Creative Comedy Project

Counter Measures By Grace Haddon

The star customer of the 35p or More shop is an old lady who wears the same yellowing bobble hat every day. Even in summer.

She‘s in the minute the doors open, squinting at labels like a short-sighted lion assessing prey, and half an hour later a tartan granny trolley is groaning its way towards me. I resist the urge to hide under the counter.

She looks at me, frowns, then starts dumping stuff on the counter. ‘Where’s the English girl today?’

‘Kate’s on holiday.’ Ibuprofen, mints, deodorant. I won’t let her upset me.

‘Aren’t you ‘ot in that?’ She points at my hijab. ‘Summer outside.’

I look at her aging bobble hat. I bite my tongue.

‘I expect England seems cold after where you come from.’

Salt, solar-powered garden lights, wind-up egg whisk.

Her frayed eyebrows narrow as I pass her the ketchup. ‘What’s this? Has it gone off?’ She shakes it at me, lemon-face turned up to eleven. ‘It’s got bits in it.’

I take it back. ‘No, it’s relish. They’re peppers and stuff.’

‘Don’t want that then. Why do they put all this foreign rubbish in nice, normal food?’

I pick up the blueberry marshmallow caramel shortbread bites and scan them through. What does she do with all this? She’s the only customer I’ve ever seen spend triple figures.

‘Can’t trust anyone these days.’ When I look up she’s studying her newspaper (red top, of course). ‘What’s it all coming to? We keep letting all these people in…’

I don’t tell her that the headlines are poisonous fearmongering. Or that it’s much much worse elsewhere (Mum and Dad still talk about how bad it was in Somalia). There’s a lot of things I want to tell her. Like how pistachios are not pronounced “piz-tash-oos”. But I don’t.

The awkward silence stretches on. My face gets hotter as I beep through the mound of crap she’s bought. She just stands there reading as I strain to drop stuff into her granny trolley.

When I’ve piled everything as high as it’ll go, she turns her handbag upside-down and dumps a mountain of change on the counter. ‘Now then, how much?’

I fold my arms. ‘Eighty-three pounds thirty-five.’

She pays in exact change. It takes her nearly ten minutes, in which she finds time to ask when Kate is coming back (twice) and how long I’ve lived in England for (I was born here).

‘Lovely.’ She takes the receipt. ‘Thank you, er…’ She peers at my name badge.

‘Dhanya.’

‘D-Diana.’ She puts it away and the pile on top of the trolley wobbles as she walks away. ‘I’ll get there eventually, all these Asian names are difficult to remember.’

I don’t offer her a bag.


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