Cruising past the various checkout queues, I check them all out, looking for the shortest. I find it, shortest by a mile. Shortest, of course, need not equate with quickest.
The sole lady ahead of me at this checkout has loaded her shopping onto the conveyor belt. Compared with the Friday mountains elsewhere in this supermarket this customer’s heap is a molehill. Shouldn’t take long.
But it does take long.
Later I understand sometimes the road less travelled is the road most avoided. Regular shoppers recognise this checkout person, a study in slow movement, and they join longer, quicker queues elsewhere.
Why is our checker-out so slow? She takes a cabbage in a paw, hoists it, regards it interrogatively, then caresses it into a bag part-laden with unkindred purchases. Next she takes a persimmon, ripe to bursting, holds it thoughtfully above the bag then drops it. Gravity speeds its fall.
Celery follows, then shoe polish, then a roll of foil, then eggs. Each item is chosen by a hovering hand, raised slowly to eye level, pondered then loaded at hazard.
I wonder about the checker. Why is she so slow? I wonder how she holds her job? I wonder are the items chosen by this particular customer are exotic, new to the market perhaps, or unscannable?
After some time, with my tub of ice cream racing into liquefaction, it is my turn. I greet my checker by tagged name: ‘Hello Lucy.’ Lucy turns head away, bends face forward fifteen degrees, and makes a sound. The sound is audible, too short for a word, it strains for syllable length. But it is conversation, all the conversation we will share today.
In the space of the next twenty minutes as my dozen items are selected, elevated, perused and lowered into my bag a number of further questions occur to me: ‘Why am I so short of patience?’ ‘What makes my minutes so precious?’
And – in place of my earlier questions – a dawning answer:’Perhaps it is precisely because Lucy is slow she won this job.’ And, ‘here is an employer who sees the value of a job to a person; who sees beyond the minutes of work to the life.’