Last Sunday, in a bitterly cold easterly wind, the neighbour opposite stands on the pavement, staring into the open bonnet of his car. On either side, a furrow browed trio of minders gather and stare with him. Middle aged, Balkan, hunched against the wind, drawing edgily on cigarettes – as people do when there’s an unresolved task at hand – their faces lined by life and wreathed in smoke, drinking glass mugs of strong black coffee – the ghost of the Ottoman Empire in a cup. Wandering to and fro a little.
In front of them, he who knows stands in front of the car with his head bowed in concentration – and perhaps prayer – his hands moving delicately across spark plugs, valves, fluttering over nuts as though casting benediction or feeling an aura, carefully tightening this or that, screws twiddled tighter or looser. No surgeon could show more care. An oily rag is wiped lovingly, almost caressingly here and there; soothing fluids are drained from sumps or poured gently into thirsty orifices.
The minders watch, make suggestions.
Mobile phones are consulted. Fingers point and tap. Heads nod and shake. Bending seriously to get at the innards, a part is transplanted. Hands rub together. Other hands take the pulse.