It is sweltering. There is a steady and repeated ‘thwa-thwa’ as the arms of the ceiling fans beat the still air. There are layers of noise making up the sound of the background: the voices of the street sellers, impatient beeping from the road outside the shop and the sounds of the ‘shopman’ moving boxes behind them. Bapuji, in his pale blue, close- fitting suit jacket, and Indira are more interested in the footsteps of the man climbing into the shop. He comes every year, at this time. He buys new decorations for Christmas, waiting for Bapuji to pull out samples from the glass display cases. Tinsel, shiny gold. Banners of metallic colour and bright, folded paper balls from China. He leaves with carrier bags full of cellophane-packed Christmas cheer.
This year there is little evidence that it is mid-December: there are few decorations in the streets or visible in doorways and windows. The terrorist attack has taken its toll; tourism is at its lowest ebb. This used to be the country that the tourists flocked to in Africa, eager for the safari experience and the white sand beaches; over the last ten years or more, the gradual decline of the services available and the development of tourism in the other big safari countries has led to fewer people booking tickets to this land. Tourists, of course, are unlikely to buy decorations from Bapuji’s toyshop, especially as the beachfront hotels usually excel in shine and glitter during December. However, their delicious wonga, used to purchase bracelets, henna tattoos, sarongs and wooden masks, paintings on canvas, soapstone chessboards, shells and printed bags enables the locals to engage in a little retail therapy of their own. There is still a little spending- a small trickle of feet over the toyshop threshold- but people are adopting the ‘less is more’ approach.
Bapuji is still front of house, inviting in potential customers, waiting and watching until they decide on their purchase or turn to ask for advice. He points out the dolls which speak and the bicycles with bright, plastic baskets and shrill bells.
Bapuji’s figure is slight now, but he stands very upright. He enjoys speaking to the customers, getting to know some of them well. When it is quiet in the shop again, he and Indira will sit quietly and wait, watching the hazy heat outside.