Two weeks ago, stuck in the wrong bus on an hour-long route, I suddenly thought of the ice cream man who used to pass by my parents’ every weekday afternoon. He was a middle-aged Chinese man, with tanned skin and deep crow’s feet from the constant heat. He drove one of those old motorbikes with much-dented metal carrier, topped with a faded umbrella that long ago was red and white with the Wall’s ice cream logo on it.
We would buy the cheapest option – a 20 sen (30 sen for a double scoop) generic ice-cream from a squashed cardboard carton on the wafer-like cone that would turn to mush as soon as the ice cream started to melt. Once in a while we would scrounge for something extra and buy a Cornetto, which used to cost only 90 sen.
Yesterday, the Indian roti man came by with his replacement – he’s going back to India for a month, and he was riding along with his friend who was going to take over his route while he was away. He took so much trouble to make sure his regular customers like us were well-looked after, telling his replacement what we normally buy, and it occurred to me that we don’t even know his name. If anything ever happened to him, we would never know, or even know who to ask.
It’s sad, these people who make up the fabric of our everyday lives for years, sometimes decades, remain nameless. We chat and joke, exchange small talk and wish each other cheerfully on our way but we never really know each other, like the smiling police man who used to wave us on our way every morning on our way to school. I wonder what happened to him.