It wouldn’t do to be in a hurry: there is a queue of cars just to get into the car park. I drive round for ages before I spot some people that look as if they are getting ready to depart. They are very slow. The group consists of two women, and a small baby. I suspect the women are the baby’s mother and grandmother; they look very alike. I wait for an eternity while they load the boot, lift, kiss and coddle the child before finally strapping it into its car seat. The grandmother waves her daughter out, then puts her hand up and halts her while a young man in a VW Golf zips past. The parking space is narrow; a bloated 4×4 has walled up one side and a badly-parked Metro is too close on the other. I swing the car in very slowly, and tell myself to be quick in the supermarket in the hope that I might get my shopping done before these people return and put more dents and chips in the paintwork when they open their doors.
Invariably, on a Saturday, passage into the shopping centre is hindered by gossips with fully-laden trollies blocking the entrance way. All of the traffic in and out of the place has to go through one set of sliding doors. The store is bunged; it looks as if it wasn’t a good idea to put off the expedition till this time of the day. The shelves are starting to empty faster than they can be re-stocked. This affects me: there are only two bunches of ordinary scallions left and they are mangled where the customary blue elastic band holds them together. There is a uniformed shelf-stacker there so I ask him if he has any more. No, they are sold out; didn’t expect the store to be so jammed what with the competition opening a new supermarket just down the road. But it’s good to see the place is busy, eh? It’s good for you anyway, I quip, taking a bunch of heavyweight super-scallions instead. The conversation continues a little; it is cheerful, pleasant.
I am getting cheese for my daughter’s school lunch when a voice from behind surprises me. I look down to see a large woman in an electric wheelchair. She is in stealth mode; I didn’t hear her coming. Sorry, she says, I thought you worked here. She is unashamedly lying; there is nothing about me that suggests I work here. I don’t mind in the slightest. She probably has a range of tactics for getting help with her groceries, and this is merely one of them, badly deployed – but successful. I get her a triangle of Danish Blue, and she thanks me and glides off silently to her next encounter.
Fortunately my shopping list isn’t long and I get what I need fairly quickly, ducking and dodging the dawdling, gurning, shouting, laughing, wheedling kids, the white-haired crone moving at glacier-speed, the preoccupied dad not looking where he’s going, and the young couple discussing the qualities of different ready-made pasta sauces. I am in luck at the checkout too, squeezing in just before a creaking family trolley which will take an age to unload, pack, and pay for. Leaving the store is challenging; the too-narrow space at the end of the checkouts is flooded with traffic. At the magazine shelves there is a group of four old women clutching lottery tickets and blocking the way. Hordes of shoppers are still entering, half-crazy before they even get fully immersed in this maelstrom of consumerism, but I navigate my way through them easily enough and am soon into the off-licence. Here I quickly find a bottle of white and join the short queue. The woman at the checkout is delightful: chatty, funny and polite. I leave the place feeling unusually refreshed.
Back in the car park I dump the trolley and haul my reusable bag to the car. The SUV has gone and it will be less of a squeeze to get back in. I notice with satisfaction that the paintwork has remained damage-free as well. I start up and ease out into the car park. Another shopper has already appeared, indicators on, to claim the space I am leaving, forcing me to go back round the other way.
As I approach the corner a middle-aged man with sandy hair, driving a grimy silver Passat drops his missus off at the entrance to the Shopping Centre, presumably to get started while he finds a parking place. They are having a row, and he is still shouting at her through the open passenger window as he pulls out in front of me without looking. I have to apply the brakes, but there is no drama, no squealing tyres, no skidding. I’m not really all that close to him. I do not bump the horn or remonstrate, but sit there waiting to see whether he will stop or continue. He realises what he’s done, and jams on the brakes, jerking the car to a dead stop. He is enraged, his thin red face creased into tight lines as he roars FUCK OFF at me in fury, slamming both hands on the steering wheel. He’s not having the day I’m having. I drive past, wondering if he’s going to survive the supermarket, or suddenly drop, fighting for breath and clutching at a stranger’s arm.