A New Wallet

by Bruin Fisher

As the escalator propelled me smoothly upwards I gradually rose above floor level, and eventually made the little hop onto solid ground and onto the upper floor of the Slough branch of Marks and Spencer. I found myself surrounded by frilly pink silk undergarments, which is not what I was interested in, so I walked briskly on. Ahead stood a shop assistant, a much-too-thin young man in M&S uniform, short spiked hair, triangular face, ironic mouth, those bored aloof eyes that shop assistants cultivate, until our eyes met and his took on a sparkle and his mouth twitched.

It was just momentary, but I saw it, and I think he saw my smile in response. And then it was all over as I continued on my way and he continued guarding the ladies' changing rooms.

It had been a day of novelty, a day for breaking out of routine, breaking out of my shell. I had been thrown out of an office when I went to demand some legal documents there that are rightfully mine and I stood my ground when I was refused. Me, timid shy me, can you believe? Then I'd gone to the police station and discussed it in detail with a very dishy young policeman who was wearing a flak jacket, I think they're called, with wires and electronic gadgetry festooned all over his already impressive chest. And I'd bought a Caramel Macchiato coffee in Starbucks and sat and watched a shoplifter being chased down the street by a security guard. I'd never done any of these things before. Not even the coffee.

So I was in Marks and Sparks just to kill some time, really, and because they have toilets. I had hours to kill before my next appointment so I thought I'd mooch around the shops and went into Marks. I looked at the shirts. These days they have hundreds of really awful shirts and if you search through the whole lot there will be one or two shirts that are to die for. Diamonds in the dirt. I found their diamonds but at twenty-five pounds a time I thought No, thanks, ducky. Again their ties are now fifteen pounds each, would you credit it? I came close to paying the fifteen pounds for a tie I found, pure black silk, quite narrow, and a complex weave that gave the material texture and a look almost like basket-work. I've never seen anything like it and it would go so well with my all-black outfit. I didn't buy that either, but I did buy a wallet, nice leather, reduced from twenty-two pounds, - whoever would pay that for a wallet? - to under nine pounds. Like I said, I was breaking out.

There was only one checkout, a row of four tills and I noticed straight away that number two was manned by the guy I'd noticed earlier. Eyelashes unfeasibly long and curly, gave him a look a bit like that actor, you know, Alan Cummings. Sweet boy.

They had one of those queueing systems. You all stand in one line and there's a screen at the head of the queue which tells you which cashier has come free. There's also an irritating voice that said in a sing-song voice “cashier number four, please!” and the couple in front of me walked up to the till to pay for their goods. To my delight the next till free was number two. Even before the disembodied voice had told me what to do, the young man had looked up, met my eye and smiled. Either he's very good with customers, or that was a smile of recognition, he remembered me from earlier. So even before we spoke we were both grinning foolishly.

I handed the wallet over and he scanned it.

“That'll be eight pounds eighty pence, please, sir.”

“Thank you.” and I handed him my credit card. He fed it into the machine and we waited while it digested the card.

“Would you like a bag for that?”

“No, thank you. It's all right, I don't have far to walk and it's only small.”

“It's no problem. I have a small one.”

While he worked at separating leaves of dark green polythene bag one from the other, I said “Never admit to that.”

He looked up in slight surprise. “I'm sorry?”

“You just said you have a small one.” I met his eyes and they crinkled as his whole face lit up in appreciation of the quip. He began to giggle and it was infectious – I giggled and we completed the card transaction with no further words but broad grins on our faces. He slid the little box with the wallet in it, and the card receipt, into a small polythene carrier bag and handed it to me with a wink and an even broader smile. So I walked away with a bounce in my step thinking whatever is the world coming to? To think that I could be so brazen. Flirting with a good-looking shop assistant?

But when I got back to the car I had to do my breathing exercise because I was having palpitations. I could have been thrown out of a second shop in one day, and this time for sexual harassment! What a narrow escape. Sometimes shells are there for staying in, not for breaking out of.

Bruin Fisher September 2009

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