The sign at 9b High Street seesawed up, pull after pull, under the strength of the Polish builder. The letters written on it swung sideways, to and fro, until they reached the top of the shop window. Gradually, they no longer blurred at each sway and came together as words comfortable to read from any side of the street.
‘Come on... Almost there!’ said the man behind him with his arms crossed in contemplation.
The Polish builder pulled with the last strength in his arms. The sign whined against the friction of the ropes. There was a bit of rust on the edges, and the white and red colours already looked old and faded. The man thought it gave a rustic look to the name of the shop.
‘Is it up, mate?’ asked the Polish man without turning.
‘Ci siamo quasi… We are almost there! One last pull!’ replied the man eager to push through with the work.
‘This thing is heavy. That is why we needed two people on the job.’
‘Too expensive. Stop crying like a bambino. You will be proud when it is done.’
The man did not shift from his position below in the middle of the pavement, arms crossed and head high to check the sign was up and aligned. His thick, wavy hair ruffled in the light breeze blowing through the high street. His brown eyes focused on the final touches to the work, seeking a perfect balance, a masterpiece. He wore a white short-sleeved top, red and white chequered trousers. Splashes of paint and dry patches of white dust showed on his bare arms and on his trousers. He was so focused he hardly heard the passers-by complaining he did not budge to let them through. A car passed by at great speed. It swished close to the pavement, close to the man's back. He jumped and took a safe leap forward.
‘Cretino! Can't you see me on the pavement?’ cursed the man waving his hands in disapproval to the car before it disappeared beyond the small roundabout at the end of the high street. He puffed, annoyed. He did not like to be disturbed, or even more, distracted.
‘Mister, I think we are done here!’ said the Polish man with a final pant.
The man in the chequered trousers looked back at the sign and a grin of satisfaction broadened across his lips.
‘Perfetto! Now that is what I am talking about.’
The Polish man stepped down the ladder to join the man at his side and finally contemplate his last thirty minutes of sweat. He dried his damp forehead with his forearm and took a deep breath. The sign was now hung nicely above the main shop window, framing it alongside the entrance door next to it. There was a second shop window to the left of the door, a curved-shaped glass tracing its round edge. Opaque plastic sheets covered the large glass frames of the shop from top to bottom, not allowing passers-by to see inside. Only the entrance door allowed to get a closer look inside. If passers-by cupped their hands and stuck their forehead against the cold glass, they would spot the pasty yellow walls and the marble effect of the floor tiles. The shape of an empty counter and showcase shelves behind could be seen against one of the walls while the rest faded into a fog of dust which seemed to have no intention of settling.
The shop was at the end of the row of unique low buildings that made up the Western side of Wimbledon High Street. After it, taller Regent-style buildings broke the pattern and carried on until the end of the high street before it blended with the residential houses of Wimbledon Village.
‘So, what is this? A bar?’ asked the Polish man to get to know his client.
‘This, my friend, is the home of bread and pastries’ replied the man with a friendly pat on the Polish’s shoulder. ‘It will be the best bakery in town.’
‘What does La Pagnotta mean?’
‘Is that it?’
‘I’ll tell you what, amico mio. You clean up the interior and I give you 20% off when we open in a few weeks.’
‘Very kind of you, mister…’
‘LoTrova, Enrico LoTrova.’
‘Are you Italian?’
‘You are quite the observer.’
‘What brings you here to London?’
‘I wanted to move here and open my own bakery. Baking is what I do best.’
‘You seem pretty sure of your skills. You do know there are already one or two places selling bread on this high street alone? And you have a few supermarkets down the hill?’
‘Dilettanti!’ dismissed Enrico with a sweep of his hand ‘They are not bakeries. They are just amateurs who sell pre-cooked bread. Where is the joy in that? Not everyone can make ciabatte, croissants, baguettes and bloomers. Bread is no “loafing” matter, eh?’
‘I hope your bread is better than your jokes.’
‘Mr Wyczenski,’ said Enrico with a slanted nod at the dust inside of the shop ‘why don’t we get a move on and finish the work? It is past eleven a.m. and perhaps we can finish before lunch. Dai, su! Chop chop!’
The Polish man agreed with a grumble and picked up his tools. He then opened the door to the shop and disappeared inside. Enrico smiled, and before he followed him, he turned his head to take in the view of Wimbledon High Street.
The short straight road was the main artery of Wimbledon Village, throbbing with heavy car traffic both up and down. Black cabs and flashing red double-decker buses hurried along up and down the street waving the colours of London. Enrico could not fail to notice how the buildings on both sides of the high street seemed to be out of place with the livelihood of the neighbourhood. They were tiny and narrow, some old, some refurbished, but never higher than four storeys. Wimbledon Village had all the charm of a small secluded village with the thumping upbeat of a London town.
Enrico was simply happy to be here. He knew he had chosen a great spot for his business. Busy street, with many shops on either side. He felt proud after so many weeks of stress and hard work. His parents would be proud. Finally, it was all coming to plan as he wished. He knew there would be more to celebrate with the opening, the first customers, and that first monthly revenue. His gaze shifted to the blue sky above. For once, it was not raining.