*Features adult language and themes.*
The thin paper of his bus ticket always folded in a pleasant way. The creases he made we’re always strong and crisp. His fingers glided in small precise movements, deftly manipulating the bus ticket into something new.
Jon held his creation up for inspection. It was a tiny origami crane. Perfectly constructed but the paper needed to be thicker for a more substantial feel.
Jon didn’t think about it too much any more, it was something he always did on his journeys. He wasn’t able to fold any other shapes or have any inherent interest in origami as an art-form.
He used to get return tickets and had to make sure it remained intact for the way home. Then the routes changed. Now, he used two different bus services to get to and from work. To begin with he used to find that his wallet and pockets would become littered with old tickets. Then he started making cranes.
At the end of each journey he’d leave the crane on his seat before getting off the bus. He liked to think that the next person to sit down would pick it up, maybe it would make them smile. Strictly speaking it’s littering. I’ve often wondered if other people have picked them up and kept them. Maybe the same person sits in the seat after me every day and collects them?
Or maybe they get sat on, or swept onto the floor?
In the end it didn’t matter. Jon made the cranes for his own satisfaction and left them behind with good intentions.
The bus trundled along Norwich road, stopping every 200 yards or so. The traffic backed up behind them each time it stopped. Some mad drivers attempted to cause accidents by going around them.
I don’t understand why people are in such a hurry? They’re fully prepared to risk their own lives and the lives of others to get somewhere 30 seconds quicker.
The bus was filling up with each stop. People were having to stand even though there were free seats. For reasons Jon never understood, nobody wanted to sit next to him. Evie once told him that he had an intimidating air. Maybe it was his size? Or the fact that his face fell into a gentle smile. People don’t seem to trust someone that smiles too much. The bus was getting to that tipping point where people might feel the need to give up their seats for others. Most passengers had earphones in and were staring out of the windows doing their best to ignore the new passengers.
Jon had no qualms about giving up his seat. Elderly or disabled people were a simple business, but doing it for pregnant women carried more risk. Fat or pregnant was a fun game to play but carried the potential for offence. If you offered your seat to a fat woman thinking she was pregnant they would get offended, if you refused to give up your seat to someone that was pregnant you looked like an arsehole.
Jon liked watching people get on and off the bus. He was on nodding terms with most of the people he saw every day, but they rarely spoke. He didn’t mind making small talk with strangers. I resent the fact that people think you’re odd if you try to talk to someone you don’t know. If everyone felt more comfortable talking to strangers the world would feel a bit better. Then again, it goes against everything you’re taught as a kid.
Jon got up as the bus approached his stop. He pressed the button and shuffled past the standing passengers to get to the front.
“Cheers, Trevor.” Jon said to the driver. “See you tomorrow.”
“No worries, Jon. Have a good day.”
“I’ll do my best.” He got off the bus and walked the short distance to the supermarket where he worked. He made his way through the staff reception saying hello to everyone he saw and went to the cloakroom. He put all of his personal belongings into his locker then refilled his pockets with the things he needed to do his job. His box-cutter, clock-in card and notepad. Then he fixed his name badge to his chest.
A lot of the other staff hated wearing the badges. They didn’t like strangers using their name. It had been a little odd at first but Jon soon warmed to it. It might have been a false sense of intimacy, but that was better than a customer not knowing how to refer to you. ‘Jon’ was better than ‘staff’ or ‘oi you.’ Maybe everyone should wear name badges for a while. People shouldn’t be so coy or suspicious. It’s just a name, after all.
He took a quick look in the mirror to make sure he was presentable. Or as presentable as he got. Then went through to the warehouse, clocking in on his way.
Jon enjoyed his job. When he told people this they always asked him what he did. When he answered ‘I’m a shop assistant’ they would usually laugh. Nobody grows up wanting to work in a supermarket. It’s usually astronaut, cowboy or race driver. Very rarely does a ten year old say, ‘when I grow up I want to stack shelves.’
Jon loved it. He was fascinated with the whole mechanism of shopping. Thousands of years ago men would go out with spears to hunt and bring food home to look after their families. Over time people began to make a living out of procuring goods and selling them on to others so they didn’t have to hunt. This process evolved over the centuries to the point where most modern hunter gathers were women with kids hanging off of metal trolleys.
Jon saw a shop as a living organism. It was nourished by deliveries that bought food into it. The workers then broke down the different parts of the ‘food’ and distributed them to the parts of the shop where they were needed. Customers were like exercise for a shop. The more they had the more ‘calories’ the shop burned. Or maybe the customers are a parasite that gives the shop diarrhoea. They extract shit from the shop and pay for the privilege.
It boggled Jon’s mind when he thought about the amount of human hours of effort it took to put groceries in a fridge at home. Someone had to drive the lorry to the shop. Then more people had to fill the shelves for the next wave of people to undo their good work and empty the shelves. The customer entered the shop with an empty trolley, they walked around filling it up only to empty it again when they got to the checkout. Of course they then fill the trolley again once the items have been scanned, then they get it home to stack their own shelves. It would be interesting to tag a can of peas in the factory like they tag wild animals. You could track its migratory journey from factory, to shop, to home, to landfill.
Watching how people shopped had become a hobby for Jon. He found they fell into distinct categories:
Systematic: They start at one end of the store and walk down every aisle regardless of whether they need anything down it. There are a large number of people that walk down the pet food aisle and don’t have a pet of any sort, but they simply have to do it because that’s how they shop. This can be problematic if pushed too far. It’s dangerous for a recovering alcoholic to be a systematic shopper.
Specific: The surgical strike shopper. They are single minded and have an impenetrable level of concentration and self-discipline. They are armed with a list of things they need and steadfastly refuse to deviate from it regardless of offers or persuasive point of sale materials. These shoppers are usually men, following orders.
Wanderers: The free spirit of shoppers. They go wherever their fancy takes them. Easily distracted and very susceptible to promotions and BOGOF’s. They have no discernible plan when walking the shop floor. They probably cover double the ground compared to other categories. Wanderers are usually the most surprised by the total to pay at the end as they seemingly forget what they have put in their trolley.
Re-distributors: People that take it upon themselves to re-arrange the shop layout. It’s easy to figure out what happened when an item is placed back on the shelf in the space where the cheaper version sits. Real re-distributors place items back on the shelves completely at random. Dishcloths in the refrigerated aisles, sugar in the freezers and food colouring amongst the cosmetics are the calling card of a proper re-distributor.
Shelf-Shufflers: Shoppers that simply refuse to take the front item on any shelf. They always reach back to take an identical item from behind the first row. Some people are mildly afflicted with this behaviour when looking for longer use by dates on perishable items. However, the worst affected will do this for every item they collect regardless of what it is. Why is the hidden washing detergent better than the one at the front?
Precision Packers: This sub-group is an easy overlap with the systematic shopper. They group their items in the trolley according to the departments on the shop floor. All of the refrigerated or frozen items are placed together, all the soft or breakable items are grouped etc. This behaviour is carried through to how they place their shopping on the checkout conveyor and makes it easier for them to pack it into bags. Sometimes it’s good sense, other times it boarders on obsessive compulsive behaviour.
* * *
“Morning, Jim,” said Jon, as he got to the supervisors station in the warehouse.
“Hi, Jon. You’re on pet foods today. The delivery’s in and waiting to go out.” Jim barely looked up from the wad of paper in front of him. He wore the same uniform as Jon, with the addition of a cheap tie that singled him out as a supervisor. “You’ll be close to the tills, so if they call for staff, jump on and help them out, OK?”
Jon went into the warehouse to find the cages of pet foods that were waiting to be transferred onto the shelves. The warehouse always felt like a secret cave compared to the shop floor. The public part of the shop was flooded with light, full of colours fighting against each other for attention and full of people that had purpose. In comparison the warehouse was dimly lit, everything was packed away, the colours were earthy and dull. The warehouse staff were usually the least social people on the payroll, they didn’t enjoy their work and their attitude added to the oppressive atmosphere of the place.
Jon enjoyed the quiet and relative stillness of the warehouse, the only noises were the rumbling of wheels and the fuzzy din of a radio playing somewhere. He pulled his first cage out through the plastic strips into the unnatural brightness of the store. He was always careful to stay out of the customers way when shelf-stacking but it was impossible. He was walking backwards pulling the cage, looking over his shoulder to see where he was going. The shop aisles had been set out too narrowly. There was enough space for two and a half trolleys abreast, but it wasn’t enough for everyone to stay out of each others way.
Jon left his cage at the far end of the pet food aisle and began to unpack the first boxes. No matter where he placed the cage or boxes they were always in the way of a customer. It was an unwritten law of the universe. Jon always smiled and apologised before moving it out of they way so they could get to the precious cat treats. More often than not the customer would smile back and thank him. Occasionally, he’d get an agitated shopper that would throw him dirty looks and mutter obscenities. Some people got very angry while shopping. Jon didn’t know if it was the crush of society, the pressures of the economy or the inconvenience of having to buy food to stay alive.
Personally, I think some people are just grumpy fuckers.
It took a few hours to empty all of the cages he had in the warehouse. In between stocking the shelves he helped any customers that approached him. He liked people that asked for help. He didn’t see it, like others, as a weakness. Being prepared to ask for help was an admirable quality. To admit that you didn’t know something and finding another person that has the knowledge to assist you makes good sense. It should have been evolutionary. The amount of people Jon had spotted walking the aisles in confusion and growing agitation before eventually dumping their trolley and giving up was astounding. Sometimes he’d approach them and ask if they needed help, they always told him in no uncertain terms where to go.
Some people think their sense of independence defines them. If they can’t do something without the help of another person, they think it’s worthless. These are the people that would have died out 5,000 years ago. Now we’re a race of individuals.
Once the pet food aisle was stocked up Jon went along and faced up all the other products. By the time he was finished the aisle looked pristine. It looked like a shopping aisle from a TV advert, or supermarket sweep. Jon took great pride in doing a job well. It didn’t matter what he was doing, as long as he did it to the best of his ability. The younger members of staff mocked him for this ethos.
The store employed a lot of school leavers or part-timers that worked while going to college. The job was just a stop gap for them, a source of income that would help them along to better things. They didn’t understand the mindset of a man in his late twenties taking pride in a job that they considered beneath them.
A job’s never beneath you if someone is willing to pay you for your time and effort. Taking a wage and not giving your all is as good as stealing.
“All till trained staff to the checkouts, please. All till trained staff to the checkouts. Thank you,” said a voice over the Tannoy.
Jon made his way to the till supervisor to be assigned a checkout. He moved the chair out of the way because he liked to stand up when he was on the tills. As soon as he started to sign in, keen shoppers branched out from other queues and formed at his conveyor belt.
Jon liked the tills. He enjoyed making small talk with the customers and getting a tiny glimpse into the lives of people he probably wouldn’t see again. Some of the information strangers were prepared to share with a shop assistant was surprising. Most of the conversation revolved around the weather, current events or the general state of the world but sometimes people talked about their relationships, careers or troubles.
Jon had a few games he liked to play when he was on the tills. He tried to guess the number of items and monetary value of each customers shopping. It wasn’t the most creative game, but after a few years he had become very good at it. More often than not he would guess within ten items and was never more than £20 out.
“Hello, Mrs Jennings. Would you like any help with your packing?” Said Jon to his next customer. She was an elderly lady wearing a big overcoat and wooly hat. She had large thick glasses and a wrinkled kindly face.
“Hello, Jon. I should be alright packing, dear. I’ll just put it all in my little trolley.” She pointed down to the little shopping cart she had dragged around the store.
Jon didn’t know Mrs Jennings’ first name. He couldn’t remember how he knew her surname. She visited the store every week on the same day at around the same time. Jon regularly helped her around the store to reach things on the high shelves and to carry her bags out to a taxi. He didn’t always serve her at the checkout, but he saw her in some capacity every time she did her shopping.
He began to pass the items through the till. Each item producing a friendly beep before being released to the other side. He couldn’t help noticing a substantial amount of cat food. “How are you today?”
“I’m fine, it’s a little cold out.” She paused as though trying to remember something. “How’s your little ’un doing? It was you that had a little boy wasn’t it?”
Jon smiled to himself. Robbie was his favourite topic of conversation. “He’s well, thank you. He’s turning into a proper little chatterbox. Some of the things he comes out with crack me up.”
“That’s lovely. Make sure you treasure this time. He’ll soon be all grown up.”
“I know. The last three years have flown by. Before I know it he’ll have moved out and I’ll only talk to him on the phone once a week if I’m lucky.”
“That’s right. The hardest thing is letting your kids grow up and leave you.”
“I don’t like to think about that too much. I’m trying to enjoy things as the are. The future will sort itself out in time.”
“That’s a nice way of thinking about it. All you can do is set them on the right road. I’m sure you’ll do a better job than most. There seems to be a lot of youngsters around town that are up to no good.”
“I suppose so.”
“I had some money stolen from me a few weeks ago by a young girl.”
“Really? That’s terrible.”
“What can you do? I reported it to the police, but they didn’t seem hopeful.”
Jon didn’t really know what to say. This often happened when customers shared too much. It usually happened with a swift change of subject leading to a conversational dead end. Luckily he came to the end of the shopping and could get back to business. He managed to guess the amount of items correctly. He also guessed within 50p of the price. Mrs. Jennings paid the exact amount with a huge stack of coins.
“Thank you very much, dear. See you again soon.”
“Thank you, hope you have a good week. Bye.”
He watched as Mrs Jennings hobbled away dragging her shopping cart behind her.
He turned his attention to the next customer.
A big shop. 134 items, £165.
* * *
Jon clocked out and made his way to the cloakroom. He took off his name badge and swapped the contents of his pockets with the items in his locker. He was about to put his coat on when someone popped their head around the door.
“Have you got time for a quick chat before you go?” It was Neil, the store manager. He was a stern man with a well manicured moustache.
“Certainly.” Jon’s back straightened automatically. He always felt like he was back at school when he spoke to the manager. He’d never shaken the complex of treating people in superior positions differently.
Jon followed Neil to his office and sat opposite him.
Neil sat back in his chair and locked his hands together in a tight clasp. Jon couldn’t help feeling like he was in trouble, he thought back through the last few days trying to spot things he might have done wrong.
“The other managers and supervisors had a meeting this week and your name popped up.” Jon’s face must have betrayed his thoughts. “It’s nothing to worry about.” Neil smiled, possibly enjoying the power he held over his employee. “In fact it’s quite the opposite.”
Jon felt bewildered and couldn’t find any words for a response. He was transfixed, watching Neil’s perfectly shaped moustache dance and quiver as his mouth formed the words. I bet he has a small comb especially for that face ferret.
“You’ve been recommended for our management program. Everyone is very impressed with your work ethic and commitment to the job. You’ve been singled out for advancement.”
Jon was stunned. He’d never given any serious thought to career progression.
“To begin with you will be promoted to supervisor, and you’ll shadow the current staff while completing a variety of courses at head office. Within a year to eighteen months you should be in a position to apply for management roles.” Neil leaned forward over the desk and smiled at Jon, his little moustache curling upwards under his nose. “What do you think?”
Jon was still confused and began to wonder if it might be an elaborate joke. “That sounds great.”
Neil clapped his hands together. “Excellent.” He opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a huge pile of folders and paper. “Take a little time to read through these initial guidelines, and get back to me with an answer as soon as you’ve decided you want to go ahead. Of course you’ll get an increased salary and a few other benefits, but your hours might be subject to change.” He tapped the pile of paperwork. “All the details are in there for you.”
Many thanks for reading. If you have any feedback or thoughts, feel free to comment below.