Saturday, 26 June 2010

Only words

I miss toast. I receive a tip-off that Marks and Spencer is selling an edible wheat-free loaf that my dodgy stomach can stomach. I head out to buy it on the way to work. It is only a loaf, it should not take long.

I am inside the shop, clutching the small, white, overpriced loaf. I am already running late. I spy a till with two people waiting on it. My luck is in.

The checkout-lady has her left wrist in an arm guard, as if she has twisted it or there is some sort of deformity underneath it that might put customers off buying last-minute Turkish Delight or vanilla fudge bars. She is carefully folding some pyjamas and putting them in a carrier bag. She moves on to the next item. It is a carbonara ready meal. She studies it. ‘Oh that looks nice,’ she says to the lady buying it. Two more people have joined the queue behind me. The checkout woman carefully scans the pasta meal. She picks up the next item – it is a block of cheddar cheese. ‘Have you got a flower bag?’ the person on the next till shouts over. She bends down and does a thorough search of her area. She sits back up. ‘No,’ she says. ‘I do not have a flower bag.’ She looks at the cheese in her hand and seems surprised to see it there.

The woman in front of me turns around and catches my eye. I think she is trying to engage in conversation. ‘Are we going in slow-motion?’ I ask her. ‘Why do I always pick these tills?’ she replies. We shake our heads and puff air out of our cheeks in a mock-exasperated fashion.

I eventually buy the loaf. I leave the shop strangely elated. It is because of the brief exchange (of words for words, not goods for money).

I realise that on a typical working day I do not talk much. I get up, mooch about, look for jobs online, travel to work, go to work where the only conversations are brief, sharp and usually end in someone telling me to do something quickly, which means I will be unable to talk, then return home to find a man on my sofa who I try to talk to, but he is asleep. It is why I sometimes go to the Hotel Chocolat posh sweet shop before I start my shift – the assistants always have a banter with you – that, and you get a free square of chocolate.

‘This is what it must be like for old people,’ I say out loud, just so I can hear the sound of my voice. Old people only get to speak to their doctor or the charity worker who comes to chisel dead skin off their feet. No wonder they will talk to anybody.

I am as isolated as a 90-year-old. The thought is quite disturbing. I try to concentrate on the thought of toast.


  1. Great post. The bread anecdote fuels the larger issue. My post yesterday was very nearly about isolation, then it ran toward crazy instead. Keep writing, so long, and visit me when you can. Kate Mohler

  2. I know how you feel if I don't make an effort I can avoid speaking to anyone for days. I don't allow this to happen, today I went to the opticians for a chat :0)