Thursday evening. Bored, I push the shopping trolley through the aisles of the Tesco’s hidden in the Jervis centre’s arse. I keep walking around putting Tesco’s “value” products in the trolley because all the counters have long queues. I hope to find one half empty but it seems impossible; the queues grow like fungus in public showers. I choose the one that I think will be quicker, but once there I realize all the other queues are advancing substantially more.
I grow impatient. The cashier is a Polish girl. She has the same face my auntie used to have after being constipated for two weeks: a mixture between mute grief and existential emptiness. She scans the products slowly, looking at them like cows watch passing clouds. I would feel sorry for her if she’d be a little bit faster but I’m tired and I want to go home.
I still have five people in front of me. Two full trolleys, and three shopping baskets. Everyone is looking at their feet with the same bored face. Dressed in Sunday clothes, we could be at mass. I’m getting a little bit nervous. The guy in the head of the queue has been watching the cashier slowly scanning all his products without moving a muscle. After paying he asks for bags. He has to pay again, and we watch how he and the cashier put all the shopping in the bags. There’s nothing else in the world I would like to be doing right now. I look around; the other queues seem to advance even faster, lubricated with “finest” melted butter. I can’t help thinking how different the divine comedy would be if the Italians had had shopping centres in the Renaissance. I’m sure Dante would have placed a huge Tesco in the seventh circle of hell with a never-ending queue… maybe a Lidl.
While I still have one trolley and three baskets in front of me, the mesmerized cashier is trying to scan one rebel product without any success. Not even the trick of introducing the code by hand works. The system failed, and the anarchist packet of cookies has won. Now she looks around, someone has to go and change it before revolution starts. We keep waiting. I’m getting a foul feeling growing in my guts. I know this line is cursed. I’m sure the next thing will be changing the roll of paper in the cash machine. In my desperation, I look around. The sterile lights of the building mould the shapes in a sordid way. They make the meaninglessness of existence something tangible. It’s like living a “Tesco value” life. I’m sure Kafka would love to shop here. Suddenly I start to feel anxious. I need to get out of here, I need fresh air.
I look at the queue on my right. There’s a substantial amount of people waiting there but at least they’re advancing. Before I change positions I better check how many people are now behind me just in case once I’m in the other queue, this one gets quicker and I have to return in order to get the fuck out of here as soon as possible. Then I turn back and I see her. An old lady, with big seventies square glasses. Grey hair, big fallen ears and a pair of tired blue eyes. Her hands are shaking. She’s holding an almost empty shopping basket. Inside, just two bottles of cheap gin. I’m not the only one having a bad day. Suddenly that stupid feeling of measuring yourself against something worse triggers a balm of relief and calms me down. Life is beautiful, we just need enough misery around to remind us of it.