by Pegeen Murphy
The bag for life was passed over. She took it, careful not to touch. I watched as she opened it up, spreading out the corners. She was an expert packer. Heavy items at the bottom, so as to create a solid base (washing powder, Campo Viejo). Light, smaller items (toothpaste, eggs) arranged delicately within the spaces. She fit them in so well, like it were a jigsaw. Perfectly placed. The arrangement of my own life bag was more chaotic. I threw the granola in, next to a prawn linguine microwave meal. It should have been in with the freezer stuff, and the avocado underneath lay squashed.
I yearned for speech. “You pack bags so well,” I splurted with an attempt at a casual laugh. She replied with a fuck off smile, and I realised this was yet another one of my awkward moments, you know like when Baby off Dirty Dancing says, “I carried a watermelon.”
I persevered though, as her name badge informed me that she was called Abbie, and she was “happy to help”. I resisted the urge to shout “Help me, Abbie, please help me,” and tried a “Been busy?” “A bit, yeah,” she muttered as she placed the low fat Greek yoghurt within the bag for life jigsaw. She looked at me momentarily as she spoke. Our eyes met through the Perspex shield that stood between us. I wanted us to instinctively place our hands together either side of it, like you see on those programmes about people in American prisons. But experience has taught me about watermelon moments, so I clutched a spinach and ricotta pizza instead.
She continued to fill the life bag. She was so adept at it. I glanced at the conveyor belt, and could see our soiree was winding up. I longed for it to last. It ended. “That’s £27.49, please.” I waved the card at the bleeper. As she passed the receipt through the little Perspex hole, I ached to touch her hand. “Touch me, Abbie,” I wanted to say. “Just touch me. Sorry, I’m not a weirdo. I don’t mean in a pervy way, not like on that Normal People off the telly (blimey, they do a lot of touching, don’t they). I don’t mean in that way. I just want to be touched, Abbie. Held. Please.” But I didn’t say that. Watermelons. So I just said, “Thanks. Bye,” and I pushed my trolley away.
Pegeen Murphy is a writer and actor from Bolton. She is a winner of The Manchester Monologue and LocalTale writing prizes, both with The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.