Current Occupation: Low-grade sales assistant for big supermarket company.
Former Occupation: Student, Music PR, writer, admin serf.
Contact Information: Bradford Middleton lives in Brighton on England's south coast. When he isn't writing stories and poems he can often be found on the check-out at a local supermarket. For more from him follow @beatnikbraduk on Twitter.
DOWN AND OUT WORKING IN RETAIL
Jack was at work and, as usual, he really didn’t want to be there. There were a ton of other places he would rather be; his room, his local bar, prison, in the ground six feet under, it all had to be better than this. He hated his job that was for sure and the previous week which had seen him lose out on a new room due to some ridiculous administrative procedure that he couldn’t afford to pay had just made him realise how bad his life was.
Today though was just going to get worse and by the end, well all he could think about when he got there was getting out alive and unharassed. It was only a four-hour shift, his usual stint during the early afternoon and he knew it was going to be a killer from the moment he walked in the front door. No one on the shop-floor, huge empty spaces on all the shelves made him wonder if there was actually anyone at work. Walking to the back of the store he entered through the staff door and down the stairs. He finally bumped into one of his bosses.
“What the fuck is going on” Jack asked.
“You know the usual fucking Sunday meltdown. Evelyn called in sick; Gary just didn’t show up, a bakery person…”
“I’m fucking sick of this place,” Jack announced cutting his bosses tirade off in its prime, “…I’m going to get a new job!”
“What you’d give up all of this?” his boss asked with just a hint of sarcasm.
Jack walked back up the stairs to the shop-floor and was pleased to see Nina working away on the check-out. The queue was huge and went all the way to the back of the store; there must have been about twenty people waiting and Jack knew that it was already going to be a long hard shift. Upon his arrival Nina turned to him.
“I’ve had enough of this, I’m going home,” she said as she finished packing the bags of the most recent customer.
Jack simply looked at the queue and got on the microphone requesting back-up. As he greeted his first customer he noticed a couple of shop-lifters loading a bag up with a whole load of cider, very strong cider. There was nothing he could do about it though and by the time he finished sorting out his first customer they had made their escape. His boss was still hiding downstairs, doing whatever it was that the bosses seemed to spend so much time doing downstairs. He didn’t know he was just shop-floor scum; the sort who didn’t even earn enough in his monthly pay packet to pay the rent let alone anything else.
He continued processing the customers and after ten minutes had made his way through most of the twenty who had greeted him when he’d arrived. He went to the microphone again, knowing that he wouldn’t get any help but at least it would alleviate any blame the customers may want to pin on him for wasting their Sunday. The customers came and went and no one asked how he was doing, was he having a good day, within twenty minutes he had given up being pleasant, he just wanted them out of his store. He looked at the clock and noticed he still had three hours and forty minutes to go, two-hundred and twenty minutes, over thirteen-thousand seconds; it all seemed too much, like an eternity trapped in hell.
As he greeted a new customer he heard some words from the other side of the counter for the first time that shift.
“Oh I remember you,” the voice intoned nasally and Jack looked up whilst continuing to pack the carrier bag of ready meals and fizzy wine.
“Look at yourself, you’re a mess…” the voice began to drone as Jack simply continued to pack the bag.
“Let me give you a make-over and you’ll look ten years younger… Why don’t you say anything? Are you that ashamed, you need a shave, a haircut, I’d dye it too for you, get rid of all that gray hair…”
“I like my hair just like this,” Jack managed to interject, knowing that this would provoke some kind of response but wanting to at least defend himself somehow.
“But how can you be happy with yourself if you look like a homeless beggar… you look like a disgrace. Let me give you a make-over!”
It had been years since Jack had really lost his temper but this guy was really treading on his final raw nerve.
“What do you think?” the guy asked of the next customer.
“I think he looks fine, he should be able to look however he wants too…”
“Well what do you know; I bet that’s not even a real Gucci handbag!”
Jack’s fuse finally exploded and he jumped over the counter to the shock and consternation of the remaining customers.
“You can’t talk to me like that, do you understand. I’m not going to let you buy any of this stuff and really you need to leave before I really lose my temper. Now get out!”
“What??” was all the idiot could muster in response.
“Get out, I’m refusing to serve you.”
“You can’t do that!”
“I don’t care, I don’t have to listen to anyone talk to me like you just have and as I’m the only one here, well…”
There was a stunned silence from the remaining customers as the idiot slouched out the store empty handed. Jack just got on with his job and slowly the town awoke from its Halloween inspired hangover. People started talking.
“Hey, how’s your day man?” one of the regular customers asked Jack.
“I’m having a nightmare today,” Jack intoned chuckling to himself about what a nightmare this shift was turning into.
“What’s up?” the guy asked. He seemed genuinely interested.
“I had this customer about an hour ago, just so damn rude! He said I look like a homeless street beggar. I really don’t need to deal with shit like that today when we are so understaffed I ain’t seen a colleague since the start of my shift.”
“That’s no good man, what is going on with this town?”
“No idea man but this guy really stepped on my final nerve, can you believe it… A homeless street beggar! I’ve never been so humiliated!”
“You shouldn’t talk like that about those poor folk,” a woman’s voice interjected from the queue.
Jack just looked at the customer he was serving and arched an eye-brow.
“Anyway man, we’ll see you soon, have a great day!” Jack said as the guy turned and headed for the door.
“Thanks man, I hope your day gets better!”
After checking the clock Jack replied, “Yep, maybe in about an hour and a half at four when I get to leave!”
The woman who had interjected in the conversation walked up and presented a basket of goods.
“You shouldn’t talk like that about the homeless, it’s not their fault, it’s the government!”
“Would you like a bag for your Tory-graph?” he asked sarcastically.
“A lot of them have problems but what you said shocked me, you shouldn’t consign people to a stereotype just because of the way they look.”
Jack just put his head down, knowing if he made it through this customer’s transaction without any further harassment or embarrassment.
“I think I’d like to speak to your manager. Your attitude is borderline racist and I don’t think this role is good for someone like you!”
“A racist?” was all Jack could muster.
“Yes, a racist! I’m going to get you sacked!”
Jack walked over to the microphone and asked for a member of management to come to the check-out. This time one came running, one who he hadn’t seen arrive, one he didn’t really get on with.
“Your bill comes to 21-48,” Jack announced as the customer touched her new credit card against the card reader.
“Are you the boss?” the woman asked of the young lady who had come running when Jack had asked.
“Yes, my name is Jeri, I’m the duty manager this afternoon, how can I help?”
Jack merely got on with his job, knowing that this could well be the end. If he lost this job he would be really up against it; he struggled to pay his rent even in the good times and right now was not one of them. It took another hour before his shift finally came to an end and by the time he got to the front-door on his way out of the shop he was still angry. It hadn’t helped that his boss had told him he would just be working the shop-floor rather than check-outs until he had been through a investigation into his alleged bad conduct but if he thought that was bad what was to come next was a whole lot worse.
“Are you going now?” a nasally voice intoned as soon as Jack hit the pavement.
“You!” Jack exclaimed, flying into a complete rage.
“You could lose me my job you fucking cunt! If you think I look bad now how will I look when I am really destitute and homeless and you know, it’s going to be all your fault!”
Jack barged pass him, having never been a fan of violence, and began his walk home, it was his home now and there awaited a bag of weed that would, he hoped, make him forget what had been a truly awful shift.