Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pal Pot

First published 'Not One Of Us' 1993

I fell head over heels in love with her when I first saw Carmina in the supermarket. She was standing by the condiments, closely examining the label of what I could just see was a jar of lime pickle. I’ve always been shy. You can see it in my eyes if you care to look: a disfiguring shyness. But I found myself momentarily cresting a veritable up¬surge of confidence, thrust thus out of character by a girl so ideal she seemed a pure, undiluted goddess of golden sunshine shafting through the drizzly clouds of my inhibitive past.

‘Pretty hot stuff,’ I said, abruptly, pointing at the jar in her band. I jumped from my skin at the sound of my own voice. I could have bitten my tongue off.

‘Yes, I thought so, too, but it says mild in small letters under the name here.’ She pushed the jar under my nose so that I could see the word ‘mild’ in small print under LIME PICKLE.

I couldn’t bear to say any more, sensing the old ‘me’ creeping insidiously back into position just behind the eyes. I simply nodded and scuttled off with my carriage into the next aisle, hoping that the baked bean cans would collapse and create a diversionary tactic all of their own.

I despaired when she queued up immediately behind me at the checkout. I was already positioning my purchases on the moving belt, with the girl at the register bleeping them through. Eventually, I remem¬bered to place the plastic ‘next customer’ divider on the belt just behind my pot noodles. And when Carmina started to deposit her groceries on the belt, I noted, out of the corner of my eye, that the jar of lime pickle was at the front, pressed up against the plastic divider. I was all a dither, my mind racing round and round the inside of my skull like a dervish chasing an impossible dream.

Yet how did I know her name was Carmina? Well, the checkout operator (a blousy girl with nothing much to recommend her) was somehow acquainted with her and, as she continued to bleep through my solitary weekend’s tucker, she chatted over my shoulder--‘Carmina, do you know Rich is going out with Wendy?’ and ‘I sure do like your eye shadow, Carmina, where did you get it from?’ and ‘Are you going to John’s party tonight, they say your ‘ex’ will be there?’--as if any such questions could have been even slightly interesting to the likes of Carmina! Nor had I seen the evidence of make-up upon our fleeting eye-contact in the aisle.

Carmina, to her credit, did not bother to answer; merely smiled noncommittally as she laid her rather exotic purchases on the belt.

I hastily left the supermarket in a flurry of squeaky, ill-packed grocery bags that bore a name that gradually made me feel more secure, as if my way home was safe from intervention. But, when I did get home, I rested my elbows on the kitchen table and burst out into intermittent fits of uncontrollable tears. I had fallen in love with an impossible dream. However, later in the evening, I cheered myself up by enacting a marriage between my pot noodles and the jar of lime pickle that had accidently become mixed up with my shopping.

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