something else. I watched her meet and greet the market ladies, disarm them with her smile and begin friendly negotiations.

When my mother became ill I took her place shopping and I tried to use her methods, but the market ladies easily got the best of me as I always spent more than I needed, buying more than I wanted. They would disarm me, pulling me close to them with the same strong hands, and asking, “How is mommy? How is she?” How then can I haggle with these matriarchs?

Now, my father does the shopping. He knows all the ladies by name and knows how to be strategic. But, there are days he will return with more than needed and explain with a shrug that the fruit was married to the veg.

The market ladies are good at their jobs.

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