Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Gift Shop

When the rain suddenly came down, I was laden down with bursting flimsy supermarket bags, one in either hand. My elderly neighbour's shopping list had been ridiculously long for one person. So it wasn't really my fault when I swept a jar of happiness off the second shelf up from the bottom of the shop I'd dashed into.

The clattering of the rain on the pavement outside together with the bell and the brushing of the shop door against the mat as others too, took shelter, did nothing to muffle the shattering of the jar on the floor. Those already inside, browsing gingerly amongst the trinkets and keepsakes took in a collective sharp breath.

The rectangular shop seemed to become an arena, with me standing in the centre of onlookers who were now taller, enabling them to see beyond the cluttered shelves. I was sure that the raindrops on my cheeks would now be steaming away into a cloud above me and mixing with the evaporated happiness. In no time, the shopkeeper would be over and that cloud would yield a bolt of lightning.

I couldn't bolt. It was there for all to see and I was surrounded. All I could do was to scrabble around on the floor, pick up the sharp fragments and lay them in a pile next to the perpetrators, my bags.

'I'm very sorry madam but we have a policy. Breakages must be paid for.'

This was what the mealy-mouthed shoppers wanted. Their smug smiles sent a silent ripple of applause around the shop.

I handed over the money. There was no receipt. The storm outside had stopped and as I made my way to the door, the browsers' futile sifting through the displays for pricey bargains resumed pointedly. But I had broken the one thing they'd been looking for.