The cigarette is hanging from his lip above a collection of gnarly grey stubble. Grease monkeys in long dirty blue overalls lean in close sharing the flame, a little taste of death. He beckons me forward onto the ramp.
Obedient I inch forward, wheels straight, until dismissively he waves his hand. We get out – efforts to engage him are futile, he merely looks through me with light blue eyes as though any information I have is on another plane to his own, and unlikely to be relevant. His grizzly older colleague appears wearing a light pink knitted toque, which bobs incongruously as they haul my other set of tires from the trunk, cigarettes still dangling.
Speech is almost taboo, although it is fine to help myself to pungent coffee from the hotplate laced with condensed milk. The boss sees me, nods, and wanders off. My small son steals sugar cubes from the coffee table, eyeing a chart of tire treads.
Outside the car looks naked without its wheels and I consider that I’m putting my life in the hands of these three, in their cavern of rubber and shiny hubcaps, hissing tools and wordless graft. Somehow without speaking the boss gets me to sign the bill and finally he thanks me. An impatient man with a briefcase is behind us, itching to get onto the ramp and begin his day. The wheels keep wearing down and changing with the seasons, customers come and go.
The tire guy pulls out a fresh cigarette, and looks beyond it all with eyes that seem to match the sky, then turns back inward and continues, as he has always done.