Open? Not any more. The new Indian owners of the convenience store near our apartment complex on South Congress Avenue are transforming a clean, Modernist box into a store filled with discount cigarettes and lottery tickets. I stood and watched as the new proprietors frantically shoveled candy, soda pop and cheap incense onto shelves that just a few days ago had gleamed with high-end merchandise. Mark, the Jordanian who had transformed the store, was no where to be found. Gone back to New Braunfels, said the hapless young clerk.
When my wife and I first moved into the neighborhood, the store had been operated by a late-middle-aged Indian couple who’d turned it into a sort of Bombay-by-South Austin, redolent with the odors of their Indian home cooking, and managed by the husband, who never spoke much, a sullen, unresponsive man who could suddenly explode, as he did one night when a drunk Chicano pulled a knife on him. He’d snatched up a piece of pipe and bashed that guy across the forehead and left him on the ground moaning, waiting for the police to arrive.
Some neighborhoods never change, as though some mysterious earth force possessed an energy more powerful than any of its owners. A few days after Mark had first bought the store, the Indian man who’d been operating it appeared. Just leaving that store and all its hassles had transformed him into a new creature, relaxed, smiling, glad to be shed of the drunks and vagrants who constantly clustered around the parking lot. Peace at any price, he said to me. Peace at last.