The murky puddled road forced the crowd to line up and slowly hop --ginger footed-- from muddy patch of squishiness to oozing mound of trash.
Peaking up now and again to take in the mass of bright bins and bobbles tucked tightly under rickety stands still dripping from the morning rains, I marched on with them passing neatly stacked Chinese soap atop cigarettes and phone chargers.
Pushing past the young boy selling plastic bags and the woman underfoot selling piles of peanuts from bamboo baskets, I found myself in ‘Tennis Shoe’ plaza.
Used sneakers and Keds, scrubbed and polished until painfully bright under the noon sun, sat high on wooden pallets waiting for the next shoeless Joe to come ‘buy’.
Three large women with highly oiled mocha skin, watched me with interest from the alley over.
-- “Come and buy from us... blankets? Baby clothes?” one called over the din.
-- “Ya! Come sista!” another offered, “Look!”
I tried to ignore them, sneaking my sunglasses higher on the bridge of my nose, as if this would hide me. But hiding is not so easy; this pale, freckled face cannot be hid by glasses.
Instead, I hopped over to the third alley, turning instinctively left into the shade. The afternoon heat chased me deeper in until the open-air alleys morphed into concrete stands, sporting poorly painted bars pushed back for business.
Each over-stuffed stand pedaled more wares, but I couldn’t see much until my pupils adjusted. I was evidently now in ‘Electronic alley’.
Old VCRs stacked precariously upon dated T.V.s, each blared out competing channels at the highest volumes possible. I sped past the yelling boxes only to find myself assaulted by more.
Deftly hidden radios screamed from blown speakers under a table of pirated movies, carefully sandwiched in individual clear pochettes.
Despite the crackled screaming urging me on, I hesitated to inspect the wares. Dozens of faded photos of obscure ‘B’ movies compiled in multi-movie deals waited my approval. Only 3 dollars.
I smiled and turn quickly away before the vendor made eye contact. I didn’t want to have to scream my disinterest over the neighboring stalls.
The angry noise chased me on... and on. Speeding forward as fast as my soaked sandals would take me, I suddenly found myself free.
I stood for a moment --squinting again in the glaring light and concentrating on quieting my heart. It raced chaotically in my chest.
I had to take two deep breaths before I could move on... and before the blood racing in my ears finally slowed.
Leaving the broken speakers around a bend, I zigzagged backwards down another alley.
Bottles of badly stored white wines and suspicious looking brandies lined the whole right side. So, I trained my eyes on the left.
Sadly, there was not much to see. More neatly stacked pallets, selling hair bands, tooth paste, and hair extensions.
I walked on half-heartedly focusing on the state of my shoes more than the shops until two large, neatly polished pool tables caught my eye.
They seemed somehow out of place.
A handful of young men --pool sticks mid-shot-- stopped to silently survey my passing. As I finally turned the corner, I could hear them snickering loudly.
Perhaps, I was the one out of place.
This new alley was immediately different. Narrower than the rest, it forced me to line up in a slow moving conveyor belt of flesh. On mass, we weaved down it slowly, trying not to knock anything over.
Just over the shoulder of the woman in front of me, I could see a heavy set woman washed rice off plates in two sudsy buckets. Further on, another woman grilled chicken wings over low glowing coals. She had to fan them with cardboard to keep them hot.
More puddles. More holes.
I inched on to come face to face with a man, his face unmasked with surprise, scrubbing pots. Another man, crouched low on his heels, eyes downcast, looked to be sleeping... or passed out. He didn’t move at all when I stepped gingerly over his outstretched legs.
The noon-day grumble in my belly begged me to stay --to enjoy the chicken-- but no one welcomed me with their eyes. So, I walked on, immediately missing the delicious aromas as a slight breeze carried them off.
I hesitated at the end of the alley. I wasn’t sure if I had already passed this way. But as I stood dully at the alley exit, the conveyor belt continued to spit out person after person behind me.
They excused themselves politely as they passed, even though I was the one being rude.
I looked left but it didn’t seem promising. Boarded up and empty, it seemed ominous for some reason. I looked right and noticed that the human flow of flesh seemed to be moving that way.
But the crowd emptied me back into ‘Tennis Shoe’ plaza and so I stopped again. I didn’t want it to end. I wasn’t ready to leave.
So I turned around, searching the cul-de-sac carefully for something. Anything.
A capulana (traditional cloth) shop, tucked off to one side, caught my eye. I’d missed it on my first pass.
Sauntering up, I searched the hanging fabrics for turquoise material. I had clinic curtains to make.
A lovely turquoise and white capulana jumped out and beckoned me to speak.
-- “The blue and white one... Can I see it?” I asked the expectant face in the shade.
He pulled it free from the shelf and unfolded it carefully. A smile on his face. The pattern was inviting, accented with a swerving splash of brown. I loved it immediately but twisted my lower lip in hesitation.
-- “Do you have any rolls of this material... ones that are not already cut?” I asked, feigning disinterest.
At the prospect of selling so much, he eagerly patted the stacks of fabric but did not find what he needed.
-- “Wait one second...” he gently instructed with another smile, then disappeared into the back.
Returning quickly, clearly pleased with his efforts, he held out a neatly folded pile of brown, turquoise, and white.
I smiled my delight, pulling out my wallet. The deal was sealed.
Material now stuffed in the oversized purse I carried, I ventured slowly back out of the market. I was sad it was at its end.... I missed the buzz and the smells. I missed the bright bobbles and muddy alleys. And my stomach sadly missed the chicken.
But mostly, I was sad because I’d left my camera at home.
I’d be back. And next time, I’d be ready.