Tucked under the massive London Terraces, slightly off the busy corner of ninth avenue and twenty-third street, sits a small pantry-deli. Everyday I go there to buy a food item, adminitingly not because I am hungry or thirsty, but because I want to secretly catch up with the shop owner. From what I know Marie is a Korean immigrant who grinded her way up the work ladder, eventually opening up a high traffic pantry-deli. Always wearing brightly colored clothing against her pale white skin, she sings “Hello, how are you?” every time she hears the door ring. Enthusiastically, I reply every time with “Hello, how are you?”. She nods her head and repeats “good good good”. I pick up any item would remotely satisfy my food craving and go straight to the counter. Marie always asks the same set of questions: and I always give the same set of answers.
“Where is Alex?” … “At home”
“Where is Alex’s girlfriend?” … “At work”
“Where is your girlfriend?” … “She’s not my girlfriend”
“This all you getting?” she says at every check out. I don’t think she says that as an attempt to make me purchase more items; I genuinely think that she wants me to eat more. “Joaquin, you’re too skinny”. She’ll pull out her personal foods from behind the counter and offer them me.
“Take, take… Korean melon”.
“Take, take… Korean fried fish”.
“Take, take… Korean orange juice”.
“I don’t think orange juice is Korean, Marie”.
She looks at me, offended. “Yes, Joaquin, this orange juice is Korean”.
Of course I always accept, always smile and always nod my head. I can tell Marie cares for me; she always picks up on my replies, formulates questions, and asks them the next time I go into her shop. When I order from pantry-deli, the delivery comes with a small note. Sometimes it’s a caricature of a winky face, sometimes the proper pronunciation of a Korean word I had attempted to say earlier in the day. Tomorrow I’ll go into hello-pantry and I know exactly what I’ll hear the second I step in.