Saturday 17 December 2011

Trolley Fever

So there I am in a queue at the local Tesco, minding my own business. The enormous geezer in front is on the phone, talking loudly, allowing his purchases to go through unbagged and pushing ahead of him a trolley containing several items he's discarded. He turns and pushes this trolley backwards, into the person queuing beside me. The aisle behind is clogged with people, trolleys and baskets, so it's not going any further back. In any case it would only then end up in the way of even more people.

The big fella looks at me, orders me to push it backwards (where it can't go) to which I suggest he discard it ahead of him, where there is clear space (and a couple of other, similarly laden trolleys). He is still on his phone, talking into nowhere and has yet to pay for or pack his purchases, but now he is consumed with disposing of the trolley. Everybody looks away.

"Just push it back there!" he now commands, getting a bit shirty at my lack of servility. I take the trolley, walk it ahead into the empty space (it really was getting in everybody's way) and assume my place at the conveyor. Sorted, job done, no problem.

Oh, except it seems there is a problem.

"What you do that for, man?"
"It's out of the way now," I explain - It feels like I have to explain.
"It wasn't even mine, yeah?"
It was his, but I fail to see how this explains or excuses anything. I shrug; not in a confrontational way, merely in a 'No worries, hey, don't mention it' sort of way.

"What's your fucking problem?" Now his equally huge mate chips in and suddenly it's turned nasty. I am being called a white cunt and everybody is looking the other way even more intently than before. Nothing physical happens, no contact, but the two of them approach me and launch into a short series of insults based on me somehow 'dissing' them. And in their view it clearly has something to do with me not being black. Then they leave, threatening to wait for me in the car park.

It felt like the sort of pointless exchange you see between drunks late at night, but I think we were all sober. I certainly was and am satisfied that I did nothing to inflame the situation, yet these two seemed to be looking to find offence and ready to escalate to potentially dangerous proportions an incident so trivial as to barely register on any logistical scale. The trolley can't go this way, so why not go that way? What's to argue about?

Except, except... there's still the race issue. Their insults were all of a racial nature, predicated on an assumption - I hope not manifest- of what they believed I thought of them. I believe I may be the victim of a hate crime. It's because I'm white, innit?

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