She was left with no choice. Despite the government advice and the scaremongering on the telly, Win had to venture out.
Seventy seemed a long time ago, so she was certainly in the “at risk” category. But what choice did she have? The stockpiled cat food ran out last week and now even Teddy was tiring of their shared meal of corned beef, no matter how she tickled up the trimmings.
She chose an early morning, steeled herself and took the steady walk around the corner to the Co-Op. Her regular shop looked so familiar and yet filled Win with dread. But once inside, the common sights soothed her. She picked up a basket and started filling it with cat food, some select tins and a few sugary treats for herself. She even saw the nice, friendly ginger lad who sometimes works the till. She smiled at him, but he merely continued stocking Fairy Liquid.
I’d better get eggs as well, Win thought, following the one-way system marked in packing tape on the floor. She turned the corner of the aisle to where the eggs usually live and was faced with an empty shelf. No omelettes on the menu, she conceded and continued to the checkout.
Signs encouraged her to use the self-checkout, so she followed the confectionery chicane. She placed her hessian shopping bag on the side.
‘Please scan your first item.’
‘Good morning.’ Win greeted the machine as she scanned her first of many packets of Felix.
‘Please place the item in the bagging area.’
‘Of course I will, thank you for your help,’ Win’s reply was as polite as ever. The machine was always courteous and pragmatic, just how she liked her conversation. But she particularly enjoyed her chat with it this time.
Scanned, packed, paid with her card. This shopping is a breeze, she mused as she hoisted the bag onto her elbow.
The automatic doors opened and a burly man strode in. He marched right up to the boy stacking shelves near the home essentials.
‘Got any bog roll yet mate?’
The young lad seemed resigned to this bully invading his personal space.
Win watched with curiosity. Why didn’t the boy ask him to move? We all know the social distancing rules.
‘Some came this morning, but they’re all gone,’ the boy whimpered from his stacking stance.
‘Fuck’s sake. You guys are useless!’
Win flinched at the shouting. She didn’t particularly care for the swearing either.
The man was awfully close to the boy now; Win couldn’t understand why he was engaging intimidation tactics.
‘Excuse me.’ The old lady began from a good distance away.
The man turned his head towards her.
She cringed at the crude insolence.
‘You’re not two metres away from the young man.’
His hearing had seemed fine, so he must’ve just been confused.
‘There’s not two metres distance between you two.’ Win used her free hand to gesture between them.
‘Mind your own business you old cow!’ He was shouting again but Win didn’t flinch this time, instead she stepped towards him, whilst maintaining her mandatory distance.
‘I said, that’s not two bloody metres love,’ Win put her bag on the floor and fixed her eyes on his.
He scoffed then turned and left the shop.
Win nodded at her ginger friend who could only smile weakly back.
‘Mustn’t dally.’ Win declared, mostly to herself, as she picked up her bag and was on her way.
Outside, she realised she was shaking. Presumably from her first foray into the virus-stricken shopping experience. Not to mention the bubbling anger at the nerve of the bully. Yet there was a tiny bit of her that was quite excited by the drama of it all. Don’t be silly, she scolded herself, pushing the possibility of those feelings back inside. No, it was fear and anger she was feeling, nothing else.
Despite the nervous fear and the shouting, that was the most actual interaction with a human being she’d had in months. She smiled.
Maybe I should pop to Tescos near the park, just to check if they have any eggs, Win pondered. It would be silly not to, now I’m out.
Katie Isham is a teacher, drummer, cake connoisseur and mild adventurer from the south of England. She has a travel blog which is currently focused on more local (yet epic) journeys – http://www.vintagegnome.blogspot.co.uk