Mary took four tins of tinned tomato soup, Heinz, from the shelf and lined them up in her trolley in a tidy line. She reached for the tin at the back of the shelf and brought it forward to fill the gap she’d made, turning the labels to the front. She checked ‘soup’ off the list, folded the paper twice, put it in her black leather handbag and strode towards the till.
She chose the queue nearest to the exit even though it was longer than the next one along so that she could get out quickly without having to maneuver her trolley around people on the way out. The tall large man in front of her was wearing a dirty grey tracksuit. She suspected that he wasn’t wearing it to do any exercise. Especially given the amount of soft drinks, beer and pizzas in his trolley. She noted a long brown stain on the outside of his right trouser leg.
Mary inspected the situation at the front of the queue with one delicate yet purposeful glance. She winced slightly at the sight of the conveyer belt, which was piled high with ready meals, toilet roll, fresh meat and vegetables. A cucumber was sticking out and advancing slowly with the conveyer belt, ready to very slowly joust an unsuspecting victim at any moment. A large melon had been precariously placed on top of a bag of potatoes. Mary imagined it falling to the floor and bursting like a water balloon. She shuddered slightly and took one step backwards.
Mary braced herself for a long wait, annoyed that the customer at the front had waited until the last moment to sort her items into categories at the bagging area. She checked that her own items were all arranged in their appropriate categories inside the trolley and vowed to never leave it that late, with everyone watching. She made that vow each time she reached the till for her weekly shop, every Friday afternoon. Completely disrespectful, she thought, straightening her freshly ironed white blouse.
A couple of minutes later, Mary was both alarmed and relieved to see that woman simply squeezing as many items into each bag as she could, with no regard of the household categories. The man wearing the tracksuit leant his backside against the conveyer and folded his arms. He sighed noisily through bored lips then stared at the assorted chocolates by the till as if weighing up whether to throw one into his trolley. He made a ‘pff’ noise through the side of his mouth and lazily looked around. As he looked left, his gaze lowered into Mary’s trolley. His forehead creased as if he’d seen something quite peculiar and his eyes lifted to meet Mary’s. Despite the long wait she’s standing tall with perfect posture and both hands lightly rested on the trolley handle. His eyes widened slightly and darted away, fixing pointedly on something in the middle distance in front of him. After a moment he glanced right and noticed the conveyer had nearly emptied, so spun around and fumbled with his items.
Mary’s face stayed unchanged, as it had been for the past 10 years since Derek died. No reason for emotion, just keep calm and carry on. She took her attention off the man in front and advanced wordlessly to places forward as he started unloading his own trolley. She looked down sharply as a brown glass bottle of beer rolled off the conveyer, crashed into her trolley and landing on her grapes.
‘Sorry love,’ said tracksuit man, swinging his arm in to reach for the bottle.
‘I’ll get it,’ she said quickly, scurrying around the outside of the trolley and gently lifting it out. She paused momentarily before placing it on the conveyor belt to check for an appropriate place and ended up with placing it gently on its side, parallel to the belt so that it wouldn’t roll around.
‘No harm done,’ she said, thinking otherwise.