Recently I had a weird encounter with a supermarket checkout assistant.
I say weird. Actually, she was doing the normal checkout thing and I was doing the normal customer thing. That is, she swiped goods across a barcode scanner while I put them in plastic carrier bags (I know! I forgot the 'bags for life'... again - but I do use the carrier bags as pedal bin liners, so saving on the unnecessary use of proper pedal bin liners - if that makes it any better? At least when the bags are stuffed full of household rubbish they are less likely to get stuck in a dolphin's blow hole - unless we're talking about a dolphin with an abnormally large blow hole).
Anyway you're familiar with the supermarket routine, I'm sure. All fairly normal and not particularly weird. Although, to an alien race that do their shopping by inhaling consumables through their bottom nostrils, that situation would of course be weird. (Sorry to go back to blowholes again) But to me at that moment everything was fairly normal. Until she started to ask questions.
"How are you today?" she asked, smiling.
I was tired. I'd had a late night, the night before and I was probably a bit hung-over. I was grumpy about being in a supermarket on a Saturday afternoon. I was hungry and thirsty. I was slightly anxious about still having to buy a birthday present for someone before I could go home and I was in need of the toilet. I was slightly anxious about the economic climate and how it might affect my own financial situation. I was fed up with the recent spate of cold and wet weather and I was slightly depressed at the daily news of death and disaster in the numerous unjustified and unnecessary violent conflicts around the world. A friend of mine was having domestic problems. Several pending jobs at home were playing on my mind. My wife was under pressure at work and my teenage daughters were in the middle of mock exams. The general mood in the house was tense.
So I replied, as you might expect.
"Fine thanks", smiling back.
I assumed that would be the end of it. That's the normal deal with complete strangers. Polite question. Polite answer. Polite smile. Thank you and goodbye. But she persisted.
"Done anything nice today?" still smiling.
I wasn't sure. Had I? It had been a lazy morning - which is kind of nice after a late night but for me that comes with the flipside of being slightly frustrated that I've missed out on a chance to do something else and wasted valuable weekend time. Having said that, I shared some fun time with my two boys, beaten and humiliated on a Wii game and I'd enjoyed my breakfast and a refreshing shower. In a world where millions of people don't have access to fresh water and others risk death from starvation, those two things in themselves were definitely "nice" but at that moment, having spent the last hour or two wandering round a dull and uninspiring retail park with an overcrowded car park and stressed drivers, I was placing household goods and packaged food items into unpleasant guilt inducing orange bags.
So I replied, as you might expect.
"Er... not really. Just shopping" smiling weakly.
Surely that was the end of it? I don't want to sound like an unfriendly git, too busy to share a few pleasantries with a bored supermarket employee but she'd crossed a line here. This was getting personal. And it didn't stop there.
"Going out tonight or having a quiet one?" more smiling.
What!? Why did she need to know that? Why did she want to know that? What did she mean by "a quiet one" anyway? How quiet is "a quiet one"? Is it sitting naked in furry slippers in a padded room on a sheepskin pouffe wearing ear defenders? Is that quiet enough? It certainly sounds appealing but that wasn't my plan that evening. (Although one evening soon now it will be). What if I say that I'm going out? Will it lead to more questions about where I'm going, what I'll do and who with? I had no plans to go out anyway. I'm an honest person. I find lying impossible. Even to total strangers. So I had to tell her the truth.
"Oh... just a quiet one" no longer smiling.
My mind started racing. "Damn! Why did I have to tell the truth? Now she thinks I'm really boring. Now she thinks I'm going home to watch Dancing on Ice and stuff my face with two-for-one Twirl Bites". I don't know why I should care whether she thought I was boring or not. I didn't fancy her. I wasn't trying to impress her. I didn't even start the conversation. I was just trying to pack my shopping as quickly as possible and get the hell out of there. Now I found myself having to justify my answer.
"I had a bit of a late one last night actually" pathetic smile.
Now I was talking like her. "Bit of a late one"? Instead of a few drinks and nibbles with fellow middle-aged friends at their place, which is what it had been, suddenly I was making out that I'd been necking absinthe and snorting cocaine off a pole dancers tits until the early hours. What the hell was I doing!?
That was it. That's when I snapped. Something went "Ping!" and I pulled out the gun. I told everyone in the shop to get down on the floor. The shop went silent apart from the incessant hum of electronic equipment and everyone lay down on the ground with their hands behind their heads as instructed.
"Nobody move and nobody gets hurt".
My tone was forceful. They knew I didn't want to use the gun but it was clear that if pushed I would kill them all. I'd had enough of the questions and I needed to get out quick. This was my only means of escape. I pointed it at the checkout girl.
"This is your fault!" I shouted.
"If I'm caught and arrested and sent to prison and my wife becomes a prossie to make ends meet (if you'll pardon the phrase) and my kids are forced onto the streets as pickpockets and drug dealers, you're to blame!"
She smiled sweetly.
"Are you collecting the school vouchers?"