Anjuna market in Goa was very different to belly surfing off Candolim’s tourist beach and I could feel my boyfriend’s, “I told you so” look, bore down the top of my head. But I had wanted to experience more of my Indian holiday than just get a tan and after much cajoling, (not to mention canoodling) persuaded my lover that Anjuna flea market would be an excellent place to start.
And there we stood, eyes wide, dodging mopeds with whole families balanced on top. Baskets of chickens rode pillion and tied from handlebars, bleating goats swung. Horns honked, tuk-tuks tooted and from every angle market stalls jostled, displaying knick-knacks, jewellery and rainbow coloured sheets. They hung out like washing and billowed like sails, delighting the street kids who ran through them.
Something tugged at my leg. Startled, I looked down to find a ragged figure holding out a dust-blackened palm. My guidebook had described such beggars, but it hadn’t prepared me for this. His eyes were a cloudy brown, yet hard, like boiled eggs and his limbs lay twisted around his neck. Shocked, I gave a few rupees, only to be hemmed in by two more. Overwhelmed, I turned to my boyfriend, who grabbed my hand quickly, pulling me past and back into the market throng.
Around a butcher’s stall stray dogs gathered, hoping for a morsel of meat and the smell of dried fish mixed with onions, baked in the hot morning air. Catching our breath we strolled to gaze at some Calcite crystals; then haggled a little for gems and quenched our thirst with iced coconut milk. But the cold snap of liquid filled me too quickly. I had to find a toilet, and fast.
Thankfully, we stumbled upon a shed like structure with the letters WC painted in white. It had no door or roof and inside, no toilet. Instead, a rusty grill lay over a dug out pit and on top, cockroaches scuttled and swerved. Their shells sparkled like crawling gems, reminding me of the jewels I had just bought. Scrunching my eyes I prayed the insects would not scurry inside my flip-flops and like a racehorse I steamed and then bolted.
Outside, my boyfriend stood grinning as a group of lovely young ladies waved cutely from their stall. I clutched his hand fiercely, only to feel him flinch and then twist. Surprised, I turned and was stunned to see a man pounce upon his ears. He was wielding a cone of smouldering beeswax and seemed most intent on using it.
“Stones,” he shouted. “You have stones in your ears! I clean!”
Neither shaking of heads nor walking away would abate the ear cleaner’s fervour. He didn’t want to understand the word “No.” Things were getting nasty. But then, one of the lovely ladies from the nearby stall marched over, armed with a mouthful of abuse. She shooed him away, sending him running with a proverbial flea in his ear. So grateful was I that I bought three bags and matching purse from the lady and, for my boyfriend, an ear-covering bandanna and a souvenir candle shaped like a cone.