I go to the shops because I must.
We don’t get much to live on, and I shop expired codes, buy discontinued lines, and compare prices, making sure my family gets the best I can obtain cheaply.
The same memory and pattern recognition skills that once helped me earn money, now help stretch the pension. There’s a fine difference between strategic poverty and desperate poverty.
People, especially in large numbers, have never been my element. I can deal with individuals, one at a time, for a while, but crowded places leave me feeling tired quite quickly. Regardless of the strain, there’s something to be learned, and one or two friendly faces to meet, on every trip.
Some strangers look like they need a smile, or a bit of help. I make sure, especially since the latest, Government-assisted, wave of paranoia began, to smile or say hello to people who fit the profile of xenophobe targets.
There are people who are outsiders by circumstance. Easily identified as different due to disability or other factors, they move among the shoppers and staff, who mostly ignore them, but go “Tchhh!” and dodge when they can’t.
When you take profit offshoring, industry lobbying and labour relations into account, even shopping is a political act.
While I can’t afford to boycott the major chains, I try to at least help preserve a few jobs. I was reluctantly putting some groceries through the DIY checkout, because there were considerable queues at the staffed registers, and I had perishables from another store in the car.
The woman at the next DIY scanner was quite disheveled, even by the low standard of our shopping centre, where a footy jumper without holes or stains is relatively dapper. Her hair had the frayed, weathered appearance of a length of sisal twine that has spent most of a year tied to a stake in the garden.
She stepped closer, to bag a few articles. Her personal aura, with dominant notes of wet bed, cat litter and football sock, hit me like a soggy, mildewed towel, and I involuntarily stepped back.
The woman was apparently having a few problems with the scanner. I was haplessly observing, waiting for a price check that would save my family four badly-needed dollars. The self-service checkout attendant had to step in three times, and each intervention further delayed me from paying and leaving.
So it was that I saw my fellow shopper depart first. She left the checkout area, passing between a pair of those bollards that beep and flash when contraband with RFID tags passes within range.
The lights blinked. The beepers sounded. She continued unfazed, pushing her trolley, and not a voice or a finger was raised. I can only conclude nobody wanted to stop and search her.
There’s some sort of lesson in this, I’m sure. Just as the Ruperts, Ginas and Twiggies of the world can do as they please due to status, this woman could rise above the rules unchallenged.
If things go the way they seem to be heading, there will inevitably be more of her. At least the drive for survival doesn’t seem to be buckling under.