It was another day, one much like the day before and would surely be very similar to the one that followed. It had been busy as customers rushed to the stores to finish their shopping before the holidays ended, and managers had been keeping their distance all shift through fear of having to assist with the workload. The customers always carried themselves with a heightened sense of entitlement, as though the act of them being born was a gift to the rest of the world, they lived in their own fantasy world, but on this particular day dreams would become a reality.
I stood below the bright fluorescent lights, closed away behind a white marble food counter. The oven alarm began to sound as I was tired and hungry, which further increased my frustration at the lack of staff available to cover my breaks, and wasn’t helped by a female customer I had been serving who couldn’t seem to find her purse as she swore to herself out loud. I turned to close the oven door, stopping the alarm before returning to complete the lady’s transaction.
She slowly walked along the counter and past the sandwich display fridge, looking back at me with a frown before stopping beside the coffee machine on the far side. She appeared surprised that I hadn’t followed and instead, had begun to serve the next customer. I welcomed the second customer, taking his order while becoming aware of the lady already growing impatient beside the coffee machine “Is there no one else to serve?” I heard her complain to customers nearby. There wasn’t. My employer felt that hiring adequate staff wasn’t cost effective. I finished the second customer’s transaction before walking to the coffee machine to make the drinks that were ordered. I heard the lady beside the counter muttering under her voice before turning towards me.
“How long is this going to take?” she asked
“Not long, a couple of minutes at most” I replied politely “I just have a couple of drinks to make first.”
The lady scowled before storming off to sit on one of the seats nearby, her dark ashen hair falling limp across her cheek as she turned away muttering of the ‘ridiculous service’ being provided. I continued to make the drinks, ignoring the lady’s increasingly disrespectful attitude. This behaviour had become common and was soon seen as part of the job. I finished the order made prior to the lady and called the order number.
“Order 142, 2 caramel mocha-lattes”
The lady approached. I informed her that her drink wasn’t ready and was currently being made. The woman fumed.
“How long is this going to take?” she asked again “This is absolutely ridiculous!”
“It’s almost ready.” I replied in my well rehearsed professional tone “It’ll be a couple of minutes.”
“You said it would be a couple of minutes ten minutes ago!”
It hadn’t been ten minutes, I knew that for sure. Nobody else seemed to have a problem with the waiting time, especially considering it was clear there was only one member of staff working on the unit. I followed company policy “I’m sorry for the delay” I reply out of fear of losing my job.
The woman stood at attention, appearing to shudder as her eyes stared wildly at my own. She raised her right hand from her side and pointed towards me before releasing a barrage of profanity. I attempted to calm the situation by completing the drinks and ignoring the personal attack this lady had began. The customers nearby turned to watch the commotion, watching to see how I would handle the situation. I completed her drink and placed it on the counter between us.
“Your Americano,” I said “Sorry for the delay, please help yourself to milk and sugars.”
The woman looked down at the paper takeaway cup I had placed on the counter between us. She looked back up at me, an expression on her face that gave the impression I had insulted her.
“Why’s it in a paper cup?” she asked bitterly
“This is a takeaway counter, everything we do comes in takeaway cups I’m afraid” I responded.
As the woman reached out to take hold of the cup, my manager appeared at the end of one of the aisles, he turned and walked in the opposite direction. The woman picked up the cup and held it in front of her, appearing to study it momentarily. I sensed the customers’ eyes on me and felt that they were all watching to see what the lady would do next. It appeared to be a show for them, a form of entertainment to break up the monotony of their own day.
I began to apologise to the woman despite her rudeness, but before I could finish she threw the cup of coffee down upon the counter, spraying me with the hot contents inside. The coffee dripped from my hair and down my face, falling across my arm and onto the floor. I raised my hand to my head, it felt hot and I began to see the customers’ eyes peer towards me from the darkness amongst the trees under the cover of night they watched me as I stumbled forward holding my head. Where there was a white marble counter, a ridge of earth now appeared and I was standing in the large hole dug to create it. I held my hand out in front of me and saw that I was holding small pieces of wood covered in a crimson liquid that almost appeared black under the moonlight. Mortar shells exploded around me as I looked for the supermarket that was there moments before. Instead of vinyl, the ground was the disturbed forest floor being blown into the air as tree trunks replace customers and splinter into dangerous shrapnel.
I feel a sharp tugging at my trouser leg and look down to see my friend, Private Shaun Langridge, shouting at me over the deafening sounds of the explosions. He pulls me back into the foxhole we had dug the night previous and shelter together until the attack ends. The attack continues for a few minutes, but feels like hours. When it stops, leaves continue to float as trees fall down to their new resting place on the scarred earth. Shaun looks at me, an expression of horror in his eyes.
“What were you doing? You could’ve been killed”
I try to recall the events that led up to me risking the safety of my foxhole and couldn’t remember.
“I think I was dreaming,” I say
“You’re an idiot” Shaun replies, the look of horror now fading to its usual relaxed self as he searches around for movement amongst the trees “Was it a sex dream at least?”
“No, I dreamed I was back home”
“Aah...” continues Shaun “you’ll be back there in no time, after we finish this fight our freedoms will be safe.”
I look at the sky above as smoke drifts towards the face of the moon that illuminates the branches of the forest canopy.
“Do you think the enemy is fighting for their freedom?” I ask.
Shaun turns to look at me before snorting and returning to scan the forest.
“No, of course not. Like they told us on enrolment day, the enemy just wants to enslave us for their own benefits...that’s not what we’re fighting for”
We both laugh, searching for the enemy hidden amongst the trees unseen.
“Remember, we’re fighting for the good guys”
Sweet Animosity is the home for all projects and writings undertaken by Dhalia.