A quarter of an inch

They almost collided.

His eyes are on his phone, head bowed; her face is almost obscured by the huge box of fruit, apples stacked up to her nose.

And suddenly a squall of pigeons descends around them, flapping frantically, for some scraps of would-be food.

She teeters, but rights herself before the apples tumble; he flinches and takes a sudden step back.

The pigeons burst into the air again and are gone.

And to her left, spanning the wide street, is the newly-built market. The paint on the wooden stalls is hardly dry.

It’s her first delivery here.

And the yelling is hoarse that swells above the heads of the crowd.

“Cabbages! Cauliflower!” cries the squat woman to her right

“Come in a bit closer so you can hear me,” calls out the red-haired woman to his left, raising her hand to address the small gathering before her.

He lowers his phone and looks around for a landmark to orientate himself by. He can feel a patch of sweat under each armpit.

She’s scanning the street, searching for the right stall. And her apron is dirty, it hasn’t been laundered for a week.

There!

The spire of St Bride’s church. Just visible.

The green stall with the hook-nosed man.

Still they stand, impossibly close to each other. She can’t smell the aftershave he’s applied too liberally (as he always does before a job interview).

“Get your fresh vegetables here!” cries a ruddy faced man.

“This is where Londoners came to buy fresh vegetables,” says the red-haired woman to her group.

The market stalls are built into the very road itself, such as it is, and the milling masses crowd the spaces between them.

And cars race up and down and pedestrians dare not cross it.

“Fleet Market was built here in 1736,” says the red-haired woman to the tour group, vehicles roaring past. “And demolished in the nineteenth century.”

“Come on then, hurry up with that fruit!” yells one of the traders to woman with the box of apples.

A reminder on his phone, and she’s still lingering in the space next to him.

But now they pass.

On the same street.

Through the same air.

Almost colliding, but for a quarter of an inch and two hundred and eighty one years.

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