I'm afraid, Sarah, that this one's way, way, over the 500!
It had been one of those nights. You know, one of those nights. Whilst his younger workmates were probably worrying about their pulling power and shining up their Friday night shoes, Bruce had gone into the corner shop with every intention of getting a six pack of bottled lager, some corn chips and salsa dip. It was one of those shops for which he was both thankful but yet despised. It was so in your face. The chiller units against the wall were oversized for the width of the aisles so that in order to squeeze past the cardboard boxes of wine on offer (surely a contravention of some health and safety rule), you could almost fall inside them. Even when not falling in, you could breathe in the gases being exhaled from their vents, both warm and cold which pretty much described the contents on display too. Not much of an invitation for Bruce to indulge so he slithered sideways through, only knocking one of the price labels off from the perspex strip along the edge.
The prize for being able to negotiate his way to the back of the shop without picking up what he didn't want was the holy grail of seizing what he did want. When Bruce finally got there, he gazed despairingly at the gaping chasm on the shelf in the drinks chiller. No, it couldn't be. Surely they knew it was Friday, that he would be in. Anyone taking a cursory glance in his direction would have seen a middle-aged man, in smart, casual attire in autumnal colours with his head bent, hands over his ears, possibly conferring with his wife on his mobile over the choice of wine to go with dinner? But no. If they'd lingered a little longer, the picture would have become far more horrific. This was a man pushed to the brink of despair. There was no phone. No emergency service that could save him from what was about to happen. No choice of white or red. Just red.
In the queue of customers (and they did have the cheek to call themselves that), was a mixed group of youngsters, late teens, laughing and texting, jostling for position of top dog, excited about an imminent party. They had a trolley. The trolley was full of Bruce's favourite bottled Friday night lager, nicely chilled. Oh, and six bags of corn chips.
Bruce was beginning to lift his head now and as he did, the rage pouring forth in their direction may as well have burned a trench in the shop floor. Had there been room for more people in the aisle, they surely would have parted to allow what was about to happen. It had been a tough few days. This week's special offers: credit crunch, cut backs, no bonuses. Next week? No job.
Bruce ran his fingers through his scalp as if that by making his forehead more taut, he would appear more fierce. But there was really no need. After all, if you saw someone charging towards you with the acceleration of a cheetah, letting out the most soulful roar, you may pause before retaliating. You may just stand back in wonder as the middle-aged man with the boiling, crimson face draws level with you like a freight train rushing past the platform of commuter station in rush hour and deftly swipes your trolley from under your nose. After all, it's not paid for or anything and it's a bit of a laugh, really isn't it?
Meanwhile, the cold air had smacked Bruce in the face and panic began to set in. He couldn't go back. He couldn't go home. So he kept running. He ran in the darkness under the subway to the park, through the gates around the pond and sat, panting heavily on one of the benches there. He was in no doubt that they would find him but the reeds and laurels would buy him time.
In the distance, he heard a siren and he wondered if it was for him. But then again, he wasn't alone in all this mayhem was he? There were the ducks for a start. Was it the end of the world to lose your job? He could live just paddling around his flat, being thrown crumbs by the state with no stress. The ducks weren't stressed. There would be no Friday nights, no wind up, no wind down, no high-flying career to aspire to. He sat back and smiled.
The yellow street lamp on the perimeter of the pond reflected on the wire of the trolley, glinting conspiratorily at Bruce. He reached in for a bottle of lager, opening it on the gaps between the slats in the bench seat. He may as well enjoy his last moments of freedom. He rummaged a bit deeper down in the trolley for the corn chips. He was feeling much more relaxed now. As he felt around for the packet, he realised that his bounty was greater than he'd thought. Delighted at his find, he unwrapped it, bit off the top, stuck his tongue in down through the hole and waited to feel the sweetness of the yellow centre dissolve and slip around inside his cheeks.
He heard footsteps beating across the frozen grass and torch beams filtered through the bushes. This was it. In no time, he would be been positioned leaning forwards over the bench, gripping the back with his hands whilst the officers frisked him. They would feel egg-shaped protrusions.
'What's this then, mate? Would these be eggs or are you just pleased to see me?'
But Bruce wouldn't respond, maybe saying 'So how do you eat yours then?'