Countdown to Chaos Part II

I needed to go to the supermarket.

I got my bags (sanitized in the washing machine) my keys, washed my hands and said goodbye to my family.

Once there, I waited in a queue that snaked out the rear door of the mall. Two metres apart, we waited on our phones, texting our friends and loved ones about how long the queue was, in disbelief, with the odd picture posted to social media with a surprised-look emoji.

Then we grew bored of our phones and put them away and instead looked at the closed stores. Some were up for sale. Others had handwritten messages, hastily scrawled on the Tuesday: “we’re working from home!” some of them said, hopefully.

Another shop had up a Churchill quote, probably hurriedly taken from BrainyQuote:

We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.”

As a travel agency, I wondered how successful they’d be in this endeavour.

The line moved slowly but surely. They’d deployed Robert, the trolley guy, to be the guy who told people where the line began. One by one, as the people entered the mall, they’d stop and discuss in their bubble, whether it was worth the wait just to get razors and Molenberg.

Some of them gave up almost immediately. The elderly couples, we put at the front of the queue. They definitely could not be flexible in the same way, and just come back another time for their marmalade.

Once through the Barrier of Destiny, it was amazing. With only a handful of people in-store, it was yours. It was calm, like church. I began to worship at the shrine of hot cooked chicken.

Brights light shone on the fruit and vege, you could get whatever you wanted within your budgetary wherewithal.

Robert’s voice barked in the background and the music of Keane played on, as usual, over the sound system.

I picked my produce, careful not to touch any surfaces.

I had to stop and remember: what was it that people wanted again? Superglue, reading glasses and drain cleaner, and those tablets you put in your cistern to make the flush bright blue.

Then it was off to the checkout to line up behind the bright red line and wait. There were no queues as such. It’s just that unlike the old days, people were being forced to be patient, kind and understanding, as much as they hated to.

It was my turn. I felt like that woman who had won a prize.

I felt like a woman who had lost control of everything. As my bottles of non-essential ginger ale rolled to the very end of the conveyor, I tried to multitask by swiping my high-contact Onecard at the same time as packing my own stuff, trying not to stand too close to the cashier and retrieving the rogue ginger fizz.

When did it all become so crazy? Another shopper in the adjacent aisle struggled to keep up with packing her own groceries. As each item slid down the gangway, she panic-packed and regretted her prior thoughts about not raising the minimum wage.

Soon it was over. After redeeming my Onecard voucher, which I had earned in around five days of shopping last week, we were set free. Just one more barrier to get through, at a safe distance, and it was over.

I walked out into the autumn sunshine, my trolley rattling and gleaming in the light.

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