Liverpool, England — At nine o'clock every night in the heart of tense Toxteth, Amid Tabit stops selling newspapers and groceries in his tiny shop and goes outside for an elaborate closing ritual.
One by one he takes blank boards and slides them between steel protective mesh screens and his shop windows. ''Anyone coming by will think the shop is abandoned,'' he says hopefully. ''Things are still bad here.''
When I first met him a year ago, he, his brother, and his father had just spent all night on guard outside the shop with stout sticks and their large family dog, protecting their property from violent mobs surging, burning, and looting along Lodge Lane.
''It's a bit better now,'' he said laconically when I returned to talk to him again. Serving a stream of customers both black and white, young and old, he went on:
''Other shops have closed down and my business is doing well as a result. . . .
''But the tension is still high. I worry all the time about kids coming in and robbing me. I was robbed just the other day - (STR)40 (some $70) taken from the till.
''No, I didn't go to the police. If the kids see police here, they know I've told them, and they come back later for revenge. . . .
''It's as though the big riot last year freed the young people, made them feel they could do anything. You can see it when they come in. Three threatened to break my windows with bricks. They abuse my wife. . . .''
Behind the counter stood attractive, slightly built Salma Tabit. ''I am frightened all the time,'' she said. ''Whenever Amid leaves the shop to buy at the wholesalers, I am scared until he gets back. Youngsters, men, they come in. I pretend Amid is still home. I shout to him through the door to our flat at the back as though he was there. . . .
''We had a bell under the counter and I could push it secretly if trouble came. The police were supposed to come. But nothing happened here from January until July, and it cost about (STR)350 (roughly $600) every six months, so we gave it up. In the last two weeks I would have used it six times at least.''
Amid Tabit came to Liverpool from Sanaa, in North Yemen, seven years ago. Salma was born in the north of England to Yemeni parents. They have two children , aged one and four.
Amid's father Mutaha, and another brother, Ali, had a shop close to his own, but sold it quickly after being trapped inside during the early rioting last year while buildings burned around them. Mutaha and Ali bought another shop in Anfield but say they have encountered racial prejudice.
So they are moving back to Sanaa. They and Amid have been sending back money and building three homes with a shop beneath.
Will Amid join them? ''Yes . . . not yet, though. Business is OK. I want to modernize the shop before I sell it.''
Salma interjects: ''I don't want to go yet. I've never been to Sanaa.'' She fears loss of freedom and identity under strict Islamic law.
Still, she wants to move out of Toxteth. ''We can't afford someone else in the shop,'' she said, handing a handful of sticky candy to a tiny boy and taking his proffered five pence. ''We're here from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m.
''We work so hard, you know, with never a day off or anything, and this is how we are paid back. . . .
''My father, he's fed up with the troubles here,'' Amid said. ''I don't like it anymore, either. But I need the money just now.''
Both are grateful that violence has been limited to sporadic incidents involving 10- to 16-year-olds so far this summer. Up and down Lodge Lane outside , a number of shopfronts are still boarded up, and empty, weed-filled lots yawn where buildings were gutted last July.
''We still hardly see the police around,'' Amid added. ''The government is trying to do something, I know. I hope it comes quickly.''