On a long walk today I had a lovely little experience. I’d been going about an hour and was feeling a bit peckish. I popped into an old-fashioned foodstore – a dark, concrete-floored place selling pickles and fish and home-grown vegetables. Unfortunately I didn’t want any pickles or fish or vegetables; I just wanted a rice-ball or perhaps a small bento. The owner of the shop was a tiny woman who was perhaps seeing the cherry blossoms bloom for the eightieth time. She had on an apron and a knitted bonnet and was seated behind an old-fashioned cash register, drinking green tea and watching television. I was about to leave the shop when she caught my eye and smiled. It was a delightful grin on the face of an octogenarian who was endearingly toothless. She was the sort of elderly person my wife would say was cute. She stood up, bent and with the aid of a stick, and revealed a stature which, even straightened, would fall well short of five feet.
‘Hello,’ I said, returning her smile. ‘Do you have any rice-balls?’
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘I don’t.’ Then she thought a moment, ‘But, I’ve got rice at home and I live just across the road. I could go home and make you one.’
I didn’t take her up on the offer. I bought some tea instead, happy just to pay her for something.