Thursday 30 April 2009

Shop Girl Pay Offs

Last month a Mrs Winks came in to pay the balance and collect her chandelier.
I didn’t recognise her and checked the date on her receipt.
“2001!” I gasped.
“Yes, it’s been a while.”
“Eight years.”
“Yes, something like that.”
“No, it has, it’s been eight years.”
“I wasn’t feeling well.”
I got on the phone to Mum, who directed me to her light which was still packed and ready to go.
Mrs Winks is a record, but there are plenty of other customers who disappear for long periods of time mid payment.
Like Mr Francis who comes in wanting another light for his house in Ghana.
He’s still paying off for the last one after four months. It’s in the backroom in a plastic bag.
Mr Francis is a small, jumpy man with a voice that scratches your eardrums.
Not someone you want to get stuck in a lift with.
My heart sinks as the routine haggling begins. I haven’t had a cup of tea in hours and feel the familiar stirrings of my inner monster.
The chandelier he’s after is already a bargain at £199.
“Come on, I’m a good customer!” he says.
It’s funny how the bad customers say they are good customers and the good customers say nothing.
“There’s already a hundred quid off that light.”
“Aaaah!” he cries. “I want my discount!”
“185 is the lowest I’ll go.”
“Come on!”
“You’ve got a good thing going here,” I say firmly. “Where else do you get the luxury of paying when you want?”
“Give me it for £150.”
Connie walks in with her trolley. My dream of a cup of tea dries up.
“I’ve come from the doctors,” she announces and waves a hand over her swollen belly. “They say I’ve got estra...estro... something or other.”
“Oh,” I say, looking at Mr Francis, who’s fidgeting in front of the chandelier. “That’s not good.”
“They’re waiting for the results. Here, look at my list of pills.”
She takes out some papers from her hand bag and shows me them.
“Come on, how much?” Mr Francis says, feeling neglected.
He whines.
Connie looks him up and down with mild disgust. She doesn’t take nonsense from anyone.
I feel awkward. Customers shouldn’t barter in front of each other.
“I bring the list so I don’t have to bring the pill boxes. I can’t be bothered with all that,” she continues. “And I never remember the names of them, do I?”
I need Mr Francis to make up his mind. I feel like I’m being crushed between two heavy boxes.
“Light that one for me,” he says, pointing at a different chandelier.
I bash the ladder against the counter as I bring it out.
“What is it?” Connie says, turning her attention to my agitated customer. She points at his original choice. “Between that one and the one she’s lighting?”
Mr Francis steps from one foot to the other and nods his head.
I stand at the top of the ladder and plug the cables into the tester.
The chandelier lights up. It’s a bit dusty.
“THAT ONE,” she says, pointing back at the first one.
He looks at her with sudden interest.
“Yes, you think? Okay I’ll have it.”
I’m gobsmacked. I want to give Connie a hug.
Mr Francis hands over a deposit for it and I get the receipt book.
“180,” he says.
I write £185.
“What a cheek,” she says, after he’s left.
“Yes, the things I have to put up with,” I say, and I settle into a rhythm of crystal pinning as she tells me about her visit to the hospital.
And later about her curtain tiebacks, the camera they thrust through her groin and the steak and kidney pie she’s having for dinner.

Thursday 23 April 2009

ShopGirls get the Giggles

My cousin, Rosie, is sitting opposite me at the counter.
She often drops in after yoga class and stays a while, or sometimes the whole day.
Mum is packing up a light nearby.
A lady comes in to see the chandelier we’ve made for her house in the Caribbean. She’s accompanied by a tall young man. His skin is lighter than hers; possibly mixed race.
Her eyes well up when she sees her light.
“It’s beautiful,” she says.
Our eyes well up when we see the young man.
Yes, beautiful, we think.
And we assume it’s her partner and inwardly congratulate her.
“We were wondering if we should remove the crystal,” Mum says, “as you’re travelling by plane.”
“Yes, I think that would be better.”
Rosie and I start taking off the crystal.
“You can’t be,” Mum starts, looking at the man. “I don’t want to say this but...”
“My son,” says the woman, smiling.
“Not the same one. The last time you came in here, you were with a little boy.”
“I’m big now,” he says.
Rosie and I giggle behind the chandelier.
“Yes,” the woman says. “It might’ve been him or it might’ve been another son. I have three.”
Three like that?
“Have you seen his guns?” Rosie murmurs.
Yes, I have seen his ‘guns’; the huge muscles in his arms.
The ones in his chest haven’t escaped me either.
I think we’ve all noticed them; even Mum seems a bit distracted.
“Right,” she says, “where will you put the crystal?”
“Hand luggage,” the woman says.
“Ah, now, it’ll come out black on the x-ray so you’ll need to have access to it because they'll want to see what it is.

“Like a load of puff,” says Muscles.
Rosie and I giggle behind the chandelier.
Mum nods her head then suddenly stops and frowns.
“No, I don’t get it,” she says. “Like what?”
“Puff,” he says again
Mum looks confused.
“Oh, you mean...”
She doesn’t quite know if what she knows is quite right.
“I don’t know about that,” she says, finally.
Rosie and I keep our heads down and finish packing up the crystal.
We put it in a bag. The chandelier frame goes in a separate box.
“Now the crystal might be...” Mum begins then pauses to look Muscles up and down. “Nothing is too heavy for you, is it?”
Rosie and I giggle behind the counter.
“It’s not about strength, it’s about balance,” he says.
He laughs and almost falls over a box behind him.
Rosie and I giggle some more.
He takes the bag and the box, one in each arm; his Mum leads the way out.
“Have a good holiday!” we call after them.
“Take care girls,” he says. “Have a good one.”
“Come back any time!” Rosie says.
I gawp at her.
“So much for being shy,” I say.
We don’t quite know what to do with ourselves after they’ve gone.
For a while we’re just three silly shop girls talking about boys.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Shop Girl Under Attack

On Easter Sunday I received a mail from someone in my facebook group.
A certain young Californian with a photoshop twinkle in his eye.
Please get a life, he wrote, because the one you’re writing about isn’t that interesting.Oh, I thought, taken aback.
My first hate mail hadn’t come at the best of times.
I’d been feeling uncertain all week; sniffing my sleeve a lot and waiting for a soppy text message that would never come.
He’s right, I thought woefully.
I was hardly a lion tamer.
Lunch was a sandwich, not monkey brains.
I didn’t get attacked by wild animals on the way to work, and if there were any, I could always get the bus.
So, yes, I was just a boring little shop girl who occasionally sold light bulbs.
It was time I wrote something exciting.
Perhaps I could get electrocuted while I was showing someone a light.
Or fall off my ladder onto someone’s dog.
Between the electric shock and flattening the dog I’d get a trauma that would leave me without feeling in my fingers.
The dog owner would sue me of my last pound and I’d no longer be able to pay the rent for the shop.
I’d be left at home stringing crystal with my elbows while Mum rebuilt the business from scratch.
I brushed away a tear and read on.
Additionally your relentless Messages clog up my Inbox.“Oh,” I murmured, sinking further into my seat.
Perhaps writing weekly was too much.
Perhaps every two weeks was more than enough.
What if everyone was feeling the same?
I could just write one blog a month if people preferred.
Or perhaps it was best not to write one at all.
No wonder you people lost the Colonies, he continued.
“Oh,” I gasped, “the colonies.”
I felt confused as well as dispirited.
I wasn’t quite sure how he’d drawn this conclusion.
Neither did I know what colonies he was actually talking about.
All I knew was that if this man was right, then a lot of historians had wasted a lot of time researching when they could’ve just read my blog.
And don’t bother messaging me back because I’ll delete it unread, he wrote.
What had I done to make him so angry? I wondered. What could I do to pacify him?
And, I'm dumping you as one of my groups or blog memberships or fan page or whatever it is that you're inflicting on us.I just couldn’t understand why he was telling me like this.
Why had he waited so long before leaving?
In fact, why had he joined my group at all if my writing so disturbed him.
He ended with the same energy with which he began.
Seriously, you are one of the most uninteresting and mundane people I’ve ever encountered.For a while, I sat at my computer wide-eyed.
For a while, the doubting cells fed themselves and multiplied.
I sniffed my sleeve and waited for a soppy text message that would never come.
And then I saw I had a choice.
So, no, I’m not a lion tamer.
But I am a writer
And I’m afraid I’m going to keep on writing.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Shop Girl: The Investigative Journalist

That man selling The Guardian came in again.
The same one who said he was a ‘volontaire’ raising money for ‘the children’.
I could have just said ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but the journalism student in me thought I should try to get to the bottom of this.
“I don’t get it,” I began.
“Very good news,” he said, turning the pages of the paper he’d placed in front of me, “Celebrity, sport, fashion...”
“I don’t mean the paper. I know what The Guardian is. I don’t get why you’re selling them.”
“For the children!” he cried. “For the church!”
“But why are you selling a newspaper for the church?”
“For the children!”
He was getting exasperated but I had to pursue this once and for all.
“Yes but why would The Guardian give you free newspapers to sell for the church?”
“I sell them for the children, very cheap price.”
“The same price as the newsagents, I know that but...”
I could see I wasn’t making much headway with my investigation. I wasn’t sure where I was going wrong either.
Then I zoomed in on his name badge, which as before, wasn’t a name badge at all. Actually it was a huge, red piece of card with ‘Back Stage Access’ on it and the Virgin logo in one corner.
Aha, I thought, feeling clever.
“So, what charity is it?”
“I do it for church!”
“Yes,” I nodded at his card, “but what charity.”
He looked down and held it up.
“They sponsor.”
“Virgin sponsor you to sell The Guardian for the children?”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Why would Virgin buy The Guardian for you to sell for the children?”
“I don’t get it.”
“I get money for the children!”
“So you say.”
To be honest, I was starting to get on my own nerves.
Why didn’t I just give him a break and buy it? It was 90p for god’s sake.
And maybe it was for the children.
Perhaps it would make sense if I thought about it long enough.
“I just don’t get it, that’s all,” I said, surrendering a pound.
His face lit up. He tried to give me a ten pence change but I told him to keep it. Perhaps he was a victim of the credit crunch; if so he needed it more than I did.
I still had lots of lights to sell, which was why the shop was still open.
A lot of people are only just noticing we’re going which means conversation is getting repetitive.
“Oh no you’re closing! Why are you closing?”
And we give a long explanation about how we’re only shutting the retail, that we’re still clearing samples from the factory and that we won’t go quickly.
Except today.
Today I kept it short.
“New life,” I said.
The customer was so surprised she didn’t know what to say.
“Oh!” she said.
Then because I felt like I’d been too abrupt I ended up giving her the long version as well.
“I’m only browsing,” she said, when I’d finished.
So I went back to reading my newspaper.