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Handbags and Spices, Bath Toys and Jewellery

by Alex Dally MacFarlane

A Maneki Neko with a woman’s face beckoned me in. I can admit it now: I was drawn by her colours -- her creamy skin, her short black hair, the bright red insides of her ears.

I went into her shop first. Stationery covered the walls like tiles and murals, cartoon-gaudy. The quantity confused me as much as it delighted me; I left with three pens clutched in my hand, smiled at the Maneki Neko and started walking.

Shop fronts crowded the narrow street, and in front of them lay tables and racks packed full with wares. Three friends walking side-by-side struggled to pass between them. Overhead, sheets of metal and glass made an imperfect roof. I walked slowly; it was busy, but not uncomfortable. Occasionally I ducked aside as a street vendor rattled past, shouting and trailing the smell of curry, or when a motorbike drove slowly down the centre of the street with boxes loaded on its back.

On one of these occasions, I stepped inside a shop selling medicine. Jars of dried seahorses and testicles sat on a shelf by my elbow.

I found handbags and spices, bath toys and jewellery, fabric and fruit. I turned corners, I took side streets that flooded when it rained -- the narrow, shop-lined streets circled back on themselves, over and over.

I kept walking, my senses like the sponges arranged on one table.

Vendors kept me in curries and fried bananas. A woman let me help run her shop for a small bag of green notes at the end of each week. A few men and women let me share their beds.

I didn’t see the Maneki Neko again. Sometimes I thought of her, of walking past her raised paw, past the gold shops that appeared every few buildings on that road like stitches, until I found the skytrain and another part of the city. Then I turned a familiar corner, saw a familiar face or skein of silk, and I turned my feet away from the places where the roads unfolded.

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