was what the Russian girl, in a thin fuchsia sweater and pink puffy vest, told me after a brief conversation on a cordless with what I guessed was the wife of the ground floor convenience store owner. Ali himself, despite being a half-Costa Rican Muslim, had been Noel AWOL since the day before. In fact, I must have seen him shortly before he left, because I was there when, one solicitous hand behind her back, he’d walked the Russian girl through the lobby to his store, at the last minute turning back to wink at the guard who leaned from behind his desk with a double-barreled thumbs up. She wasn’t actually pretty, but her hair was dyed maroon and her eyes were bright as her rhinestone earrings, and when she first walked in looking for Ali, her face at once blase and quizzical, her sparkly phone in one hand bent her wrist back with its weight, as if she’d just hung up. Now, from behind a countertop set on a freezer case of popsicles, apology struggled to break the surface of her inexpressiveness. Sorry, she said, which sounded either sultry or dragged up from the back of her throat.
Ali had a whole rigmarole devised around the bananas, which involved momentarily unplugging his radio in favor of the scale whose cord lay lovingly draped, a jungle vine, over the silver-insulated power conduit that dropped from the ceiling to cool his deli meats. The bulb inside this display had long since burned out, which failed to show items to their greatest advantage. The turkey looked particularly ashen. Ali would then make sure to plug the radio back in before ringing you up. Having never paid attention to the bananas’ unit price, I doubted I could cajole the Russian girl into the whole routine, and let it drop. Yes, we have no bananas today.