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U3A Writing: A Feast For Christmas

Lonely Jenny finds the hope of happiness in her local supermarket.

Barbara Adams tells a heart-warming Christmas story.

Jenny's life was a bore. Nothing exciting ever happened. She'd taken few risks during her life. Now at 40, she once again shopped alone, regretting lost opportunities.

Christmas is the loneliest time of the year, she thought. If only I'd been a bit more venturesome and accepted that transfer I was offered last year. Now there'd be different faces to see at work each day and perhaps a bit of variety in the job.

She unhooked a shopping trolley from the lobby by the automatic doors and moaned to herself as she tried to separate the trolleys wedged together. She'd heard people say that Easter alone was depressing. That hadn't been too bad each year as her nieces and cousins had visited her. They probably came for the Easter eggs, but at least they came.

This Christmas weekend she was truly alone. The neighbours in the adjoining apartment were away, her cousins and nieces were on holiday overseas, and she dreaded the Christmas break.

The supermarket was almost empty. Most people had completed their shopping. The staff looked tired but tried to appear active and enthusiastic.

Jenny moved into the fruit department. She looked at the giant bags of potatoes and onions.
"Is there any chance of a few small loose onions,'' she asked Willy.

He rushed out the back with his usual energy and returned with some small, firm ones.

"Willy, could you possibly package me some of those washed white potatoes please, the ones suitable for roasting? Just two if you can manage it.''

Already he was splitting up one of the larger bags to oblige her.

"Why don't you take this bag of bananas, too'' he said. "By Tuesday, when we open again, they'll be past their best. I'll give you a special price. Banana cake would be a good idea.''

"Thanks, Willy,'' she answered, "but I live alone. Anything in quantity would be no good for me and I certainly don't feel like baking at the moment.''

She selected two ripe peaches. She felt the soft furry skin. I'll have those after dinner tomorrow, she thought.

She trudged past the tinned fish counter. Ernie from the bakery department was doing his personal shopping. He was trying to decide whether to have the expensive Canadian red sockeye salmon, or the cheaper "no frills'' pink salmon at a fraction of the price. He put the red one into his trolley, then hesitated, lifted it out, and put the cheaper version in.

"Have the red one,'' she said flippantly with a sudden burst of confidence. "Be a devil. Have a treat.''

She lifted out the pink salmon and cheekily put the dearer red one back into his trolley.

"Thanks,'' he said cheerfully. "I didn't need too much persuasion, did I?''

She went on to the meat department and gazed at the large frozen turkeys bedecked with Christmas motifs. The legs of pork were on special, but if she bought one, she'd be eating pork for weeks. You can get sick of pork pretty quickly, she decided.

On the top shelf were the reduced beef products, labelled "for quick sale''. Jenny selected a piece of rump steak from the tray. She could make a small roast dinner out of that. It'd make a cheap meal, she thought, and just as good as turkey for me on my own.

As she moved past the coffee counter, the free coffee was boiling away in the percolator. There was still some left in the bottom. It had probably been well brewed, but would help to pass a bit more time. She put the portion of powdered milk into the paper cup and poured in the hot coffee. She held the coffee in one hand and steered the trolley with her hip. It wasn't convenient or easy, but at least it was something to do. There were still a few people ambling around, gathering up last minute shopping.

The staff was clearing up for the end of the day, ready for their Christmas break. A college girl dressed as the Christmas fairy was still cavorting around, full of energy. "Take some of these Christmas sweets for the kids,'' she said.

"No thanks. No kids at my place,'' Jenny replied.

"What about yourself? Give yourself a Christmas treat.'' She indicated a container of assorted sweets, chocolate and marshmallows all at a cheap price. Several had the wrapping ripped and some of the chocolate was broken.

"Who cares what they look like? They'll still taste good,'' the fairy said.

Jenny chose a couple of chocolate bars with damaged wrapping. Yes, they'd be a change, and wouldn't disturb her budget too much.

As she moved past the bakery counter, the smell of fresh buns drew her towards it. Ernie was back behind the counter, trying to get rid of his last batch.

"I'll let you have a huge bag if you're interested,'' he offered. "You can freeze them and feed the family on the cheap after they've stuffed themselves on Christmas fare. You're my last customer for the day.''

"Can you just let me have two?'' Jenny said.

"Two?'' he said, looking disappointed.

"I live on my own.''

"You're not on your own for Christmas are you?''

She nodded. She felt a tear almost ready to drop. She mustn't let him see.

"That's tough.'' he said.

"It's the loneliest time of the year,'' she answered, as she thought of lost opportunities. How foolish she'd been. Why had she always been so cautious?

"I know how you must feel,'' he said. "I've been on my own for five years now.. I keep working as much as I can over the holiday season. I;ll be back on Tuesday when we open again. The company's good here.''

The main doors of the shop were starting to close. The check-out operators were locking up their tills.
The manager hurried forward. "Some of us want to get home,'' he said with a smile. "Can you please complete your shopping?''

Jenny turned to Ernie and took her first real risk in 40 years. "I've got a piece of rump steak, some roasting potatoes, two peaches, some broken chocolate bars and a couple of buns. Would you like to share them with me tomorrow?''

He hesitated for a moment and then gave a big smile. "What a great idea. That's the best offer I've had in years. Hang on a minute.'' He opened his locker and handed her the tin of red salmon and a couple more squashed bars of chocolate.

"We can have a feast,'' he announced with a cheeky grin.

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