Fluorescents

Under fluorescent lights she makes no attempt to hide the deepening cracks in her dry lips, or the chunks of dry shampoo settled on her oily roots. You guess in the offending brightness and by the sheen on her skin that like you, this is her fourth day without a shower.

As she lightly chucks an avocado into her basket you notice that her jeans drop an inch. Automatically and with a lack of energy, she hauls them back over her hips.

That coat, an old parka pulled from the depths of a forgotten cupboard hangs off one shoulder under her mass of uncombed chestnut waves. With bitten nails she scrapes the slick locks from her forehead and you see that her red eyes squint against the lights.

It’s the first day that you have ventured out of the quarantine of the house since getting the virus that conquered everyone over Christmas, and you assume the same for her. She plugs her raw nostrils with a ragged day-old tissue and half closes her eyes. Her weight shifts awkwardly from one leg to the other, the avocado basket keeping her off-balance.

Your eyes meet for a second. They look familiar, but that could just be the week-long watery redness. She acknowledges your face buried under your oversized scarf and for a moment you both forget about the sorry remnants of the flu that you’re confined to.

Walking towards her deflated figure, you lift the Lemsip from your basket and drop it into hers as you slump by. Surprised, she matches your eye for the second time and you see a cracked smile under the groggy and spluttering exterior.

You don’t see her again as you pay for your yoghurts, bread and extra Lemsips before stepping out of the fluorescents into the darkness of the car park.