The bingo in front of me was of the skinny variety, about sixty, female and short. I took an instant dislike to her because she continued to shop after she had taken her place in the queue. She grabbed a variety of sweets and crisps as we waited and arrived at the till still undecided about what to do when she got there. I consciously calmed myself as she made a leisurely selection from the available scratch cards, changing her mind on a couple of occasions, and then progressing to the inevitable, but faltering, cigarette order. Patience has never been my event at the social olympics. At some small distance in the foreseeable future I spotted a point at which she would be somewhere else, I fixed my prescient eye upon it and took heart from it as a shipwrecked sailor does when he spies shore.
It was with some effort that I refrained from muttering out loud when the request for “Seventeen pounds eighty nine” produced a flurry of panicky activity as the bingo began searching for her purse in a handbag the size of a suitcase. A selection of the contents were removed and placed on the counter to aid her search, these included another handbag. Did she not realise that she would need money at the till? How could that have been a surprise to her?
Agonisingly slowly, the bingo located her purse, and meticulously counted out each note and coin to match the cost of her purchases exactly. It took the till operator another five minutes just to pick it all up from the counter. “I’m a professional,” I told myself, “patience is what I do.” The queue behind me was now past the wine cooler and all the way up the aisle to the pharmacy shelf.
The transaction was finally completed, but as I prepared to move forward to the till she said “Oh sorry love, I wanted menthol.” The til operator looked at me. I swear I hadn’t moved a muscle and I had remained poker faced. It’s my belief she noticed my face change colour as I struggled for self control.
For the innocent among you, menthol cigarettes are more expensive than plain tobacco. So the previous transaction had to be cancelled, the cigarettes returned to the shelf, the Menthol cigarettes located, the new transaction punched in, and, in a torture worthy of the deepest pit of hell, the shortfall made up in slow, deliberate, meticulous small coinage.
Eventually, own purchase completed, I headed for the exit, my mood improving as I anticipated my supper. The automatic door was already open though and my path was blocked. Standing in the doorway, paused in the act of lighting her cigarette was the hesitant bingo. “Sorry lad,” she said, “I’ll never get it lit out there, that wind’s awful. I’ll only be a moment.”
So if anyone out there is willing to provide written testimony of my previous good character, or to bear witness to it in court, I’d be very grateful.