The strained faces are left with little choice but to ignore one another as Maggie’s turn to purchase finally arrives. Stepping up she shudders at the sight of the blurred touch screen, smeared with the grease of the previous user’s sticky mitts, her own outstretched digit trembling as it initiates her retail experience.
She rolls the bottle of own brand whisky past the flickering glow of the lasers red eye, depositing it with a thump on the shelf to her left, blinking as the monitor suddenly flashes a menacing sentence in blazing orange capitals.
Well, thinks Maggie, hasn’t that always been the case?
A slight tap upon the shoulder and Maggie spins, nose to nose with a frowning male, fresh-faced enough to be her offspring. A laminated plastic badge upon the youth’s lapel proudly boasts the legend ASSISTANT MANAGER; the shoulders of his mud-coloured uniform lightly garnished with a Christmassy sprinkle of dandruff.
The young man gives Maggie the once over with a beady eye. Apparently satisfied she is of an appropriate age, he slips past her, approaching the machine with a confident strut. A flurry of fingers taps out a complex code, authorising the transaction. Job done he is about to retreat when he glimpses the rest of Maggie’s shopping.
Six blue cardboard packets, all identical, are lurking at the very bottom of her carrier.
“Sorry Madam,” he says, gesturing towards the tiny rectangular boxes, “Company policy, but I am afraid you can only buy those one at a time…”
Maggie swallows, miniature beads of salty sweat springing into existence upon her creased brow.
“Oh, I see. Sorry.”
He leans in, scooping up five of the boxes, then disappears down an aisle.
Only one remains.
As Maggie pays, feeding notes and loose change into the greedy machine, she slowly calculates the number of shops she will pass during her slow journey home.
It should be enough.
Shuffling through pneumatic doors, the high street heaves with cackling gangs of drinkers, all en route to the next watering hole. Glass shatters somewhere in the distance, making Maggie flinch.
“Someone’s on a mission!”
The statement is punctuated with a throaty exclamation mark of a laugh. Maggie’s expression shifts, instant recognition bringing a grin to her lips, as familiar fleshy tattooed arms swamp her.
“Girlfriend, say ya ain’t busy! We gotta a lotta catching up to do!”
“That… That’d be great” whispers Maggie, wondering if angels ever realise what they are.
“Let’s head to mine for a drink… Ya can finish ya shopping another