I’m in Sainsbury’s trying to choose between various packages on a shelf. A shallow trolley, in which I have placed a small grey backpack and a pair of trousers, is slightly to my left. There are too many packages and it’s hard to choose between them. What do I want for dinner tonight? What about my wife and daughter? I make a few choices, turn round to the trolley and... it’s gone!
I feel a sense of minor panic. Luckily there’s nothing financially valuable in the backpack – a pair of reading glasses, a copy of Arun Kolatkar’s ‘Collected Poems’ recently published by Bloodaxe (which has consistently been astonishing me) and my poetry notebook. Only the latter is irreplaceable but it’s quite new and doesn’t have much written in it. My bank cards are in a wallet in my pocket, so the thief is going to be very disappointed. I speed up and down aisles in the vain hope of catching sight of someone racing off with my stuff.
Instead, I bump into a young woman pushing my trolley. My backpack and trousers are still in it, but she is loading on cartons of juice and has already stacked it with milk, yoghurt and several vegetables. I point out that it is my trolley. She looks surprised. I point out my backpack and the trousers. She now looks absolutely shocked and blurts out apologies. If she is a thief, she is an astonishing actress. But she can’t be a thief. This woman was continuing her shopping, in no obvious hurry, only a couple of aisles down from where the trolley disappeared. I take her back to the disappearing point, where her own trolley, containing a single bag of potatoes, idles at the discount food section.
She must have been in a dream not to notice my backpack in particular, which was standing up clearly as she placed food around it. I wonder when she would have noticed and whether she would have bought the trousers at a till without noticing. Next time I must follow her rather than confront her too soon. Good to get my stuff back but disconcerting to discover how easily I could have been robbed, if it had been a real thief, in a supermarket.