I guess it was supposed to be a whisper but it was hissed and the words were loud enough for me to hear as I check the Kalamata Olives, fat and purple black, swimming in olive oil, behind the glass of the delicatessen counter.
The words echo slightly, bouncing off the white floor tiles. They cut through the odour of rotisserie chickens in the supermarket’s conditioned air. They are almost visible as arrows arcing under the bright fluorescent lights into someone’s heart.
I look up at a tableau behind the counter. He is tall and skinny with his brown hair cut short. His supermarket uniform of stripy short sleeve shirt and black pants is new and carefully ironed but the clothes swim on him. His face is flushed and frozen.
Further along the counter behind an impressive array of chicken thighs, breasts, and drum sticks a co-worker is quietly sobbing. Her tears are squeezing out of heavily made up eyes and rolling down her cheeks. She is much shorter than him but has the same build. Her uniform fits just as badly. She has made fists, her translucent food service gloves wrinkled by the clenching.
I look further around and I think the pronouncement has been made with perfect and malicious timing. Beside me there is an audience, people wanting cheerios or sliced leg ham. When I walked up to the counter two minutes ago I was alone.
I see that there are familiar faces. The young woman with her blonde bob that is always damp, a late riser perhaps. There is the old couple with matching varicose veins and sandals. She always carries a list and he a calculator.
A solidly built young man, his new tattoos emerging from a tight polo shirt branded with a building company’s logo looks stunned. We have been coming to see young love bloom amongst the sliced meats and cheese wheels. A few weeks ago I saw them work together with smiles and youthful awkwardness and I could feel their mutual attraction radiating. John and Gabrielle were the names printed on their badges.
Others have noticed too and I wonder whether the owner knows why there has been a sudden increase in deli sales.
Some of the shoppers push their trolleys away. The damp hair woman orders some sliced turkey breast and is unable to meet the John’s eyes when he serves her. The elderly man works his calculator. Maybe calculating the odds of a reconciliation.
A now composed Gabrielle serves me. She radiates defiance, relief and perhaps some embarrassment. She scoops my olives into the plastic container and cannot see the boy at the counter behind her. John is blinking rapidly as he feeds a leg of ham up to the slicer’s spinning blade. He looks over every few seconds with heartbreak on his face. As Gabrielle hands over the olives she looks at me with a tight smile and says,
“ Hope you enjoyed the show.”