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In 1988 my mother took the bus to Stevenage town centre to do the weekly shop, came home and died in her sleep. She was forty-four; I was nineteen. Her passing was a matter of some civic note.
In the twenty years and more that she’d lived in the town my mother had been a nurse, schoolteacher, English teacher to Indian women, literacy teacher to adults, office bearer with the Stevenage West Indian Sports and Social Club and voluntary youth worker. She was deeply involved in the community. When she shopped she saw people she knew and when she saw people she knew she stopped and chatted. A single mother with three ravenous sons to feed on a tight budget, my mother had elevated bargain hunting to something of a science. She would team up with Mrs Provencal, a Ghanaian woman whose daughter was one of five black kids in my year at school. They worked the aisles of Sainsbury’s and Tesco separately. Hovering around the breads and fruits on a Saturday afternoon until the goods were reduced to clear (stores didn’t open on a Sunday back then), they would send word to each other of the price and ask how many loaves/buns/tomatoes were wanted. I know this because throughout my teens I was the messenger. Sprinting between stores with orders and prices through the drizzle and dusk like a human text message.
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