Claire dreaded this question ,not the sound of the words ,or the meaning of it,but it was the thought of future hopes,almost her whole being was tied up in the personal meaning.These five words ,uttered with an inflection in the word your ,seemed to imply a deficiency on the customer.Although the customer could be anyone really,just anyone who purchased a half dozen eggs ,be they battery,or free range the question had to be asked and Claire dreaded it.
As she settled down into her shift ,the never ending stream of people who frequented the store filed in and out,in and out,seeking sustenance ,be it ,a weekly food shop,or,as was the case increasingly now,almost a daily ritual of food shopping.Claire knew the regulars,the old people,the devotees of the instore bakery,or the fish market,and Pizza Parlour.Claire scanned the items ,the different items,removed the plastic receptacles from the expensive booze with a silent acquiescence without a word said ,just a hollow smile.As the next customer placed her items on the mini conveyor,Claire ,by now,almost phobic about the potential affects on her of “that question” cast her eyes across the belt.It was a state of clandestine desperation that she kept to herself with only one other living being ever knowing,one.Oh,how she longed for an end that this turmoil,this living hell,this cave of dense black depression that had a trigger ,that trigger question.
Nigel,her partner ,once a caring person,her soulmate from yesteryear had just got tired of it.He just didn’t get it,her pain,the pain within her heart.He said that some just are meant to have children,as if to say that some people arnt meant to have a holiday of a washing machine.Nigel had tried,don’t get me wrong in the early days of the treatment ,faithfully going with her to Charing Cross for the programme.Why,even the sessions to produce sperm in the toilet with the dirty mags were carried out with a willingness to “do his part”.Those were the early days,the hope years,the “light at the end of the tunnel years”,but that was literally years ago.Oh,how Claire had wished they were those young people starting out again,not the people they are now,passive strangers holding their fractured dreams,their lifeless teddies their barrenness,their emptiness.
Mum and Dad,such stalwarts in the early stages,had grown tired of it.They were tired of the onset of age,the guilt of Gail and Jeffs children,the doting grandparents ,but never able to talk to Claire about it too much because she would burst into tears,bereft of all reason,filled to the brim of a toxic emotional ,drowning in her own sorrow.All these feelings existed in the silence as she passed item after item across the scanner.In many ways,Claire loved the those people who knew when the big question was coming:”Have you…….”,”Yes love,your alright”.These responses made it bearable.It was the aloof customers,those who didn’t really have a clue what they had placed on the belt that often asked her to repeat the question again.If only they knew,if only ,if only,if only,they might just take a bit more care.Beryl on aisle eight was in such a sunny mood this morning,and she with her perfect little family of two boys and a girl,oh put her 5 eggs of life and everything was totally free range in her life.
Customer after customer with their items scanned and paid for as the morning moved on and all the while Claire ,desperate for air ,willing her supervisor to say it was time for her break.It was now just gone eleven,and Claire Reeves,once the most beautiful girl in her year group,now,in her late 30s,careworn,totally broke and without taking a holiday in years because of the cost of private treatment.Glancing across the line of customers ,she spied what looked like a face from her past,a face of her history ,a surprise face and unexpected .Could it be her,could it.She tried not to stare initially,thinking that it might be viewed as rudeness if she were seen to be analysing her every movement as she put her items on the belt.Try as she might,Claire wasn’t able to stop it though,and the last customer didn’t get a nice day salutation,or a smile,or asked for her loyalty card.No,Claire really didn’t care less ,she just looked at her,this apparition from the past,from the old days,the times of freedom,of day dreams,of hopes and plans and wanting to make their mark.
Our customer from Claire’s past started to place her items on the belt.As she only had a few pieces of shopping,Claire would have normally advised her of the ten items or less aisle,but something stopped her,something just did,and she was burning inside to look at her.Why,here she was,old looking,in her late thirties,broke,in a stressful marriage,lacking a glow ,empty,empty,empty.
As she scanned the last item ,Claire looked up,making eye contact:Selina isn’t it”.?”
Just then,the customer ,quite taken aback,in her business suit and trappings of career success ,did a double take.”Is that Claire,is it really..?”
Oh,what a wonderful question to be asked,the knowledge that someone recognised her as a human with a name ,a living being was just the best thing.
Selina ,ever the warm and bubbling person,hadn’t hardened with the years.Granted a university education had given her open doors in life,a purpose,a rung up the life ladder,but non of that mattered when confronted with her former classmate.Selina never really secure with her features had done something about it,and Harley street cosmetic surgery hadn’t let her down,
Claire looked at Selina ,and at her last item,and as the clock struck 11signalled to her supervisor that it was her break.Selina wanted to catch up with Claire and took the iniatiive:”I’ve checked them Claire,let’s have a coffee”.
They both immersed themselves in each other for the next 15 minutes.Selina was down as her mum was now in a Dementia home in Dorset.Claire wished that the day would never end and she soaked up just being with Selina and just fed off her confidence ,her sheer nerve .It was so lovely to have u tarnished memories,those caught in time days came to life for them both.
Selina,always able to ask those questions refrained almost as if she knew about Claire.Selina didn’t mention anything about children either as if she knew somehow that “it just truly wasn’t her business”.But something else attracted Claire to Selina and it was that those minutes in her presence made her feel as if she were the most important person in the whole wide world.She forgot about all the bad stuff,all her failures,all the stresses in her marriage,just savoured her time with a friendly person from her past.
They exchanged contact details,with Selina inviting her to her flat in Lo don if she were ever there.Claire ,reticent to tell her that she had a visit to see her co sultans next month,took her card ,but without reading it.Departing ,Selina gave her a huge hug ,genuine,not forced,almost desperate too in its way.Claire wondered if she was alright as she felt quite thin but would pry.
Laine went back to her till,with the customers ,young and old,with the various items passing through her belt ,coming and going,but now,even though she dreaded the question,just someone wanting to talk to her for however short a time ,but with a familiar history of better times ,just lifted her,drew up mental pathways towards a brighter horizon.Yes,just a small act like the kindness shown by Selina was enough for Claire to get through asking that bloody question.