top of page

Shop Worker

Ben Blackwell

The shop worker gazed out the window to the street below. There they were, the happy masses, sauntering into the King William, ordering lattes to post aesthetic pictures of, bumbling out of shops carrying paper bags filled with summer dresses, floppy hats and cheap beach reads. He made a game of guessing people’s reason for being in the city centre; an exasperated woman with a bikini strap sunburn was meeting up with her always late friend, Martha, and the man smoking at the bus stop was a spy.

The shop worker was alone on the first floor and no one noticed him from the street except the security camera. His radio shrieked. He looked back at the computer, which doubled as a till.

          Manager: Joel, Joel. What are you doing?

Joel disliked his manager, mainly because of his tendency to analyse the feed on the ground floor, monitoring all of the employees.

          Joel: I was just going to put some stock out now.

          Manager: Get on with it then.

Joel sighed and pulled some gym shorts and the new Super Rugby jerseys from beneath the till. Time to tag and hang, tag and hang.

A mother and her son. Put the stock back under the till. Look approachable and smile. Don’t smile for too long otherwise it’ll come off as creepy. The mother was carrying two bags, already stuffed with schoolwear from downstairs.

          Joel: Hi, can I help with anything?

An automatic greeting.

          Mother: We were told that you sell boots?

          Joel: If you’d just like to follow me, they’re in here.

Joel brought four boxes down for the boy. He’d specifically requested the Adidas Kakari Elties. Most kids did, for they had a bright purple and green design which stood out amongst the black leather. From the shop bag, the mother handed the boy a pair of navy rugby socks, colours which Joel recognised. He’d worn the same ones every winter Saturday for seven years.

          Joel: You’re at Westhay then? Is Dave still there?

          Boy: Who?

          Joel: Head of rugby. Scottish guy.

          Boy: Mr O'Sullivan?

          Joel: Yeah, Sully.

          Mother: You used to go there?

She gave Joel the look most of these rich mums did when they realised the man serving their child had attended the same private school as their child, even if he had an accent they associated more with the tradesmen. “My baby would never turn out like that,” they’d say to their friends who’d just popped round for tea for something to do at 2pm on a Wednesday. “I want Timothy to do something with their life.”

The boy tried on the Adidas Kakaris.

          Boy: I like these.

Joel knelt down on the floor in front of him.

          Joel: If you could just stand up, I can see how they fit because the width on the Canterburys were good but Adidas tend to make their boots quite a bit narrower.

          Mother: Stand up so the man can see.

          Joel: Yeah, they’re a bit tight around the side.

          Boy: Mum, I like these.

          Mother: You say they’re a bit tight.

          Joel: Obviously it’s whatever you feel most comfortable in but I’d say these are too tight. You want them a little bit tight but you also don’t want to be buying a new pair before Christmas. Unfortunately, we don’t have a half or full-size up you can try.

          Mum: I don’t mind buying another pair as long as it fits the best now.

          Boy: These are my favourites, Mum.

The boy walked around the bench to demonstrate.

          Joel: It’s your call but I think the Canterburys were a much better fit.

          Mother: Are you sure you want these, Albert?

The boy nodded his head.

Mother: We’ll get them then. If they don’t fit, we can always come back. We’re also looking for a gum-guard.

Joel had to stop himself from correcting her: gumshield or mouthguard, not a gum-guard. They bought the one with the gold teeth design (again, the boy’s favourite). £135 at the till. As she withdrew her card, the boy asked his mother for one of the footballs on the display. She asked for the best one. Another £30. £165. Spent under fifteen minutes and was more than double what Joel would be paid for today’s 9-hour shift.


When Joel had attended Westhay, his bursary had supposedly been a sign of academic excellence and an attempt from the school to make it seem more open to everyone. Didn’t stop most of the students being children of stuffy lawyers, alcoholic doctors and the employers of many of his parents’ friends. The other three kids on bursary were either moulded into the same designs of the others, or fetishised, asked to say certain regional words and phrases, performing for them like a dancing bear. Funny to laugh at but never invited too close — you never knew what relations they had in the lower classes.

But that wasn’t telling the whole truth either. Some of the kids were nice enough and Joel would meet up at the pub with a few of them, tolerating it when they brought up family ski holidays in Chamonix and thought working, whether it was part-time work at festivals or on yachts, was a way to avoid paying for tickets. Joel had laughed along, the memories of cleaning up a sweating man’s vomit and a kid threatening to stab him nestling in the back of his mind from last summer’s job in the club. The people he called his friends at school were all at university now, in catered accommodation, chatting to other kids unaccustomed to living without cleaners and cooks.

Joel thought it was stupid to complain; he knew so many who had worse problems than him. Sophie from next door had just lost her job with five-year-old twins to feed and no one, not even the father, to support them. Robbie, the former goalkeeper for Joel’s five-a-side, was attempting to fight a coke addiction and failing, hating himself for it but unable to stop. Joel’s older sister had killed herself after her fiancé had broken off the engagement –she’d caught him cheating. Now she appeared at the foot of his bed every night with a rope burn around her throat. Joel’s thoughts prickled, demanding to be released into the world.

The mother coughed. He’d forgotten to give her a bag. For now, Joel would be content to see the two customers off and look at people he could pretend were without worries from the window.

Ben Blackwell is an award-winning fiction writer, who was born and raised in Bath. He continues to live in the South-West of England, currently studying at the University of Exeter. His stories have appeared in The Everyday Magazine, Enigma Journal and Potato Soup Literary Journal.

bottom of page