The queue – a short story

The queue moodily sloped up the potholed carpark as storm clouds gathered a small sky-army. Drawn out by the need for courgettes, amongst other green things, Rita tugged her multicoloured summer cardigan around her narrow shoulders and tucked her chin as a barrier to the cold. Shivering, she reflected she’d not been outside for two weeks and seemingly lost capability to judge the weather. The two metre separation lines etched dividing lines of trench warfare against covid-19; more mask practice than during for the cold war. A proud elderly man limps out his car, then stoically, every so slowly, works his way towards the back of the queue. To offer him a place would be an unwanted admission of his frailty.

The cloud starts to open and icy rain drops fall on the spread-out shoppers below. A man in a blue uniform walks up and down the queue, making sure people are keeping to their allotted segment of carpark. He sees Rita, shivering, inappropriately dressed. He stops, looks up, and runs back to the shop.

Rita sees a fraught young woman struggling with two trolleys– they are locked together in a weird animalistic mating ritual; the inseparable metal cages rattle aggressively against each other. She oppresses an urge to help, it would not be fair to get close to her. The woman abandons the trolley, with a parting kick, frustrated, and joins the back of the queue.

The staff member returns carrying a wedge of multicoloured umbrellas underneath his arm, and waving a plastic packet of Dettol wipes as evidence he is going to disinfect the handles. He opens one, passes to Rita, and beams. Grateful, Rita takes the umbrella.

Rita notices that she is crying. At a time when she felt most alone, she was overwhelmed by the smallest act of kindness. This is the first social interaction she has had in months.

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