Column: January 4, 2012

“WHERE’S the receipt?” she asked. “In the bag,” I replied. “Are you sure?” she asked, a little too quickly for my liking.

“Yes,” I replied again, with a confidence experience should have dashed on the rocks long ago. But on this occasion, I well remembered the assistant asking me if I wanted the receipt in the bag, and had watched her put the receipt in the bag.

“What, both receipts?”

“Erm, yes,” I said. “Probably,” I thought. “No, definitely, I think. Why wouldn’t the assistant have put it in the bag?”

Come to think of it, I hadn’t been paying as much attention as I should have when I was exchanging the item at the till. It wasn’t my fault. There had been a woman behind me in the queue speaking to her friend.

“Well, you know Marjorie,” she said. “She’s a big fan of royal jelly.”

How was I supposed to function properly after overhearing that? How could I not then imagine a world in which that was an unremarkable comment – the unspoken assertion that, while we all like some royal jelly, especially at Christmas, Marjorie took it just that little bit further, collecting pictures of royal jelly and writing on royal jelly internet forums, etc.

Perhaps there was a little jealousy in her tone. Maybe the woman behind me was one of the people allergic to royal jelly, coming out ironically in hives. Who knew? The point is the specifics of the receipt transaction were hazy and there was no way that was my fault.

We left the stores and went to what the chain’s owners would laughingly call “a restaurant,” and I queued for 20 minutes for some food. When I brought back the cold food to the table where our party was sitting, my wife explained in broad terms that the original receipt, which was our proof of purchase for another 15 items, was not in the bag, despite my assurances.

Furthermore, she suggested that I might like to pop back to the shop and retrieve the receipt. This, of course, I was delighted to do.

And so I found myself back in the queue, painfully aware that the woman who had served me was now on a break, and that I was going to have to offer a complicated explanation of my plight.

“Hello,” I said to the assistant. “I was in here before. Well, over there, actually. And I was bringing something back to exchange, and the other assistant didn’t give me the original receipt and I didn’t notice because . . . ”

This wasn’t the time for my smashing royal jelly anecdote. The assistant went over to the other till and started looking around the place, disrupting operations around that till.

The customer being served there looked across at me in annoyance. I cocked my head and raised my palms signalling that it wasn’t my fault. Actually, I was annoyed myself now. If they’d done their jobs properly, I wouldn’t have had to return and run this gauntlet of mild inconvenience.

And so, in a way, I was glad when the assistant was arm-deep in the bin, scrabbling about, searching for the receipt. But I was a little concerned that the receipt had not yet been recovered. I decided to text my wife to keep her posted. I reached into my pocket for my phone.

I think I knew what it was when I felt it. I pulled it out of my pocket, praying that it was just a piece of paper, with the likes of which my pockets are stuffed. I opened it out and saw a long list of items, the socks which I had returned neatly crossed out in blue ink.

I looked across at the assistant, surrounded by wastepaper and banana skins and despair. “Erm,” I said. She walked across to me. I showed the piece of paper. “I think this is . . . ”

“I’ve just been in the bins for you,” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “Still, at least we’ve found it, eh?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Sorry,” I said.

“Next!” she said.

I must learn to mind my own beeswax.

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