RICKETS

Shoppers are queuing at every checkout, the lines stretching across the walkway at the front of the shop and into the aisles.

Everywhere I turn there are more shoppers armed with trolleys, stressed and strident and ordering each other to reach higher for a particular item or to check the sell by dates.

I have only a small jar of coffee in my basket and at the fruit stand I help myself to a banana and an apple. Just one of each although I’m unsure if it is allowed. It certainly doesn’t look right, not here, and I don’t want to fight my way through the crowd and stand in line only to be turned away for trying to buy too little.

But what do we need? I try to think. Detergent, cat food, one of those sacks of healthy crunchy cereal Christine likes. Perhaps I should grab a trolley and fill it with all of these and more. Next time I’ll make a list and like others, I’ll be prepared.

I recognise the old man. He is sitting on one of the plastic chairs that are bolted to the floor beneath the windows beside the main exit doors.

The skin on his face and head is so thin that the shape of his skull can be seen. I suspect that beneath his bulky clothes he is little more than dry bones. Whenever I see him I think of rickets. The word jumps into my head and I haven’t any choice but to carry it for a while.

A woman is standing over him, one of the supervisors whom I also recognise. As I draw closer I hear her asking him, for what is quite obviously not the first time, if there is anyone she can call, someone who will come and help him.

‘No,’ the old man replies, ‘there isn’t anyone but I’ll be okay in a few minutes. I’ll be okay.’

The woman frowns and studies him.

‘Your bags are very heavy. I don’t think you are going to be able to carry them home you know. Shall I call for a taxi for you? That would perhaps be best.’
‘No. Thank you but no,’ the old man starts to get up from the seat. ‘Really, I’ll be okay. In a few minutes.’
‘I’ll do it,’ I hear myself blurt out.

The woman looks across at me and the surprise on her face quickly turns to relief.

‘Oh, thank you,’ she says. ‘This gentleman will take you home in his car.’
‘I don’t have my car.’ I place my basket on the empty chair beside the old man. ‘But I’ll walk with him and I’ll carry his bags.’

We walk in single file alongside the dual carriageway. The old man has thanked me and apologised profusely for my trouble and now he quietly forges his way.

I trail behind with the bags which are indeed heavy. It is a big shop, a weekly shop. I can see that there are potatoes, a joint of meat, jars of paste, loaves of bread, various tins and four cans of lager and much else besides. It is a shop intended to last, a ritual that against all odds is somehow managing to continue.

We make our way down to an underpass and when we emerge it is at the edge of an estate in a part of town I hardly know. The old man continues doggedly and I follow him along a beaten track and into a maze of terraced houses. At last we come to a halt in front of a door which opens almost immediately.

An old woman stands on the threshold.

‘Where have you been?’ she screeches. ‘Why have you been gone so long?’ She glances across at me and down at the shopping bags.

‘Put those down there,’ she says, a little less brusquely but only a little. She indicates that I should put the bags down on the front step. As I do this she turns and starts back into the house.

The old man smiles meekly.

‘Thank you.’

I step back onto the pavement and turn around. I have no idea where I am but I will, of course, manage to work it out.

 

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6 comments

  1. j.h. white

    You have a wonderfully intuitive grasp of character and seem to be able to slip insightful social commentary in as well. I love that “rickets” comes to his mind and he has to carry it for awhile.

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