The woman

The woman was sitting alone in an alcove. Beyond her view of the small charcoal grill the main path was visible, but we could not watch it – we faced the woman.

At some point she had diversified, and now ran multiple businesses out of the alcove, two that we could see. A table layered with packaged snacks off to the side. Sodas, cookies, candy, vacuum-packed chicken feet. And on the charcoal grill, homemade pillows of tofu. Maybe the businesses were meant to complement one another. Warm coke goes well with nearly everything.

The woman had optimized her office, sitting amidst all she needed to manage both the table and the grill. The table, it was easy. Payment collection. Children came to her and crumpled small bills into one of her beautiful crumpled hands. The other kept busy brushing oil onto the grill, brush dipped in a metal jar just beside her. Sauce, a melee of spices, oils and chilis shaken or poured from tired containers, stored in a bucket. Mixed in small bowls. As the need arose calmly she plucked one, another, another tofu pillow out of a large bag set out on the floor. The process began over. Chopsticks darted from one to another, aiming for a little, not a lot, of charring on each side.

The woman is well known in the village for her tofu. It’s the freshest, they say.

The woman was wearing her headdress. I wondered how long her hair was.

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