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A Trip to the Grocery Store

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I hate grocery shopping. It’s mundane and repetitive and it always leaves my bank account crying. This has to be one of the worse parts of growing up. Gone are the days when you can just leech off your parents and keep your belly full and bank satisfied. Though the lack of money stinks, the worst part of grocery shopping is not my thin wallet, but the grocery store.

See, when I moved into the neighbourhood, one of the great selling points the realtor showed me was how close everything was. The gym, the laundromat, the grocery store. The gym and laundromat were always full, as most of the people living in my neighbourhood were in their 20s like me and are still vain with one too many outfit changes per day. So, there isn’t a time in the day when the stores aren’t packed. But the grocery store was almost always empty. I just chalked it up to young adults still having no idea how to make meals by themselves, however unfortunately for me and my dietary restrictions, it’s just a lot easier if I prepared my meals myself.

I remember the first time I went to the grocery store. It was freezing cold even though it was 10 degrees outside. Some of the lights would flicker occasionally and there was a subtle stench of something rotting. Not a really good first impression but the next grocery store is 5 kilometres away, so what else could I do?

The store wasn’t properly arranged too. The shelves are stuffed with different brands and types of products that don’t correspond to the signage. Only two people are working the entire grocery store: a man that looked to be in his 30s with long greying hair and yellow crooked teeth sticking out of his mouth and a nice old granny with a humpback who could only probably walk 10 steps in a minute. I know I probably shouldn’t complain given their atrocious lack of manpower, but I really hate having to cycle around the whole store only to find the eggs and box tissue I need to be stacked side-by-side.

Sometimes I would purposely go to town with my friends just so I could get my groceries at a proper store, but given my lack of a car and driving license, it’s still a lot easier to shop from this grocery store.

Just like every other 7 pm grocery run, I first zoomed past the man at the counter with my breath held in, so I don’t have to breathe in what felt like an entire packet of cigarettes and then I use my sixth sense to try to magically get the things I need. There were only 5 things on my list tonight: bread, tomatoes, salt-free butter, vegetarian ham, and a large bottle of green tea. First, starting with the bread, it was either always near the frozen aisle, or far back where the diapers were. Trusting my gut, I went to the back thinking if the bread wasn’t there, at least the tissues might be. So make the six things I needed to get.

My gut intuition had a 75% chance of being right, and thankfully for today, it’s right. I found the bread next to diapers and some canned beans, and without thinking about it, I grabbed the bread and the tissues and sped away to the next item on my list, the tomatoes.

Unfortunately, for all things fruits and vegetables, it was always a wild guess in this store. So with zero ideas of where the tomatoes could be, I just walked up and down the aisles hoping to see the ripe red fruit soon. For some reason, the grocery store was even colder tonight and walking around the store in a miniskirt and cropped t-shirt never seemed more like a terrible idea.

While still cursing myself out in my head for my sad and cold predicament, I finally found the tomatoes. They were sitting nicely on a shelf next to……other fruits and vegetables? This was a sight to see. Never have I ever seen anything so neatly organised in my life, what more from this grocery store where eggs are often found in the frozen meat aisle?

“Need a hand?”.

A husky voice asked from behind me. Startled, I jumped back and saw a tall gentleman with a polite smile on his face looking right at me.

“Not really,” I breathed out shakily.

Still having my heart trying to beat itself out of my chest, he offered me a bottle of water. And that was when I saw he was wearing the grocery store uniform.

“You work here?”

“Just started.”

After almost gulping down the entire bottle, I passed him my shopping list, hoping he could help me find the things I needed more quickly.

“Just thought I can save some time instead of walking up and down the aisles.”

He saw my list and let out a light chuckle. Curious, I was about to ask him what was so funny when he motioned to the shelf in front of me. My eyes widened as I scanned the aisle, seeing everything I needed neatly arranged on the shelves. Still in shock, he grabbed the things on my list and gently placed them into the basket.

“Did you arrange all these by yourself?” I asked, still in a daze.

“Yup. Hopefully, it makes it easier for the rest of the shoppers now.”

“Are you kidding? With things arranged like this, I can be out of here in 5.”

We exchanged a few more words before I left. But not before I accidentally knocked over the bottles of soft drinks on the shelves and some spilt out all over the floor. Apologising profusely, he simply laughed it off and even offered me the jacket he was wearing, as he noticed I was shivering.

“Just return it to me the next time you come. And maybe wear longer clothes because the store is only going to get colder.”

Thanking him again, I walked away embarrassed and went straight to the cashier. With still half a cigarette hanging out from his mouth, he blankly commented on how much faster I’m getting at my grocery runs.

“Well, it’s a lot faster because of your new employee. The shelves are all arranged neatly now.”

“Huh?”

“Oh, and I accidentally knocked some drinks over at aisle 7, so if you could just bring a mop or something back there when you’re done…”

The cashier furrowed his brows and looked at me with a pair of puzzled eyes.

“Aisle 7? There’s no aisle 7 here. And there are no new hires. It’s still me and the old lady.”

Stunned, I stared at him for a few seconds, thinking he was just pulling one of the lamest pranks I have ever been a part of. Or a really stupid joke.

“You’re joking, right? He literally helped me with the groceries and is cleaning the mess up now.”

“Look, I don’t know if you’re drunk or high or just crazy, but there’s no aisle 7 and no new employee. Now take your things and get out!” he snapped in annoyance and pushed my groceries into my hand. In disbelief, I stormed over to aisle 7 to bring the new employee to the cashier to prove him wrong.

But he was right. There’s no aisle 7.

I repeatedly walked up and down the aisles in confusion, but alas, there is no sign of the bottles or the mess. Or the man that helped me. Or aisle 7.

If this is a sign that I’m losing my mind, it’s working. Maybe I have inhaled too much smoke from the cashier or maybe I’m getting a little too hungry and am currently having weird hallucinations, so without wanting to think about this strange situation for another second, I made a beeline to the exit and left the store.

I must have been confused and probably mistook a regular customer for an employee. But then why wasn’t he there when I went back to look for him? Where was the mess he was cleaning up? Where was the mess? Where was I?

And more importantly, why do I still have a jacket on?

© 2022 Alison Lian