As far as I can tell there is one friendly check-out girl (or boy) in Barcelona. I can’t help but feel a certain pang of guilt that her name escapes me, emblazoned as it is on a chunky plastic badge on the ill-fitting white with orange pin striped shirt. Let’s suppose her name is Montse, I’ve met a lot of Montses since moving to Barcelona and were I a betting man my chips would be in the Montse corner, or lane or little section of the roulette (it depends which game you’re playing). Anyway, picture Montse scanning goods, cheerily requesting my Consum club card, inquiring if carrier bags are necessary. Montse’s beaming smile as the transaction is completed. Montse’s glittering eyes as she sighs happily and shifts her attention to the next customer.

But Montse isn’t working today, in her place a harridan, cold glazed eyes peer out of a face of greyed skin, listlessly flicking over the conveyor belt of brightly coloured packaged produce. She takes her greyness out on the vibrant artifacts that pass before her, treating them with a roughness and contempt that actually seems to take an effort. Egg boxes dropped corner-first onto bagged salad, litre beer bottles allowed to slide into vulnerable plastic wrapped tomatoes. Loaves of bread manhandled and swiftly prodded and poked by corners of unwitting fruit juice cartons. The poor produce shoved, scanned and herded into the bagging area like bewildered prisoners of war.  The man whose shopping is being pulped winces slightly, pays apologetically and leaves, only stopping to check for egg leakage when he’s hidden from view.
I glance over my shoulder at the queue of fellow shoppers waiting behind me, to gauge their reaction. I catch the eye of the woman immediately behind me and she immediately breaks my gaze, flinching as if I’d seen too much, as if I’d run my finger nails down her chalkboard spine. I sense shame emanating from this woman, I can’t think what it could be, I surreptitiously scan her for shame inducing features but find none. She’s a middle aged, Catalan woman, maybe early 50’s or a weathered 48. She wears nondescript clothes, a purple jacket done up tight against the early November cold, 2-3 month old hair dye job struggling to hide more realistic silver grey shoots. But nothing to be ashamed of, nothing worth pitying, she looks like someones Mum. Then I look down at her shopping, and everything becomes clear. She’s buying a 50 cent carton of red wine and jumbo bag of supermarket own brand crisps.

This explains everything, my judgement is swift and damning. Images of her chugging back Don Simon Tinto straight from the carton while grasping for more salted potatoes flash through my mind. Suddenly the purple coat makes more sense, I wonder what colour it used to be. Or maybe I’ve got it wrong, maybe her husband, or boyfriend, or son, or brother, or father is the boxed-wine-fiend. Maybe she’s charged with the daily trudge to the supermarket to stand in line and face the snide looks and muttered ridicule of fellow shoppers like me, her thirsty relative brooding at home pacing back and forth in expectation of the 50 cent purple liquid breakfast.

Or maybe it’s cooking wine, maybe she’s having a party, she needs nibbles. Maybe she always looks like that. We’ll never know.

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