24th May


The guy behind her in the queue was singing. She turned. A middle-aged, red-faced man, singing away to himself.

Earlier, in one of the aisles, she’d seen a young father singing to his son as he pushed him round in their shopping trolley. ‘Ally Bally, Ally Bally Bee,’ the father had sung. The child’s face had glowed with pleasure, and she too had been filled with pleasure, with hope even.

‘That’s lovely,’ she said now, to the red-faced man. ‘You’re the second person I’ve heard singing in here today.’

‘Well, you’ve got to do something to keep your spirits up, eh?’ he said, smiling.

‘Absolutely,’ she said.

‘After that stuff in London,’ the man said. ‘Just awful. That poor soldier hacked to death by those blacks.’

She tensed, but continued to pack things into bags as the checkout assistant scanned them. ‘Awful,’ she agreed.

The checkout assistant joined in. ‘Terrible,’ she said. ‘What’s the world coming to? I don’t know.’

‘If it was me,’ the man said, ‘I’d get rid of the lot of them. Every last one, out of the country.’

She felt herself grow hot. She knew she had to say something.

‘That’s a bit extreme, isn’t it?’ she said.

‘Eh?’ He looked astonished, offended. The smile was gone.

‘I mean,’ she said, ‘you can’t condemn a whole group of people, a whole section of society, because of what two individuals have done. Can you?’

‘Oh,’ the man said. ‘Oh, you’ve spoiled it now. All that about me singing. You’re calling me extreme?’ He jabbed at his chest, appealing to the woman on the checkout. ‘Me?’

All her items had been scanned. She handed over her loyalty card. There was hostility in the assistant’s silence.

‘You’ve spoiled it now,’ the man repeated.

The assistant said, ‘My son was a soldier. He served in Kosovo, Ireland, Iraq. It’s terrible the way they’re treated, just terrible.’

‘Aye, it is,’ the man said. ‘And then you get this.’

She took back her cards, moved off with the trolley. I have to get away, she thought. Arguing with them won’t do any good.

She felt sick, hearing them reinforce each other. She feared what might
be coming.

Reader: Marianne Mitchelson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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