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August 20, 2007

The floor is wet

I’m out of work these days. The internship at Quintus was excellent, but I was hankering for something more financially rewarding, so quit three weeks ago and now have a new internship lined up. Arguably the worst thing about unemployment is that you lose track of days. It happened yesterday.

I’d run out of milk. As I cannot physically leave the house of a morning without having drunk tea, I needed to replenish my fridge so at about 7 I stepped out into the miserable August evening and headed off to Sainsbury’s, planning to use this opportunity to purchase some more obscure items. It was only when I was halfway up the street that I remembered it was Sunday – said supermarket would be closed at this late hour. So I decided I would buy my semi-skimmed at the Costcutters on the way.

The lights were on and the door was ajar, so I entered and set about locating the dairy products. A teenage girl was mopping the floor. Clearly they were winding up the day’s business – I was just in time. The girl said, “the floor is wet”. The floor was merely damp, but glad of her concern for my traction, I said, “okay”, and continued searching in vain for the milk.

“Excuse me,” she said. I turned. She was staring at me with disgust, as if I’d been the one at her cousin’s wedding who got a little too drunk and exposed himself and propositioned her mother and should have understood that he was no longer welcome in her shop.

“Sorry, are you closed?” I asked. Girl said nothing and continued to stare with inexplicable fury. There was another girl, behind the counter. I turned to her for an answer – all I got was a dead-eyed disdain and silence.

Girl 1 suddenly raised her voice, “please leave!” I detected a foreign accent which may have explained the – how can I put this? – lack of British-style customer service, but the command nonetheless rendered me lost for words for a moment or two. She continued, “the floor is wet”, as if it were common knowledge that a floor’s dampness is indicative of a customer’s right to be in a shop. I wasn’t going anywhere without some kind of closure, so I rephrased my question: “so you’re not open?”

“No.” I left, bemused. The girl sounded east European so I can only assume that they were expecting a visitor from the KGB and “the floor is wet” was their codeword. When I didn’t reply with “here, use my towel”, they knew that I didn’t have the secret microfiche containing the embassy blueprints and urgently ushered me out in their unorthodox style.

I did manage to get some milk in the end.

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