Slow Lane

The topic we were given at writing group last week was Wonder. There is of course more than one interpretation of this word, I chose the verb; the desire to know something or curiosity.

When I did a word count of my short story it was nearly 1300 words and I was attempting to get 1000 and therefore I edited parts of it. Reading it back now I think I may need to put them back in, it ends a little too abruptly and I lost some of the sentiment I’d tried to get across.

What really surprised me though is that since writing Slow Lane I’ve come across this news article that reported on an almost identical idea to that I’d written about. A supermarket in Scotland has introduced a relaxed lane aimed at making the checkout experience easier for more vulnerable customers.

Like most good ideas I wonder why this hasn’t been thought of sooner 🙂

Please have a read of Slow Lane and let me know what you think, should I re edit and beef it out a little?

Slow Lane

Do you ever sit in your car at traffic lights and look across at the person in the car next to you and wonder, what sort of life do they have? Or walk past someone in the street and catch their gaze for a second and have that same feeling, who are you?

Sarah had that feeling often as she sat at her checkout desk in the town centre supermarket. Each weekday between 8 and 4 she would chat to a steady stream of shoppers at her till about everything and nothing. People she knew and strangers alike would small talk their way through their grocery packing. Special offers, what’s for dinner, trouble parking, plastic bags and of course the weather were hot topics during Sarah’s working day.

None of the above lingered for long in Sarah’s mind, the talk came and went just as the conveyor belt rolled endlessly around. There would however be the occasional customer that would ignite Sarah’s curiosity to the point where she woud become distracted. In the same way you forget the lyrics to a song or the name of an old neighbour, some people would niggle at Sarah’s subconcious like stories without an ending.

For some people the supermarket checkout was the start of their day, hurrying to grab their morning paper and milk before work. A lot of shoppers went in and out almost blindly, picking up their regular items, following a mental list as part of their routine lives. Quite a few were just lonely, the brief few minutes spent passing the time of day with Sarah may be the only words they’d speak for hours. The lunchtime rush included local school kids harrassing the browsers just out for their fresh loaf and whatever took their fancy for tea. Later on the school run Moms with one eye on the smart phone, the other on the terrible two trying to escape the trolley seat.

The final hour of Sarah’s shift was often where her curiosity would run wild. Boredom having firmly set in after a day full of trivial talk and white noise. It was also the part of the day that brought out the half hearted shoppers, those that knew they needed something but didn’t quite know what. Maybe they’d finished work and couldn’t decide between a takeaway or a ready meal. Others may have been out shopping earlier and forgotten something or changed their minds. It was a consumer twighlight time, too late for dinner, too early for the evening big shop.

The woman struggling to unload her basket this afternoon looked to be in her mid 40s. Casually dressed she could’ve been younger but her hands gave away a few more years. There were wedding and engagement rings on her left hand and clipped onto her shouder bag a keyring holiding photos of a small girl and boy. Had she smiled Sarah could see she would be extremely attractive but the pained expression on her face almost distorted her features.

As the bottles and jars rolled down the slope of the till the woman struggled to catch them and stand them inside her bag for life. The fruit and veg were getting a battering as she tossed them haphazard into the carriers and her bread would never regain it’s loaf shape after being squashed under the frozen veg. Sarah had offered help with packing, that over used yet compulsary line that cashiers the country wide must mutter in their sleep. The lady nearly bit her head off and yet still complained. ‘You’re going too bloody fast’ as Sarah swiped cartons and packets through the scanner.

Opening her purse to pay, the contents spilled out accross the floor and as Sarah knelt to help recover loose change the woman snapped again, ‘Just leave it will you, stick it in a charity box or something’.

Sarah held her breath when at the third attempt the shopper finally entered the correct pin number for her debit card but said nothing as the woman glowered at her almost daring her to react. Throwing the bulging shopping bags into her trolley she spun it around quickly and marched away just as Sarah noticed, ‘Your card, excuse me, hey….’

What the hell is wrong with her, she must’ve heard. Jumping up Sarah grabbed the Till Closed bar and apologising to the couple who’d started to load their shopping, took the debit card and headed for the exit.

It didn’t take long to find the mystery shopper as she was now cursing the coin slot in her trolley which was refusing to give back her pound coin. Sarah approached cautiously, “Excuse me you’ve..”

“Why me, why now?” Tears began rolling down the woman’s face as she leaned forward over the trolley.

Gently, Sarah took her by the arm and lifting the bags asked, “Where’s your car?”

Sobbing now the woman lead the way to a small hatchback and opening the drivers door slumped inside, her expression blank, the tears still falling.

Lifting the boot Sarah placed the shopping inside, rearranging it as best she could. This story couldn’t be left untold, a combination of curiosity and concern led Sarah to climb into the passenger seat where she waited as the woman composed herself.

Turning to look at Sarah now she spoke, “I thought I could do it, I needed shopping, it all seemed so normal but no one knows, they can’t see my pain.” She took a deep breath.

“My husband died last week but life goes on, the kids need feeding, bills paying, dogs walking and yet nothing will ever be the same. There’s no till for beareaved shoppers or those suffering illness, you don’t have a queue for having a bad day, lost your patience or losing your mind. We all stand in line and make the same noises, move in the same direction but some of us just want to shout, ‘Help!’

Walking back into the supermarket Sarah paused to watch the queues building as the evening rush began thinking about what the young widow had said.

Maybe I should speak to management she wondered, is it about time we had a slow lane because you never know what baggage the person next in line is carrying.





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