Pop to the Shops by Carrie Hynds

“Darling, could you pop to the shops and get me a litre of milk, please?”

I look up from my laptop and see Mum’s face around the side of my bedroom door. She has a towel on her head which means her hair is wet and she doesn’t want to go out. Mum pushes the door open wider and I see she is wearing the sundress with the flowers on it that has three stitches in the right shoulder from where a moth made a hole, and the yellow flip-flops she bought in Eastbourne, and she’s holding a £5 note out towards me.

“Okay,” I say, shutting my laptop and taking the fiver. “Why are your nails red?”

Mum makes a trilly sound, which is how she laughs. “Well, it’s nice to make an effort sometimes, even if it’s only for myself.”

I nod, then point towards the door, signalling there is no longer any need for us to be in my room and it is certainly not the place for Making An Effort.

“Keep the change, darling,” Mum says, and closes one eye at me. I watch her do a little spin in the hallway and then a floaty walk down the stairs, humming a tune. Adults are weird.

I put the fiver in my wallet and put my wallet in the front right pocket of my jeans. It’s a bit uncomfortable, but I lost my last wallet by keeping it in the back pocket and this isn’t even my money so it needs to be extra-safe. Then I go into the bathroom and check my reflection to make sure my T-shirt is clean and there is nothing up my nose.

My eyes are hazel and sometimes they look more brown but today they look more green. Maybe it is because I am wearing a green T-shirt. I will ask Mr Hodges on Monday. Mr Hodges teaches Biology and he says if we don’t know something we should ask him, unless we are Sitting A Test. His eyes are always brown, even when his shirt is green.

I use the toilet and wash my hands afterwards and then remember I need to put the seat down and wash my hands again. Then I jump down the stairs one step at a time and sit on the final step to put my trainers on. They are black Nikes and the right trainer is getting too small, or the big toe on my right foot is getting too big, but I haven’t told Mum because she is right when she says that finding a new pair of shoes for me is An Ordeal.

I walk down the driveway and turn right into Kimber Road. My watch says it is 10.35, so when I pass Mrs Shah weeding in her garden I say, “Good morning,” and she smiles and says, “Good morning” back. The shops are at the end of the road and they are the hairdresser’s, the grocer’s, the chemist’s, and a closed-down shop that used to sell flowers but now the grocer’s sells flowers instead.

I am almost at the chemist’s when a woman with a red face and a white hat steps out and nearly walks into me.

“Sorry,” she gasps. She is holding a piece of paper covered in lines and squiggles.

“Are you okay?” I ask, remembering too late I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.

The red-faced woman looks at me. “Well, maybe you can help me, young man. The chemist gave me directions but I can’t make head nor tail of them.” She frowns at the piece of paper. “Do you know the way to the train station?”

I smile because not only do I know, it’s also one of my favourite places.

“This way,” I say, and start walking. The woman asks where my parents are and apologises for the inconvenience and thanks me for my kindness, but all of that is quite confusing to think about at once, so I concentrate on the paving stones. They are uneven and grey and have big gaps between them with little tufts of grass growing out. They need Mrs Shah with her gloves and trowel.

The sun is up and there are puffy white clouds so it is good weather for walking. The red-faced woman has high shoes so we can’t go too fast, but she is worried about missing the train which means missing her niece’s wedding, so we can’t go too slow either.

We arrive at the station at 10.58 and her train is at 11.05.

“How can I ever thank you,” she says, and rummages in her bag and offers me half a pack of Polo mints, but I shake my head because I definitely can’t take sweets from strangers. Then she rummages again for her train ticket and hurries away. She gets through the ticket barriers and sees she will reach Platform 3 before the train arrives, so she stops to wave at me. I wave back and think maybe it would have been okay to take the Polo mints after all.

There are big Departures and Arrivals boards on the wall and I watch as the destinations change. 78% of the trains are running On Time, three are Cancelled and the rest are Delayed. The red-faced woman’s train departs On Time.

I turn to leave and there is a man sitting on the floor with a cup in his hands.

“Spare any change?”

His nails look worse than Mum’s. I shake my head and he looks sad.

I walk back to the shops thinking that it was nice being at the train station until the end bit. The man didn’t look like he wanted to be at the train station at all. Maybe he needed the change to get on a train and was sad because he had to watch them all Depart.

Then I realise. After I buy the milk and keep the change, I’ll be able to spare the change.

At the grocer’s I stand in front of the fridge and look at all the different types of milk. There is full-fat milk and skimmed milk and semi-skimmed milk. Which does Mum want? I squeeze my eyes shut and think about opening the fridge door and getting out my orange juice. Next to the orange juice is the milk and it has a green cap. Semi-skimmed.

At the counter, I hand over my £5 and get £3.90 change, which I put carefully into the zipped part of my wallet. The shopkeeper asks if I want a bag and I say, “No, thank you, we all need to do our bit to save the planet,” which is one of Mr Hodges’ sayings.

I carry the milk by its handle and it feels cold, but I can walk faster now that the red-faced woman isn’t with me. At the station, the man with the cup is sitting in exactly the same place.

“Spare any change?”

I nod and get the coins out of my wallet one by one, putting them into his cup: the two-pound coin and the one-pound coin and the 50p and the first 20p and the second 20p.

“Bless you,” he says, even though I haven’t sneezed.

I look at the Departures and there is a train to Eastbourne at 12.38, but I’ve got no money and Mum isn’t here. She’s waiting for me to get home with the milk. I hurry back, pausing only to say “Good afternoon” to Mrs Shah, who is now sitting on the porch with her crossword.

When I open the front door Mum does a running shuffle towards me and gives me a big hug.

“Darling, what took you so long?”

I start to explain but there’s a beeping sound from the kitchen, so I just hand her the milk.

“Thanks, darling. Never mind. Go and wash your hands.”

I wash my hands and we have my favourite lunch, which is fish finger sandwiches and tomato ketchup on buttered white bread with the crusts cut off. Mum has a cheese sandwich and a cup of tea, using the new milk for it, and she says, “Ah, good stuff.”

I go back up to my room and open my laptop. It is now 13.17, so I delete my morning schedule and start to follow my afternoon schedule.

***

And so, Mr Pym, that is why I am not Telling Fibs when I say I haven’t done my history homework because Mum asked me to pop to the shops for a litre of milk.

You can call Mum and Mrs Shah and the red-faced woman and the man with the cup as witnesses. The red-faced woman caught the 11.05 from Platform 3 on Saturday, and the man with the cup will either still be sitting on the floor, or if he got enough change, he will have Departed, possibly to Eastbourne.

That reminds me. What is the history of Eastbourne?


Published in Issue #26

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