"It’s to be a quick nip in," she said. "We won’t be long," she said. "All we'll be getting is margarine," she said. The 'she' of this tale is my mother. From the first, I was wary of her words. The supermarket carpark was full. There were harrowed looking specimens leaving the premises. I had the faint prescient vision of doom, doom. I travelled with trepidation.
Naturally, there were no baskets to be acquired. This was okay, because we only wanted one item - didn't we? Sure enough, halfway down the appropriate aisle I heard a voice full of wonderment ask, "do we have enough milk for the long weekend?" My reply of "yes" fell on deaf ears and I was handed a one litre carton. We came upon the hallowed margarine, when suddenly a voice not unlike the first piped up; "I could murder a pack of crisps." The walk down the next aisle yielded not only crisps, but two packets of Twisties, their bastard cousin in salted snacks. It took great temerity and forcefulness of voice to attempt to convince mother that "no, we do not need dishwashing liquid, yes I am sure." We got it anyway. A magazine, a packet of batteries (to be fair, they were mine), and several bananas (also mine) later, we stood at the end of the queue in front of one of three tills.
And then time stopped still. We were trapped in a dimensional pocket, watching in awe and reverence as those to the left of us and those to the right of us moved steadily forward, and we remained inert – disconnected from time and space as we knew it. An interesting take on Schrödinger’s Cat occurred in my mind. Once you put two unsuspecting prospective consumers in a non-moving queue, are they really in a queue? They might be. But you can’t know for sure. ‘Queue’ implies that eventually what you are waiting for will actually come. I was unsure this was ever to be the case. Luckily, I am not a robot, and my head did not explode from the logical paradox. I do distinctly remember some of my brain seeping out through my ears.
I watched with half-closed eyes as the checkout operator placed items into plastic bags at the speed of a slug. Despite the – admittedly slow - action, nothing happened. No-one moved forward. The checkout operator continued the repetitive process, stuffing products into containers for person after person, yet somehow, some way, we stayed exactly where we were. She fussed with a computerised register that was too complicated for her mind to comprehend and worriedly tapped at keys. She attempted to burst out of our temporal bubble to seek help from those with more experience with such matters. I marvelled that this was science fiction of the highest calibre. No computer generated special effects were needed. No convoluted plot twists. The unexplainable yet undeniable truth dawned on me – there was no escape this day. It would be death by waiting.
Forty minutes later, we finally, magically, made it to the forefront of the queue (I harnessed all of the power I have acquired from watching superheroes on television to expedite the process.) We were treated with more confused touchscreen tapping, a simple question of “what are these?” followed by “how do you spell apricot?” and many furtive glances. I used all of the patience I have gained through years of University bureacracy in an effort not to strangle the young woman who served us when she discovered a flaw in her ability to charge us the $33.03 we apparently owed.
At the end – thank God, there was an end – the sunlight shone down on me gladly and I took a deep breath. Beside me, eight fateful words were uttered; “oh, bugger, I forgot I promised Nick toothpaste.”