When I unfold the little child’s seat at the front of the trolley, there it is lying innocuously on the square of blue plastic: a folded piece of paper. Just as I can’t pass a ringing phone, so I can’t see a piece of folded paper that has a flash of handwriting on it and not turn it over.
But I’m a bit pushed for time so I lean on the trolley handle with my wrists and cruise off, unfolding the paper as I move past the crates of strawberries. I love looking at other people’s shopping lists, don’t you? Always fascinating. You think we all buy the same staples – flour, chicken, ketchup, storecupboard bits, onions, bread, milk, tea, coffee, some fresh fruit and veg, washing powder…
But no, if you’re not already a shopping list snooper, you won’t know. You get all sorts, some very random combinations. Take this one I found last week:
Organic ribeye x 2
Fresh hollandaise sauce
Organic Maris Pipers
Here is someone desperate to impress with an amazing meal, confident there’ll be a need to serve an equally posh breakfast the next morning. Then when their paramour is finally booted out, a swift – and cheap? – reversal to the bachelor lifestyle.
What about this?
Frozen cauliflower & peas
24 pack toilet
A busy mother, for sure.
The list I find today though is totally different and I find myself drifting along the aisles without so much as a glance at the shelves, my own shopping list lying forgotten at the bottom of my coolbag. It says:
Not too tall
Sense of humour
So, this is someone shopping for…a person? How peculiar. It can’t be a lonely hearts, surely – who would be looking for a ruthless, ordinary-looking, nocturnal partner? I decide I don’t want to think about that. In fact, the bubbly rush I get nosing around in other people’s lists has evaporated very suddenly. It feels colder and darker in here and I find I can’t remember what I came in for. In a bit of a daze, I abandon the trolley in the aisle and leave by the nearest exit.
I feel like I’m coming down with a fever, everything around me seems faded away somehow and my senses are heightened so that I can almost feel them buzzing around between my ears.
I’m in such a hurry to leave that I almost bump into her. A lady of late middle age, quite portly, dressed rather eccentrically even though everything she is wearing is black. I mumble an apology and she smiles and says, “Ah, the apprentice at last.”
Mad as a brush, clearly, so I lower my head and start to scurry away, but she nudges my arm and nods her head to the list which I didn’t realise I was still clutching. “So, how many items? Most people are definitely five or less,” and she gives a great big belly laugh at her own supermarket-related joke. I look again at the list. I’m not sure about being ruthless, brave or bold but I suppose the others do ring a bit of a bell. Apart from aura, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.
As I hesitate, the old lady looks at me shrewdly as though she can hear my inner monologue and says, “Don’t worry about the aura – I could see yours coming a mile off, that’s why I stuck around. Oh dear, you do look bamboozled. It’s not all eye of frog, toe of newt anymore these days, if that’s what you’re worried about – a lot of the stuff we use now is synthetic. Same with the broomsticks, they’re a much easier ride, more comfortable, go-faster stripes, the lot.” She gives me a sympathetic smile. “It’s a lot to take in, I know, and a big decision. I think we should go back to mine and talk it all through properly, you must have questions.” And she smiles again, reaches for my hand, gives it a tough squeeze and the world just seems to crumble away.