He rummaged through the broken pencils, bits of chalk, rubber bands and old receipts to find a thin ring-bound notepad. He took it and the only working pen to the table. He looked out beyond the dripping tap, the empty counter and checked the sky. Grey but not black. He’d be dry at least. The rhyme, Old Mrs Hubbard came to mind as he reached in his pocket to find his money. He pulled out two 50p coins. He had half a loaf of bread and a scrape of butter so that was enough for today. If he got one other thing, that would last him for nearly a week. He didn’t need any more than that. Best to leave the rest for others.
“I would have got a trolley of food if you were still here, Margaret.”
He shook the tears away and lifted the pen to carefully write his shopping list. With shaking hands he pulled his coat on and gently patted his pocket, checking the money was there. He picked his way round the kitchen, the lounge and bedroom, checking all the switches were flicked off. He reached up and closed the one open window. When he reached the front door he breathed in as deeply as his fragile lungs would allow and stepped out onto the street. He had heard on the radio the word ‘self-isolation’ and didn’t understand how it made his life any different. Sure every day was like that for him – his Margaret dead, the children away in far-off countries, his only neighbour an unreliable stray cat. He didn’t expect to see anyone today, although these times going to the shop were the only chance he had to see another human being.
The jostling crowd of young people came out of nowhere and walked through him like he was invisible. One of them spat as he pushed past. Henry stopped, pulled out his hanky and cleaned the spittle off his shoe. By the time he reached the shop, he felt like he’d been pummelled. He checked his money and his list. Margaret had got him into the habit of writing things down, when he had returned home with none of the things she’d told him to get. Even if it was only one thing, he always put it down on paper. He’d never come home empty-handed again.
The shop was unusually crowded today. Two women seemed to be wrestling over a pack of toilet roll, some kids were grabbing grubby handfuls of cola bottles and shoving them into their mouths casting furtive glances about for the shopkeeper. Henry stepped around them all, and made his way to the counter. Some people tutted but he kept going. He had only one thing to get this time. Surely those people with their trolleys piled high wouldn’t mind? He nudged his way through, past the red faced, swearing shoppers and held out his now crumpled list to a woman he didn’t recognise. She squinted at it, and then at him.
“No. If there’s none over there, we’re all out.”
Henry took his list back, put it in his pocket and turned away. As he walked to the door, he counted seven, eight, nine packs of the one thing on his list in over-heaped trolleys. Someone took a coughing fit straight into his face as he struggled past them. He walked out of the shop, stepped out onto the road to avoid the same group of teenagers, past the solitary ginger cat and through his front door.
“Oh well, at least I’ve still got tea bags.”
He whistled to himself as he boiled the kettle and made himself a slice of toast. It was still good to be safely home, with or without the eggs.