The next morning Rowena was woken up by Ani, holding a dress and gently shaking her. She lay the dress down at the end of the bed and left the room after she was sure Rowena was awake. She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and fell out of bed, groping around in the semi-darkness for the dress. She struggled to tighten her corset and lace the dress up over the top. She staggered out of her room and down the stairs, trying to find her way to the kitchen in the darkness. Ani was standing by the table, slicing the freshest loaf of bread Rowena had ever seen.
‘Look at you,’ Ani said as she turned and saw Rowena standing in the doorway. ‘Come here and let me sort you out.’ Rowena looked down at her dress and saw what a state she looked. She’d laced the dress up wrong so it looked lopsided, and her corset was showing on one side.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said as Ani pulled her into the room. ‘I do know how to put a dress on, I really do. God, what must you think of me?’
‘Don’t worry,’ Ani said reassuringly. ‘I know how it can feel to get up this early in the morning.’ It only took her a few moments to re-lace her dress and straighten it. ‘Now you sit down at the table and I’ll plait your hair.’ Rowena allowed herself to be led to the table and began eating some of the bread straight from the board. Ani’s fingers felt very soothing as they parted her hair, gently pulling the knots apart and pulling the strands into a tight plait.
‘You shouldn’t spoil her,’ Fialka said as she entered the room and sat down at the table. ‘She’ll want to stay.’
‘I don’t mean to be a burden. You won’t see me again after tomorrow, I promise.’
‘You aren’t a burden,’ Ani said kindly. ‘You need to stop saying you are because it is simply not true.’
Fialka rolled her eyes at Ani. ‘You’re too soft, you know that.’
‘You have beautiful hair,’ Ani said, completely ignoring Fialka’s comment.
‘Thank you,’ Rowena said modestly.
‘Well there you go,’ Ani said as she tied a piece of ribbon around the end of the plait and let it drop against Rowena’s back. ‘You’re ready to go.’
‘And about time,’ Fialka said. ‘We’re running late already.’ She got up from the table and began to move towards the front door. Rowena stood up hurriedly and moved to follow her.
‘Do you need any help setting up the stall?’ Ani called after them as they left.
‘No we’ll be fine,’ Fialka shouted back, shutting the door behind them as they left. She climbed onto the cart and drove it out of the street and down towards the main square. There were only a few other stall owners there that early and Fialka began almost instantly to order Rowena to set up the stall. She found the work quite therapeutic, putting out the fruit and vegetables in their boxes on one side of the table and woolen goods, scarves, blankets and jumpers on the other side.
When she had finished she looked to Fialka for her approval ‘It will do I suppose,’ she said, looking at the stall. ‘Now you’ll have to get behind the stall. People will be starting to arrive soon.’ Rowena walked around the stall so she was standing next to Fialka. She then proceeded to instruct Rowena in how to sell and attract the attention of customers.
No sooner had Fialka’s briefing ended, than the first early morning customers began to filter into the market. Before she knew it, people, all trying to see what was for sale and trying to push past each other, surrounded the stall. Rowena found that she quite enjoyed selling and talking to customers and even Fialka couldn’t disagree with the fact that Rowena was a natural salesperson. By the time people were beginning to disperse for their midday meal, half of their stock had gone and Rowena was looking pretty pleased with herself.
‘So how did I do?’ She asked eagerly as Fialka checked how much money they had taken.
‘Not bad for a first timer,’ she said, a little reluctantly. ‘I think I can give you some time off for an hour or two so you can see the market if you like.’ Rowena almost squealed with delight and bounced off. ‘Remember to be back here in an hour,’ Fialka yelled after her. ‘You’re not off the hook yet!’
Rowena’s eyes widened at every new thing she saw. Women dressed in exotic looking robes sitting in front of crystal balls telling people their futures, men with long beards performing magic on street corners, the wonderful smells of all kinds of food wafting around the stalls which were covered in all sorts of goods, from fruit and vegetables like Fialka’s stall, to hand crafted trinkets and jewellery. Do we have a market like this in Genata? She asked herself. If we do then I am insisting on going when I get back. I have never seen anything so wonderful in all my life!
The people around her also fascinated her, dressed in their best for the occasion, the sellers shouting over the noises of the crowd and the buyers mingling with everyone else, waving to people they knew above the heads of the mob and calling out. There was a feeling that they were all part of one massive body, all moving in and out of each other, but all connected in some strange way.
She got so distracted by all the different things to see and all the activity going on around her, she completely forgot about Fialka and her stall. It was while she was staring, jaw hitting the floor, at a man who could swallow fire, that she felt a hand on her shoulder pulling her away.
‘For God’s sake what am I going to do with you?’ Fialka said exasperatedly. ‘You were meant to be back at the stall half an hour ago.’
‘I’m so sorry Fialka, I lost track of time and-‘
‘I don’t want to hear your excuses. I suppose that’s what I get for bringing a country girl to market day. Never able to concentrate, always looking off at something new and exciting that they’ve never seen before.’ She continued mumbling in a similar fashion as she dragged Rowena back to the stall.
The afternoon wasn’t as busy as the morning had been and by four o’clock the square was beginning to empty and Fialka ordered Rowena to begin packing up. An hour and a half later and they were heading back towards Ani’s house. They were greeted warmly and Rowena was sat down in the kitchen, a steaming bowl of soup in front of her.
‘So how was it?’ Ani asked as she watched Rowena slurp down her soup.
‘It was amazing,’ she said. ‘I’ve never seen so many people crammed into one space before, and the noise. It was all so loud.’
‘Well Fialka tells me you sold very well, and that’s high praise coming from her.’ She smiled almost proudly down on her guest. ‘So in light of that I think we should celebrate.’
‘You’re too enthusiastic,’ Fialka complained from the other side of the room. ‘Everything is cause for a celebration.’
‘Well why shouldn’t it be?’ She said, not put off by Fialka’s negative attitude. ‘Now what would you like to do this evening Ena?’
‘I don’t mean to sound ungrateful,’ Rowena said, her voice very quiet. ‘But what I would really like to do is go to bed.’ This was met by laughs from both Fialka and Ani.
‘Then so you shall,’ Ani said, her voice tinkling like a bell as she laughed. ‘I shall make sure your bed is ready.’
‘No I’ll do that,’ Rowena protested, standing up to block Ani’s way to the door. ‘It doesn’t bother me much and I’ll probably go to sleep now any way.’ Ani nodded, recognizing defeat and sat back down. ‘Thank you for all your kindness,’ Rowena said, smiling first at Ani, then at Fialka.
‘I’ll see you in the morning,’ Ani said. ‘Good night and sweet dreams.’
‘And to you,’ Rowena said as she left the room.