1 - Gem
She’d walked past the window five times at least already and was beginning to feel ridiculous.
‘Pull yourself together woman,’ she snapped under her breath - spun around and marched to the door, determined this time to just get on with what she had to do.
Her hand on the door, Gem hesitated again, losing her nerve. She glanced through the steamy window half-hoping that she’d not been noticed. She caught herself, recognising the unfounded fear, swallowed it down and entered the shop. She stood just inside the door looking about her. It appeared to be deserted of all life apart from the musty smell of old books and other people’s recycled lives. About to turn and escape through the door, she was halted by the sound of raised voices from a room at the rear of the shop.
‘We’re a great team Catherine.’
‘Yes we are Kevin. But now you must put the labels on these garments. For the one pound rail.’
Gem wondered whether she’d made a great mistake. ‘I’ll never fit in here,’ she thought to herself. ‘Dregs of the Earth, losers, old people whose lives are over with nothing better to do.’ Pretending to be engrossed in the bric-a-brac, she took up a china rabbit and peered closely at it as a young man appeared in the rear doorway, struggling under a heap of clothing, plastic hangers clattering to the floor as he moved. Somehow finding the counter he dumped the lot on the already untidy surface. It was only then that he noticed Gem.
‘Good morning Madam.’ He smiled across at her as she jumped at the suddenness of his attention on her. ‘Are you looking for anything in particular?’ he went on. ‘We have a lot more stock in the back room. Are you after china rabbits?’
‘No, no, just browsing,’ Gem stuttered, dropping the rabbit back down onto the shelf as if it were burning her hand. She blushed, unsure of how to react. The young man - Kevin she supposed - seemed out of place in this untidy jumble-sale of a place, dressed as he was in black suit and tie with his altogether too-professional manner. Perhaps he was the manager, not merely a volunteer, although Catherine had been the one giving out the orders. Maybe she should speak to the woman called Catherine? She was still was trying to pluck up the courage to ask when the shop door opened again.
An old lady struggled to wheel her shopping trolley through the door and over the threshold. Kevin was by her side in a flash.
‘Good morning Madam,’ he gushed as he held open the door and ushered her in.
‘Oh, my God,’ Gem thought. ‘Is this to be my destiny?’ She hid behind a rail of men’s overcoats, the smell of damp wool wafting up to her nostrils.
The old woman smiled and made a bee-line for the display of cardigans, all sorted on colour co-ordinated rails in order of size. Kevin was soon back to his task of labeling the one-pound bargains, whilst Gem wondered again whether to take the plunge today, or to come back another time. She wandered around the shop - found herself inspecting the summer blouses, pulling out flimsy tops, size eight, equally unsuitable for both the time of the year and her size. Feeling self-conscious, Gem glanced across at the only other customer. Well, the only customer really, as Gem was just a complete fraud, being in here under false pretenses. The pit of her stomach was churning. She made her way to the window and watched the rain running down the glass pane.