“That will be $21.00.”
Karla looks at the solitary $20 note in her purse, then un-zips the pocket hopefully. No coins.
A long pause then, “Miss, that will be $21.”
At the other end of the checkout, an old tourist couple, piling up gloriously decadent groceries, look put out. What was the rush for them? Behind, three more shoppers with trolleys, all waiting and watching, expect one woman who was staring intently at the floor. Someone she’d worked with at the Bank.
Her purchases are scanned: frozen chicken necks, rice, 2 carrots, slice of pumpkin, a potato, stock cube and a perfumed body spray in a translucent blue tube, the colour of her island’s famous waters – sparkling with silver writing.
“Check the price on this. Please” she indicates the pretty bottle without meeting the cashier’s eyes.
“$5.50 – you want it?”
She really wanted it. “No,” She shakes her head, eyes still on the prize. “No. Put it back.”
The cashier gives her $4.50 in coins. Not enough to do anything with. Not enough to pay a bill. Not enough to put gas in her long gone car or even to put credit on her phone.
After, she stands under a tree, waiting for a ride to take her east. It’s hot. Her jeans feel too tight and her white shirt limp and grubby; she is sweaty and disgusting, dirty and unsexy, unclean and uncool. Cars pass but no one stops because she is invisible. She gives up and moves to the other side – to a rough bench of wood and blocks, puts her groceries on the makeshift seat and sits gingerly, head hung, willing her body to cool down, and her head to chill out.
Torn black bags, used paper napkin, plastic forks and stained take out containers spread out on the dry, thin grass and dust. But, incredibly, there is beauty here too. The midday sun shining through the canopy of leaves makes patterns like waves and lights beer bottles to emerald green shards. Her always reliable imagination creates a cool ocean cave to soothe her heated skin. Was that silver shining on the sandy floor? It’s a pirate’s haul. A pile of sparkling dollars, probably left behind by the guys that come to lime. Maybe it fell out of a pocket or slithered through a hole? Or maybe she really does have an angel looking over her – like her mum used to say. Maybe Mummy sent one of her angels… She likes that idea best. She picks up the coins, 11 in total, carefully blows off the dust and heads back to the store.
Five minutes later a low, silver car stops under the tree. Fresh as the ocean breeze Karla slides gracefully into the cool and spotless interior and smiles graciously as she meets her former supervisor’s eye.
NOTE: This story came about after I was set the challenge to write a flash fiction story that starts with the idea that a woman walks into a supermarket and has to make a choice. Thanks to Carla for setting a great challenge and to Mickey and the other members of our ‘Writer’s Block’ group for feedback and encouragement.