1st PRIZE WINNER (1000 word category)
It's a big city-edge superstore, just off the motorway, and it supplies all my needs - paracetamol for that slight headache, a bottle of wine for tonight and a sandwich for lunch, all combined with a stretch of the legs and the essential bladder relief. A lot cheaper than motorway services, and equally convenient; the answer to a travelling man's prayers, no less, and every little helps.
Do other people have the sponge-soled shoe problem? Two hundred yards across a wet car park fills the pores of my comfortable but reasonably smart black shoe soles so that when the first heel strikes smooth tiles enough water sqeezes out to lubricate a yard-long disaster slide. I know this, and enter the supermarket gingerly, conscious of both the need for extreme caution and my dainty prat-like gait. I mince to the toilets first - I really should drink a smaller cup of tea on driving mornings. It's only a pee, but I wash my hands thoroughly - I'm looking forward to eating a sandwich and possibly a bag of Hula Hoops with these fingers. There are unpleasant noises blasting from the closed cubicle behind me, so I'm hoping the Dyson Airblades will do their thing in the promised ten seconds, before the odour cloud hits. Then, hands in the heat stream, mouth-breathing, I hear the clack of the cubicle catch and a big guy in a black Metallica teeshirt exits straight past me, long legs striding. That bastard didn't wash his hands, unbelievably, after that noisesome dump! That's just disgusting, especially in a foodstore! Some people, eh? I don't want to touch the door handle, obviously, so I'm glad that a slow old chap with a stick ambles in, pushing the door open from outside. I wait, smilingly polite, as he edges round the resisting door and I catch it, shoe soles dry enough now to support a nifty elbow hook of the questionable edge, and achieve a germ-avoiding exit. Worrying that the old boy might think that it's my stink he's walked into, but a denial would be unconvincing, as I know from experience.
The sandwiches are near the entrance, so I have to backtrack for my coronation chicken pack then walk the length of the central aisle to check on the wine offers. There's an australian shiraz at half price so I get two bottles and head for the pharmacy section. Turning out past the ready meals I see the black Metallica teeshirt, walking beside a blond woman pushing their toddler-topped trolley, with a little girl walking alongside. The dirty bastard's got a family, as well as the foodstore to infect! His jeans are definitely mucky but his wife looks neat and clean. The kids are nicely turned out too, given that babies are always a bit sticky around the mouth. The little girl wears frilly socks inside red shoes and a pink sparkly top with her blond hair just brushing the collar. I turn right two aisles early for the pharmacy, just to avoid them.
Clutching two bottles of wine, my chicken sandwich and the tablets I'm heading for the tills, but then I remember I need to see if they have a cheap coffee maker. I'm worried that my existing one is nearing the age when its heating element will suddenly fail. The electrical appliances are with the flatscreen TVs beyond the food, and I search in vain for a drip coffee maker. Disappointed, I head back towards the checkouts through the children's clothes racks.
Rounding the corner of a bright display, I'm suddenly buffeted by a child running into my legs, and I only just manage to hold onto the second wine bottle - the box of headache pills falls to the floor. It's the little blond girl in the pink sparkly top, and she's upset. There are tears in her eyes and she backs away looking up at me.
'Hey, don't worry,' I say, smiling at her and crouching down. I stand the two wine bottles on the edge of the display plinth. 'Have you lost your Mummy and Daddy?'
She nods and wipes her nose on a pink sleeve. She is so tiny, so vulnerable.
'I can help you find them, I know what they look like.' Then I get an idea that could just possibly make the world a safer place. 'Tell me, does your Mummy tell you to wash your hands when you've been to the toilet?'
She nods again, mouthing the word yes silently.
'Well,' I begin, but I decide this needs a more personal touch and start again. 'What's your name? I'm Stuart.'
After a face-studying pause she says 'Lizzie,' quietly.
'Well, Lizzie, your Mummy is quite right. You must always wash your hands when you've been to the toilet. Otherwise you will get very poorly in your tummy. It might ache a lot.'
Lizzie nods her head. She knows this already.
'Well, I think your Daddy needs to be reminded about it, Lizzie. Daddies know so many things that they sometimes forget a few of them. Do you think you could tell him, every time you see him going into the toilet, that he really must wash his hands afterwards?'
Lizzie nods again and actually starts to say that she will, but at that point Metallica teeshirt hurries round the corner. He spots Lizzie then looks at me and I stand up, backing away a step. I don't want him to get the wrong idea.
'Lizzie!' He says, 'We've been looking all over for you. Where have you been?'
I notice, mouth-gapingly appalled, that he is holding a fresh baguette in his unwashed, hand; the right hand that, to me, appears to pulsate with deadly glowing bacteria. He shifts the bread into his left as he advances towards me.
'Thanks mate.' He says, smiling warmly, 'Thanks for looking after her.'
He thrusts his right hand towards me, the bastard. I know I have to shake it.