“So you don’t really know, do you?”
“No, like I said I can get someone to come and help you? This isn’t my area.”
“Nah, you’re alright mate I’ll take my money elsewhere.”
The customer left, Jay sighed, folded up a cardboard box and steeled himself for the next interaction which came almost immediately.
“Question, is this alright to use without having the Dremel sprocket pack?”
The man was holding up a small metal coil with a rubber catch running it’s length.
“I have no idea, what’s it for?
“Plumbing, your plumber about?”
“Yeah, where’s your plumber?”
“This shop doesn’t employ a plumber. I can go and…”
“Err, plumbers don’t generally work for minimum wage. I’ll go and get Graham, he’s a bit of a whizz with plumbing, one moment.”
He passed down the aisle, eyes peeled for Graham.
“I need six of these but there’s only five on the shelf… Oi! I’m talking to you!”
Jay spun to meet the hateful gaze of a middle aged woman.
“I need six of these…”
“I’m just with another…”
“Forget it, I’ll get someone else.”
Seeing no down side to that, he carried on towards the timber saw.
“Graham! Do you mind helping a bloke down 26, I think he’s a trader.”
“If he’s a trader he shouldn’t need any help.”
Jay went back to the warehouse and loaded up a pallet of tiles and took it out onto the shop floor.
“You got a toilet?”
The woman was half his size and appeared from directly under his chin.
“No, they don’t sorry.”
The pallet had run into the back of his legs.
“You used to!”
“They closed the public toilet, I believe it was vandalised or something.”
He allowed an apologetic smile to limp across his face.
She left, but not towards the exit.
The tiles he was stacking weighed 23kg a box and there were 27 boxes. It worked out at seven quid a tonne, minus interruptions.
This is a colleague announcement. Can I have a code 2000 at the checkouts for compost please?
What an offer! Jay idled down to the checkouts and found a shrunken old man standing patiently by a flatbed trolley loaded high with bags of compost, slick with rain.
“This gentlemen just needs a hand to his car.”
Gerry was a pleasant woman with a strong face who seemed practically unflappable.
“No worries, lead on mate.”
He took the handle of the trolley and followed the old man into the car park.
“Getting a bit old to carry these.”
“Take it easy then, I don’t mind lending a hand.”
The old man smiled lamely and pointed his keys at a little lime green Fiat Punto.
“I’m not sure they’re all going to fit.”
They did, as Jay walked away the old man tried to give him a handful of change, a tip. Jay refused it politely, it was an unnecessary gesture which shed a harsh light on the exchange. He felt conscious of his uniform as he walked back into the store.
Check out our new collection of wall tiles available in grey, beige and greige! Ask a colleague for more details!
Surely the word colleague is being used incorrectly here, Jay thought. I’m your colleague, we are each other’s colleagues but I’m not ‘a colleague’ in abstract isolation, devoid of relation. As for ‘greige’, that bollocks doesn’t warrant further consideration.
As he approached the plinth he saw his boss Damian waving him over, a determined scowl on his ruddy face.
“What d’ya need Boss?”
“I wanna do a swap with you.”
“I’ll take over from you and you get down 15 and face-up the Mocha Illusion tiles.”
Jay pondered this nonexistent trade as he gathered a hand pump truck from the yard and headed to 15. The Mocha Illusion bay was in a bit of a state, half the boxes had fallen down the back of the display, some were open and others broken.
He felt a familiar ache in his back as he rearranged the boxes. He had suggested that the heaviest tiles be kept in the warehouse as customers couldn’t lift them without making a mess but hadn’t got a reply.
Code 90 at checkouts, code 90 at checkouts!
The announcement was joined by the bleating of the barrier alarms, shoplifters evidently. Jay didn’t even look up, the whole thing was a farce. The company line was to ask the shoplifter to return to the store and if they didn’t then note down their route of escape, he wasn’t even sure if they called the police or just logged it in some file.
Jay actually pitied the shifty, nervous characters who made such an obvious show of concealing goods. When they met his eye he just smiled and walked on, he probably threw away more stuff in a day than anyone ever stole.
When Jay’s shift ended at four, he made a beeline for the locker room, removing his badge and jacket to discourage any further customer enquiries. His high would last until he got to the bus stop.
“Why didn’t you come when I put out the Code 90? You were only down 15, I saw you.”
Ashleigh was about eighteen and the hurt on her face made Jay smile with almost paternal bemusement.
“I had to protect the Mocha Illusions, I wasn’t sure if they were coming back!”
He laughed and she frowned then let out a short impatient gasp.
“What happened to all the real men?”
Jay stopped and gestured wildly at a huge poster on the wall depicting a group of ‘colleagues’ grinning wide-eyed, holding shovels, paint rollers and drills. He’d stopped smiling.
“Hadn’t you noticed? We’re all children now!”
When he got outside it was bright, crisp and cold, a few snowflakes had begun falling. He put his headphones in his ears, left the store behind and felt a brief surge of divinity.