Fibrotown is a place of opposites. Like many country towns, it is a holding station for the young and the old. The middle is not as well represented. Young love tends to be very young. Old love tends to be heartbreaking.
The checkout at the supermarket is the last place you expect to end up in tears. Unless you’re not in one of those confectionery-free zones and you’re with a two-year-old. But who does that to themselves?
Today, Mr3 and I made a quick dash through the aisles before 9am – we had a park-date to make. Precision shopping over with, I went in search of a checkout. When I spotted one of what Mr3 calls ‘The Ladies’ – those middle-aged women of extreme competence who make the checkout experience a complete pleasure through their sheer scanning skill – we made a beeline for her line. I don’t know her name. We chat about our lives but, even though her work requires that she wears a name tag, I would never presume to use her name without introductions. Respect.
The gentleman in front of us was elderly. A quick scan of his shopping trolley confirmed he lived alone. Five packets of cream biscuits, baked beans, meals for one. She began the scanning, blip, blip, blip, and asked him how he was. There was history, you could tell, from her tone of voice. They weren’t on first-name basis either, but he sought out her checkout, as I did.
When she asked her question, he started to cry. Without asking, I knew that he was recently bereft. That the woman who’d spent a lifetime telling him that two cream biscuits in one sitting were enough, was gone. The transaction took a while. But I didn’t mind. There are some things that take time.
When he’d gone, picking up his few bags of shopping and departing, tears still in his eyes, she turned to me. Her eyes were red-rimmed, tear-filled. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I couldn’t rush him.”
“Don’t worry,” I replied. “Neither could I.” Tears stung my own eyes. I wanted to take that poor, lonely man home for a cup of tea.
His wife had recently died, she explained. Every time he came in to do the shopping on his own, he cried. She’d always done the shopping. Made his tea. Dragged him out to visit people. Without her, he was adrift.
“It’s so important to stay connected,” said my checkout friend.
I don’t know the love story of that man and his wife. All I saw was the epilogue. Romeo without his Juliet.
It’s heartbreaking at any age.