I have a talent for finding things to worry about. Sometimes I surprise myself with my creative flair when I dream up worries. During the very long winter months, I managed to convince myself that I don’t have enough time for everything I want to do in the day. It’s hilarious, really, because at that point, I’d never had more time on my hands!
One morning, I woke up in a mood; maybe it was the long winter, or perhaps my perceived ‘lack of time’. I had a number of errands to run that day, and I still had to make time for my personal projects. I was feeling rushed and stressed. I spent most of the day in town, and it was past lunchtime when I remembered I still had to go to my trusted Aldi for groceries. I was already annoyed that everything seemed to take so much time, and the notorious middle aisles of Aldi, where you can buy anything from underwear to BBQ’s, can be a trap if you’re not careful. So, I set my shopping goals: be quick, buy only what you need, and try to save a couple of Euros to make up for the two pairs of gym pants you just bought.
By the time I arrived at the store, all the shopping baskets at the front door were out after the morning rush. Here I should mention that the store has an odd system where they tie the bottom basket to a small trolley with wheels; the idea is that the bottom basket will stay put on the trolley, and the empty baskets will then be stacked on top. I suppose it makes moving the whole stack around easier, but it’s a deceiving contraption. Many unsuspecting shoppers will reach for the last basket, yank it up with conviction, only to realise it’s tied to the small trolley. In the moment of confusion that follows, they look around to see if anyone’s watching them. Most people then shake the basket to see if it’ll come loose from the trolley. It doesn’t. When that fails, they twist it around to see if they can get the wheels off. They can’t. Most people then leave the basket, walking away quickly to avoid further humiliation. Others will investigate further to see if it’s a new type of basket, one you’re meant to wheel around… At this point, as one of the people watching them, I normally walk away as I get too embarrassed for them. I’ve been there and I’ve learned the hard way, and so will they.
On this particular morning, an old man entered the shop in front of me and, as if rehearsed, yanked up the basket with wheels. I quickly went round the front and got two empty baskets. The old man was in the ‘can these wheels come off at all?’ stage, when I reached him and offered him a basket.
He seemed confused, but accepted the basket.
‘Thank you very much,’ he said. His eyes were blue and small and seemed far away. He wore a dove grey jacket over crooked shoulders, and a pale blue cap that matched his eyes.
‘It’s a pleasure,’ I said.
‘Thank you very much,’ he said again.
‘It’s a pleasure,’ I said.
‘Not a bother,’ he said, and walked off in the opposite direction.
I went on my way. I had my shopping goals in mind and, as I kept reminding myself, very little time. Bread, spinach, beef, apples, cheese, frozen berries, quinoa (I would have to make up those extra Euros on another shopping trip). I walked up to the two open checkout counters and saw that both had several people queuing. I hesitated before committing to a queue as I always manage to stand in the slowest one. To my immense frustration, I currently have an estimated 85% chance of choosing the slowest queue. The man in front of me seemed to be having a similar internal debate, after all, no one has time to wait around in a slow queue. He hesitated, took a step to the right, then swayed and joined the checkout queue on the left. I decided to go right, hoping it was the faster option.
I unpacked my things on the conveyor belt and saw that the old man was in front of me. He glanced around at me, but didn’t acknowledge my presence.
The conveyor belt moved forward and I had to unpack my basket quickly to keep up, but the clinking of bottles against each other threw me off. I looked at the items the old man had unpacked onto the conveyor belt; five bottles of whiskey, and two enormous blocks of dark yellow cheese. I didn’t even know the store sold such big blocks of cheese, they looked like two bricks. Every time the conveyor belt moved forward, the bottles clinked together like they were begging to be noticed. The old man muttered something about the belt and the bottles, and I forgot to check if the other checkout queue moved faster than mine.
The girl working at the checkout counter scanned the items with lightning speed, her bright pink ponytail only swayed a little, as if it was no effort at all. She rang up the bottles of whiskey: one, two, three, four, five. The old man made a joke I didn’t quite catch, and she gave a polite little laugh. She took the security tags around the bottles off : one, two, three, four, five. Her eyes caught mine and her lips twisted upward, not a smile exactly; and she rang up the two bricks of cheese. The old man paid with cash, but had trouble packing his bag. She scanned my first items and we both waited awkwardly for him to clear the packing area. He must have sensed this, because he took his bottles over to an empty table and left the two bricks of cheese on the counter. The girl with the pink ponytail moved them away and called out to him while scanning my other items.
‘Sir, don’t forget your cheese.’
He didn’t hear. He was packing the bottles into his backpack.
‘I’ll take it to him just now,’ I said. I was trying to pack my groceries as quickly as possible, since all my items had been scanned in a flash, but I had trouble concentrating, and I couldn’t get the meat to fit into my already full bags. Others were already waiting impatiently in the queue and I was holding everyone up.
‘Sir,’ she called even louder while holding up the two bricks, ‘These are yours.’
‘Oh, yes,’ he said, coming over and taking the cheese from her. ‘The wife would be mad if I forgot these.’
I didn’t look at him, and she didn’t look at me. She smiled at him and he took the cheese from her. I crammed the last of my groceries into my bags while the person behind me was already paying for the two candy bars he would likely be having for lunch. I took my bags and left. After all, I had very little time and many things to do, and we all have to get on with our lives.
If you are curious to learn more about Donegal, you might enjoy the story Rhubarb and Ginger about Rose who’s prize-winning jam changed my life. In Unforeseen Challenges, I talk about some of the unexpected obstacles that I’ve had to overcome since moving to Ireland.
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