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Market Forces I

July 5, 2008

My wife is Gozitan – but you may have already figured that out on your own, given her obvious shrewdness. “Why obvious?” I hear you ask. Well … She married me, didn’t she? Let’s get back to the story …

As you may have read in a previous post, I cycle to work. We scientists cannot just turn up to work empty-handed. We have to accessorise. Even if it’s just a bag to carry past copies of New Scientist and the daily apple, to save on medical bills 😉 So I have to strike a balance between a bag that can hold some stuff and not interfere with the cycling. But I don’t like haversacks or backpacks.

During one of our frequent visits to the island where time stays still*, I made it my mission to buy myself a postman’s bag (because a) I decided it fits my style to a T b) I needed to pass the time)

We were having a quiet drink at the Tokk (the “market square” in Rabat) when an olive beauty dangling in a stall caught my eye. I walked up to the owner and asked him to see the bag. It was jam packed with zips, partitions, hidden pockets. A dream.

“How much?”


I had just positioned my lips to tell him to p*** off.

“Do you like anything?” I turned round. Her sister came to the rescue.

“Well, yes. I like that bag but he wants €35 for it.”

She made an outraged-cum-shocked face and turned to the stall owner. “Shame on you. Asking that much for that bag.” She spoke to him in dialect.

“Why didn’t he tell me he was with you? I’d have given him a good deal.”

“OK. I’m telling you now. He’s with me.”

“€28, then”

“No way.” I spun around. That “No way” ended many a day dream. It was Her.

“Ok. What do you want to pay for it, then?”

I blinked, polished my spectacles and cleaned my ears. This was new. A stall owner asking a customer how much she wanted to pay.

“What was your last offer?”


She shook her head. “Exorbitant. We will give you half.”

“OK. €14. Not a penny less.”

“Can’t you see I’m pregnant?”

“OK. €13. Please don’t press me.”

“Does €13 sound fair to you?” she asked me.

I nodded dumbly. I felt sorry for the man. I pulled out the money and held out my hand vaguely between him and Her. He waited for Her nod before accepting it.

I followed them to our table, feeling like Frodo after having got rid of The Ring – he knew he had done something Good, but he hadn’t understood exactly what it was.

There’s a sequel to this incident.


*During the 80s the postal service used to stamp every letter with “Gozo – the island where time stood still” referring to the idyllic image we [Maltese] have of the island. Unless you’re of the “chilling out” persuasion a weekend can feel like 20 years. Personally I love the island, but I know people who wouldn’t go there to save their lives.

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