This was my second time round the aisles in half an hour. The still empty basket at my side made me conspicuous. I picked a pizza from the frozen food cabinet beside me and noticed it was buy-one-get-one-free, so I took another. This was my fifth time here in as many nights. I had fine-tuned these excursions to take place at half-three when the supermarket was at its emptiest.
I walked through the clothes section and stopped at the CD rack on the edge of it. None of the bands or singers were my sort of thing, but I stood my ground. From here I could see the tills; they were all closed, except the one at the end. The lady working it looked severe, but her short, plum hair suggested a quirkiness: that or a bad choice of brown. I fiddled with the flap of my satchel, not trying to open it. The beer I’d drunk to suppress my nerves sloshed in my stomach. A burp brought foam up my throat. I swallowed it again and took a deep breath to calm myself.
A security guard walked past. He was about my height, but scrawny. I lost my nerve and did a lap of the biscuit aisle, picking up some bourbon crèmes. I came back to the CD’s and looked over them again: The Best of The Bangles; The Best of Bond Themes, Bond Themes Are Forever; The Corrs: Talk on Corners; Tracy Chapman, Matters of the Heart. I flicked through them, while keeping an eye on who else was in the store.
There was a man walking about with a girl who, despite my suspicions otherwise, could have been his daughter; there was a bleary eyed drunk man stumbling about, muttering away to himself; there was a nurse, probably on her break from nightshift at the local hospital. She said something to a shop assistant, the only one on this side of the store, who pointed her towards whatever she was looking for.
What was I worrying about? These people wouldn’t give me any bother and even if they did, none of them were anything to worry about.
The man and the girl walked along the aisle towards me. Now they were closer I could see she wasn’t as young as I’d thought, but she still wouldn’t have been more than a teenager. Her delicate fingers looked awkward interlocked with his much larger, older hand. As they passed, she looked at me from under her dark fringe and I realised I was staring.
I moved down the selection of CDs, passing from the Cs onto the Ds: Daniel O’Donnell: Daniel In Blue Jeans, Dido: No Angel, Tanya Donelly: Love Songs for Underdogs, Def Leopard: Vault. I thought about taking the Daniel O’Donnell CD and putting it in the O section where it belonged.
The nurse stopped beside me, scanned the rack, and picked up the Dido album, showing me just how long someone should take to choose a CD. She walked off in the same direction as the man and the girl. I plucked up my nerve and turned around. The security guard walked past again, and I lost it. I walked around the cereal aisle and picked up some Frosties, then along the frozen food aisle and back through the clothes section to the CD rack.
The security guard walked past again. I was careful not to look too closely at him. I picked up the Corrs album and read the back of it. Glancing up I could see the till; there were no customers at it. The security guard was now a few aisles past me. I set the CD back on the stand.
Walking purposely through the clothes section towards the till, taking deep breaths to calm my nerves, I lifted a black one-piece woman’s swimsuit off the rack and shoved it into my basket. I almost broke into a run.
When I reached the till, I threw my basket down and dumped my shopping out on the conveyer belt, the swimsuit half-hidden in the middle. Blood pumped into my head as I fiddled with my wallet, anything not to look at the woman serving me. The front of my head felt as if it might give way. Sweat started to run down my face.
“Have you a club card?” the woman asked flatly.
“No,” I replied quickly. Drunk as I was, I could barely meet her eyes. I watched nervously as she put the items through the checkout.
The till did a small jingle as the pizzas went through. Foam flew up my throat. Only the ballooning of my cheeks stopped the woman from being covered in vomit. What was wrong with the till? My eyes leapt to the woman’s, but she had moved onto the bourbon crèmes.
Looking at the display on the till, I saw it said: ‘pepperoni pizzas – special offer’. I opened my satchel and put the pizzas in, followed by the bourbon creams.
The swimsuit was scanned next. The till display read ‘woman’s bikini’. It wasn’t a bikini, it was a one piece. What sort of arsehole didn’t know the difference? Before I had time to realise I should panic or expect the woman to erupt with disgust and call the other customers over to mock me, the swimsuit was in my bag. The woman scanned the box of Frosties. “Fifteen pounds, eighty eight,” she said as she handed me the cereal. I gave her a twenty, which she put in the till, then reached me my change. I put a pound in the guide dogs box and gave the woman a grateful smile.
As I walked outside, feeling a mixture of happiness and fading nerves, I secured my satchel straps and put it over my shoulder. The light had started to change, and the brightening blue hue of the sky was beginning to show rain clouds, that had started to drizzle.
I walked drunkenly home through the rain to try on my swimsuit, hoping I’d bought the right size.