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1 minute


‘Leave that!’

I stop. In front of me, a mother tugs the arm of her young daughter who is fighting to reach a shopping basket on wheels.

‘You’re causing a scene!’ the mother says, louder than necessary. Her knotted bleached hair is scraped into a top knot and her sunken eyes are drowning in dark half-moons.

I step around them, relieved I don’t need a basket.

I walk past piles of shrink-wrapped apples, and grapes that have been exported from the other side of the world. A trolley bolts around a pyramid of Doritos and misses me by centimetres. Only the driver's sudden desire for cheese-flavoured chips saved me from getting mowed down.

Signs mounted above each aisle, give hints as to whether I’m getting closer to the one item I wish to purchase—a jar of pickled onions. I want the large onions. The ones you can’t fit into your mouth whole. The ones you have to bite into. You can’t buy them that size everywhere, only here.

I reach the frozen section empty-handed and turn back to scan the aisles again.

A middle-aged woman, wearing the stores grey uniform, leans against a cage of unpacked stock. She chats to a young lad who is stacking kitchen roll onto the shelf.

‘Excuse me,’ I say. ‘Can you tell me where I can find the pickles?’

The woman doesn’t look at me. ‘Aisle six,’ she barks.

My cheeks burn as I turn and count backwards to aisle four.

One jar of giant-sized pickled onions sits on the shelf. I grab it and look either side of me, half expecting other shoppers to notice my lucky find and kick themselves for not getting to the jar first, but no one is looking my way.

At the self-serve checkout, I scan my piece of treasure and set in down in the bagging area.

Please place item in bagging area.

I lift the jar and place it down again.

Please place item in bagging area.

A red light flashes at my checkout. Apparently, I need assistance.

The woman supervising the self-serve checkouts spots my light and sighs. She hobbles towards me like I’m the inconvenience. She doesn’t smile or look at me. I’m invisible to her.

She swipes a card hanging around her neck and types in a four-digit code.

I pay for my pickles and the checkout spits out a receipt.

I pick up my jar and turn to look at the customers and shop assistants. No one is looking at each other. They move like cogs in a machine.

I hold up my jar and let it slip from my fingers.

It smashes at my feet and splinters of glass sting my ankles.

Every head turns to look at me. They all stop, frozen in their tracks.

I smile.

No one says a word.

I step over the broken glass and leave the store empty-handed.

The End

© Michelle Upton

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