“Do you work here?”
Zoe was sat in her wheelchair looking up at the shopper, trying not to let her exasperation show through her forced smile. Surely her polo shirt displaying the company logo, and the matching lanyard and I.D badge, were evidence enough of her work status.
“Yes, I do,” she replied in a falsely chirpy tone.
“Oh good, I wasn’t sure you see…” Zoe hated it when customers rambled. She had plenty of tasks requiring her attention before the shop closed for the day and simply wished that the customer would hurry up so that she could continue with them. She didn’t fancy another over-run shift.
“I was wondering if you could tell me where the sportswear is,” the customer finally got to the point.
“It’s on the back wall, sir, women’s on the left and men’s on the right,” somehow Zoe refrained from adding “underneath the huge sign saying SPORTSWEAR”.
“Ah, thank you,” the customer trotted off and Zoe turned back to the task at hand, refolding the pile of jumpers on sale for the third time that day, knowing that before long someone would destroy it again.
Once the jumpers had been folded, Zoe glanced at her watch and was relieved to find it was time for her break. She rolled past the tills and let Sara, her colleague, know that she would be in the staff room. Sara nodded her acknowledgement while continuing to explain to an increasingly angry customer that the voucher they were holding had expired some months ago and therefore wasn’t valid. Zoe didn’t envy her.
Zoe went to the back of the shop and turned left to a white door with the words “STAFF ONLY” printed in bold, black letters across it.
“You can’t go in there, love!” a customer piped up, “it’s for staff only.”
“I can read, thank you,” Zoe’s patience was wearing thin and she only just managed to remain civil.
“Well, why are you trying to go in?” the customer continued, the obvious conclusion eluding him entirely.
“Because I am staff, sir,” Zoe entered the four digit code into the pad by the door, waited for a click, and then pushed the door open. She rolled through into the small, dingy room that somehow equated to a staff room and let the door swing shut behind her, dulling the incessant sound of the music on the shop floor. Considering the vast size of the shop floor, she wondered why the staff couldn’t have been allocated just a little more room.
She went to the small fridge balanced on the rickety table beside a toaster and a microwave, and pulled out a water bottle which she drained in record time. The she was heading back out into the shop to find the disabled toilet, as the staff toilets lacked wheelchair facilities.
Zoe was well practised at avoiding customers with a series of complex manoeuvres while she was on her breaks, and had no trouble avoiding any responsibilities as she moved across the shop floor. The route was somewhat indirect, but it would take far longer to use a direct route flooded with customers.
When she got to the disabled toilet she was hardly surprised to find the door locked, with a red icon showing beneath the handle. She stopped, put her brakes on and waited patiently, aware of her break wasting away. Several minutes later a woman strode out of the disabled cubicle dragging a basket of shopping behind her. Although Zoe suspected that the woman was in no way disabled, she remained quiet. She had once landed herself in hot water by challenging someone who, as it transpired, had a hidden disability that was unfortunately indistinguishable from lazy able-bodied people who just wanted to take a dump in peace.
Once Zoe had been to the toilet it was time for her to get back to work. Her first task was to attend to the stack of jumpers which had just been knocked over by a curious toddler.
“Excuse me, love, do you work here?” as Zoe finished restacking the jumpers a customer tapped her on the shoulder.
“Yes, I do,” Zoe could feel her cheeks aching from the constant smiling as she also tried not to roll her eyes.
“Could you direct me to the home décor section please?”
“Err…sorry?” Zoe was perplexed.
“The home décor section. You know, cushions, candles, that sort of thing,” the customer seemed to think that she was stupid.
“We don’t sell those things sir, this is a clothes shop,” Zoe kept a calm, reassuring tone.
“What do you mean you don’t sell those things? I bought a cushion cover in here just last year,” the customer was beginning to sound frustrated.
“Perhaps you’re confusing us with one of our branches in the department store down the road?” Zoe suggested.
“No I’m not confusing you with a department store. What do you take me for, an imbecile?”
Zoe maintained a diplomatic silence on this point.
“I’m sorry sir, we’ve never sold those things in here. Perhaps it would be best to visit our other branch anyway?” Zoe tried to placate the increasingly angry customer as other customers were now beginning to take interest.
“This is ridiculous. I come in here with perfectly good money to spend and this is how I’m treated. Perhaps your manager might know the layout of the shop,” the man stormed off towards the tills, pushing past the queueing customers getting ready to pay and bellowing in Sara’s face.
“I want to speak the manager, now,” he interrupted Sara as she was handing change over to her customer.
“I’ll call him onto the shop floor,” Sara pressed a button on a bleeper hooked onto her belt, “next please.”
A few minutes later Amjad appeared on the shop floor, and made a beeline for the man stood in the corner, scowling and muttering to himself. Zoe positioned herself by the adjacent clothes rack in order to eaves drop.
“Are you the manager?” the man barked. Amjad nodded.
“Where is your home décor section?”
“I’m sorry sir, but we don’t have one. Perhaps you ought to try our branch in the nearby department store?” Amjad replied in an even, emotionless tone.
“Is this supposed to be a joke?” the man practically exploded, “that lass in the wheelchair said exactly the same thing.”
“Probably because that’s the truth,” Amjad had to sympathise with Zoe, everyone seemed to assume that they were both stupid. Meanwhile, Zoe was having a hard time wiping the self-satsified smirk off of her face.
“Is there anything else I can help you with?” Amjad asked politely.
“Pfft, I hardly think so, given that your stock is so poor. I won’t be coming back here again, that’s for sure,” and with that the man stomped off, almost pulling the shop door off of it’s hinges as he left. He didn’t hear the manager mutter “good riddance” under his breath.
“Well, if you don’t need anything else, I’m going to go back upstairs to carry on with the endless paperwork,” Amjad smiled at Zoe and Sara, “Call me down if you need me again.”
“Will do,” Sara chirruped from behind the till where she was still serving a string of customers.
Zoe turned her attention to some price tags that needed amending for a sale that would start the next day, but almost as soon as she had picked up the roll of stickers she needed, a customer tapped her on the shoulder before querying whether she was a member of staff.
“I was hoping you would be able to reach something down from the top shelf for me,” the elderly woman asking the question was practically bent double over her walking stick.
“Oh OK, you might want to speak with Sara for that one, I doubt I could reach from down here either,” Zoe replied, waving to attract Sara’s attention.
“Can’t you just stand up and get it?” the old woman queried impatiently.
“I’m not exactly tall even if I do manage to stand up,” Zoe smiled back, trying to turn the situation into a joke.
“Oh,” the women seemed somewhat surprised as Sara crossed the shop floor having dealt with the last customer in the queue.
“What do you want reaching down?” Sara chipped in, disrupting the awkward silence. Together with the elderly woman she walked to the shelf in question, and stretched up to reach the pile of jumpers on the top. She lifted them down and allowed the elderly woman to peruse them until she decided that they were no longer of interest to her, and she wandered off to look at something else. Sara tried not to appear too exasperated as she battled to return the stack of jumpers to their place.
As the end of the working day drew nearer the shop grew busier again, particularly with teenagers who had nothing to do and nowhere else to go after school. Sara was kept behind the till for almost the whole afternoon while Zoe made sure the shop floor was as it should be, and Amjad occasionally made a brief appearance in between filing paperwork. By the time 6 pm came around Zoe was exhausted, and was looking forward to a meal and a hot shower.
Zoe was turning the sign in the door from “open” to “closed” when the door was pushed open by a customer.
“I’m not too late, am I?” he said eagerly, not waiting for a response before pushing into the shop.
Zoe rolled her eyes and turned her attention to the new customer.
“I just need something for the wife, it’s our anniversary and I totally forgot,” he made a beeline for the scarves, selecting one from the middle of the rack and sending several scarves to the ground in the process.
“Oops,” he said before hurrying over to the till.
Once the man had bought the scarf he left the shop, and Zoe closed the door firmly behind him, making sure the sign stated that the shop was closed. Amjad trotted downstairs to let them know that he was leaving, offering no help at all with the closing time chores. After waving their polite goodbyes to Amjad, they set to cleaning the store, Sara running the hoover over the horrible, nylon carpet tiles, and Zoe placing stock back on the shelves. Scarves were hung neatly on hooks and the stack of jumpers was straightened out once again. Labels for the sales were stuck on the last few items. Finally, they pulled the shutter down together and locked the door, turning the lights out as they headed out of the back door by the staff room.
“See you tomorrow then,” Sara said as she buttoned up her coat against the chilly breeze.
“Yeah, see you tomorrow,” Zoe replied, before parking herself beneath the bus shelter outside the shop. She was stressed and tired as she waited for the bus, and could think of nothing besides a warm shower to soothe her aching muscles.
As always the bus was late and was crammed with passengers. The bus-driver, who Zoe could only assume had had a long and stressful day much like herself, barely covered his frustration at having to leave his comfortable booth to put the ramp out for her, but he did so without complaint as she showed him her bus pass. She barely had time to squeeze between passengers into the wheelchair space before the bus set off, from which she gazed out of the window at the world passing by outside.