I am drawn to the vegetable stall at the market by the bright red cherry tomatoes, that look as though they are backlit. The man behind the stall hands me a plastic bag so that I can pick out my own. He may be in his 30s, perhaps his 40s; it’s a bit hard to tell, since his skin is deeply lined by the sun and he has a air of fatique, even boredom. At his side, dealing with customers with a faded, polite voice that matches her flowery dress, is a woman, presumably his wife.
While I’m picking out my tomatoes, I glance up to see a beautiful young woman, perhaps in her late 20s. Her brown hair is pulled back in a casual yet elegant chignon, her sunglasses are Chanel. Her features are sharp and delicate. She’s the stereotype of an elegant young Parisienne, except that this is a small village in Provence.
The man behind the stall lights up like his tomatoes. Ignoring all the other customers, he devotes all of his attention to the young woman. He hands her produce, one by one. He waxes eloquently. He waves his hands around. I stand there, my filled bag of tomatoes in hand, trying to catch his attention so that I can pay and move on, to no avail. The young woman shuffles around the stall, clearly nonplussed by his attention, concentrating on finishing her purchase. Her equally pretty blonde friend looks on with an amused smile on her face. This kind of thing probably happens a lot to them.
The queue of other customers increases. We shuffle over to the wife, since she’s the only one taking our money. The man is now leaning forward, holding out one of the cherry tomatoes to the young woman. My comprehension of French is not that good, but even I can hear the tone of seduction in his voice. The young woman refuses the tomato, laughing politely, her body language clearly saying, “Get me out of here now”. By now, almost everyone around the stall is discreetly observing this little drama and smirking.
I finally get to the wife and hand her my bag of tomatoes to weigh. I glance at her face. Under her mask of polite nonchalance I can see her weary anger. Probably not the first time for such a situation.
The transaction is completed with the usual exchange of polite words. As I turn to leave, I see the young woman and her friend hurrying away from the stall. I glance back discreetly; the man is looking after them longingly, as his stone faced wife weighs the bags of another customer.