Checkout Conversation

Asked if I need a bag for my groceries
Sheepishly, I confess that I do
Next question: “Did you find everything you needed?”
Half-heartedly, I report that I had done so
followed impulsively by: “Mission accomplished.”
Which, I immediately regret

The regret shows in my eyes
and the unconscious way in which
I draw inwards my lower lip
Signalling an involuntary slip
A blip
the unfathomable need to extend an answer
beyond a simple “Yes.”

She sees my regret
and remains silent
What did I expect?
A laugh?
A smile?
An amusingly cute riposte?

Her eyes focus on the job in hand
my groceries pass through her hands
transferring them from shopping basket
across a red light scanner
before packing them neatly
into the compostable plastic carrier

I wonder what the people in the queue
are thinking about me
seeing me, as a bag-purchaser, revealed

Get over yourself says a thought kept inside
They don’t care, the expressions they wear
clearly demonstrate that they are entirely consumed
by  matters relating to their own lives –
and at best – my crime registers barely for moments in time
in their minds

I reuse plastic bags
I do
Only, almost never for subsequent shopping trips
because they weaken

Exactly how do I reuse them?
That’s another story
and one that will have to wait

Not that there is anything unusual
mysterious, nor unsavoury
about what I do with them
There’s simply no room available
nor inclination on my part
to deal with the question here

“So,” I say to the cashier
“I always find these moments of silence uneasy.”
Processing my sentence, her eyes eye me uneasily

“It’s like,” I continue
“I feel we could talk, we could chat about something.”
“Pardon?” She says
positioning a loaf of bread mindfully
at the midpoint of the bag’s capacity

“I know, it’s, difficult.” I say
“It needs to be…”
I’m aware of an awkward air
flowing on a wave through the queue behind me
“A universal topic, something we are both likely to have knowledge of.”

“Friends?” The young woman quips after a pause
“OK; I have a group of friends…” I say, wistfully
“Recently, I worked-out that over the last ten years
I have shared space with them for the equivalent
of less than two and a half minutes per day.”

Before she can reply I quickly add, “And that’s just space,
actual conversation probably figures for less than half that time.
Interaction with neighbours over the same period
probably rivals this and my interaction with work colleagues
most certainly exceeds.”

“May I swipe your loyalty card?” She says
“Yes, of course, thank you.” I reply
“My favourite character from the boxed set is Phoebe.” She says
followed by a faint smile and widening of her eyes

As I turn to leave I realise
the awkward atmosphere that had hovered above the queue
has fermented into frustration and impatience

Gripping tightly the handles of their tote bags
they seem pleased and relieved to see me leave, for sure

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