Salad Days

by Dan Keeble

Mary shuffled along the aisle of the store, wearing a heavy worsted coat. Her bowed head exaggerated her stoop. Nobody gives old folk a second look. Today she was wrong.

She examined an iceberg lettuce, and turned her head towards the till. The assistant was looking away. With a swift hand, she scooped the lettuce into an inside pocket of her coat. Part of her lunch had been taken care of.

Unfortunately, the assistant was viewing the CCTV monitor. She was caught on camera, and the facial recognition software had captured her glance.

Mary strolled nonchalantly along the other aisles. Finishing a deceptive browse, she ambled towards the door, gazing downward. At the exit her eyes fell onto a pair of shoes, barring her way.

‘Er, no you don’t, Mary,’ their owner said.

Mary tilted her head slightly.

‘Please move aside young man, she said. ‘I’ve got to go home to my husband.’

The shop assistant stood his ground.

‘Lettuces are not free, and you know you are barred, Mary.’

Mary saw from a name-tag that she was being challenged by Ralph. ‘Is this how you treat an old lady?

Ralph sighed.

‘But you have been seen taking goods before without paying, Mary. You can’t keep doing it.’

‘That’s not fair to say I deliberately steal. I get confused. You see how mixed up things are when you are 89, son. Don’t you have a grandmother?’

Ralph sighed again.

‘Look, I don’t make the rules. If I let you off again, I’ll lose my job. Why do you take things without paying, Mary? Don’t you get enough money? There’s people who can help you if you are struggling.’

Mary knitted her brow.

‘I don’t need charity. I just need is a bit of kindness and understanding.’ ‘I’m supposed to call the cops.’

Mary dabbed her eyes.

‘Oh no, son, please don’t do that. Would you send your grandmother to prison?’

A young woman shopper overheard the conversation. She stepped forward and glared at Ralph.

‘Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, threatening a struggling elderly lady?’

With that she slapped a bill down on the counter. ‘Take the price of your miserable lettuce out of that.’

Mary’s eyes moistened. She took the woman’s hand and kissed it without saying a word. The young woman smiled, and choked on her words.

‘You take care my love.’

Ralph shook his head, and opened the door for Mary.

‘Thank you, both,’ Mary whimpered.

Around the corner a black limousine was parked. The capped chauffeur opened the door, and Mary settled herself into the plush interior. ‘Where to now ma’am?’

‘The Mini-Mart. I fancy some vine tomatoes and spring onions to treat myself to a salad. I may not be able to shin up the hotel drainpipes any more for their jewels, George, but I don’t want the bastards to think that Mary Crane has lost her touch.’

‘Too right, ma’am.’

‘Well,’ Mary laughed, ‘A girl has to have a hobby.’