Jul 17

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The Trader

Solly Sloman was an old man when I knew him. He had a desk in the corner of his store which he seldom left during opening hours. Though apparently isolated, he missed little. Any new face attracted his interest and mine was a new face.

I had gone into the store to buy some new clothing more suitable to the climate than the clothes I brought from home and he noticed me. I was looking over some shirts when I felt a touch on my elbow. I turned and saw an old African who told me that Baas Sloman would like to have a word with me.

I followed him to the corner of the store where this old man was sitting. He welcomed me, offered me a chair and a drink and started to question me. He soon learned that I had arrived from England a couple of days before and that I was to teach at the local primary school. When his initial curiosity was satisfied he dismissed me, telling me to talk to him the next time I was in the store and giving me five percent discount on my purchases.

After that every time I went into the store I passed the time of day with Solly. If he was in the mood I would be invited to sit and chat. In fact he did most of the talking , enjoying having a new audience. He told me that he had started as a child with a wagon and horses going round farms as a peddler. Later he had bought himself a lorry, which enabled him to cover a much greater area.

In his thirties he had decided to settle down. He had found himself a good Jewish girl, married her and decided to settle in QueQue. He had used the town as a base for his travelling but, to please his wife, he had eventually built his store, from his telling with his bare hands.

The store was a really big barn. The walls were lined with boxes fixed to them with nails, making hundreds of cubby holes filled with goods. You could buy anything at Sloman’s There were men’s clothes down one side, anything you could name. In a corner there were women’s things (even a little changing room) and bolts of materials. On the other side fertilisers, seeds, pesticides and all the other things that framers needed. You could also buy wholesale quantities of groceries. Solly boasted that he could supply anyone with anything that they needed from a farm tractor to a needle.

The counters in the store consisted of planks laid across whisky boxes. Some of them were covered in blankets but many were just the bare boards. Among the things that I bought at Sloman’s were a rifle and a shotgun, a white dinner jacket, working shirts and shorts, cutlery, cooking pots (he stocked some missionary-size ones) and many other things.

Solly lived with his wife, his sons and their wives and families on a small holding just outside the town. They were a real family unit ruled by Solly’s wife. They all met for the Sabbath at the main house and woe betide anyone who was late.

Solly’s two sons decided to go up market and build a departmental store. The idea was that Solly should keep the rough trade while they would cater for the more up market customers. They wanted to get away from the peddler image, the image of the man who could supply everything on the cheap to his friends.

Just as the new shop was about the open Solly had a heart attack and died. It was decided to demolish the original store and use it just to supply farm machinery and farm stocks. They moved the counters and started to lift the boxes which supported them. The boxes were heavy and when they opened them they found that they were full of whisky, Solly’s insurance in case of bad times.

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