Every time I walk past the Newtown Fish Market, it smells like fish and the wharf in summer. Through the windows, I get a glimpse of Nikolai- the fishmonger in white gumboots, yellow rubber gloves, and a plastic apron.
The first time I went in, Nikolai was having a conversation with an old grey-haired man in another language. I stood there listening, not understanding a word of it. When the old man left, Nicolai began to tell me what they were talking about and I learnt that they had both come from the Ukraine.
“This man talking about newspaper. We from Ukraine where people are fighting to protect their villages, and then we read newspaper and they write about us like terrorists, you understand?”
He spoke with a heavy accent.
I didn’t really understand much of what Nikolai was telling me, but i listened carefully.
I asked Nikolai how work was going.
The shop had just got in a whole bunch of fresh fish, and the sign outside the shop advertising this was doing a good job at bringing in the locals off the street.
Nikolai would serve customers when they came in, and go back to his bench and wheelie bin to fillet fish when he got the chance.
“Is busy good?”, I asked
“I don’t like to be busy, I like to relax…”
“…in New Zealand…” Nikolai told me, “…cats and dogs come first, then Job, and then yourself…it’s Horse work, you understand?”
I thought he said house work.
Thursdays and Fridays were particularly busy. On Sundays, he was on the boat.
“Cool” I said.
“Cool if you own the boat, brother” he replied.
He stood at a bench with a knife, slicing carefully and quickly. The guts and off-cuts went into a big wheelie bin that sat beside him.
Looking at the cabinet with all the fish in it, I asked what was good.
“Try Hake”, Nicolai told me
A woman with a British accent had just walked in.
“Oh Hake.. we used to have that in England…Battered Hake and chips…oh it’s cheap isn’t it!”
Good old Nikolai would never just get me to buy the most expensive, ‘popular’ fish, as he called it.
I left with two massive bits of Hake for $10, and Nikolai and the British woman, who new him by name, continued talking about fish.
I walked home and then fried my fish.