This is taken from near the beginning of Nasim Marie Jafry's novel "The State of Me", when we are introduced to the main character, Helen Fleet. The year is 1998.
The is the second in a number of ME Perspectives which we shall publish on this website from time to time. To read the first, type MEPerspectives (no gap between words) into the search box. Nasim's novel can be brought through The ME Association by clicking on this link to our Order Form, or through the usual outlets.
Dragging legs, concentrating on every step, I feel like I’m wading through water. I take a trolley even though I’m only buying a few things. I don’t want to have to carry a basket. I pick up some tea bags. My arms and face are going numb, my bones are burning. I stop the trolley and pretend to look at the coffee. The lights are too bright, there are too many shiny things to look at, too many jars and bottles. I don’t feel real. I abandon the trolley and go to the checkout, picking up a lime on the way.
The woman in front of me places the NEXT CUSTOMER divider between her dog food and my lime. She has a pink pinched face and limpid blue eyes. You can’t see her eyelashes. A mountain of Pedigree Chum edges towards the scanner.
I focus on the lime and hope my legs will last.
I’m wondering how many dogs the pinched woman has, and if her husband loves her without eyelashes, when a shrill voice punctures my head: the voice of the checkout girl. I haven’t realised it’s my turn.
D’you know how much this is? she says, holding up the lime. She’s typed in a code, and PUMPKIN LARGE has come up on the till display.
It’s not a pumpkin, I say. It’s a lime.
She rings for the store manager, who appears from nowhere, brisk and important. He gives the girl the correct code and disappears again in a camp jangle of keys. The girl rings up the lime and I’m free. I go outside and sit on the wall. I feel spectacularly ill.
I make my way home with no shopping. It’s only a five minute walk. I pass the dead seagull folded on the road. It’s been there for three days. It has blood on it.
I reach the house and the smell of fresh paint hits me as I unlock the front door – we’d painted the bathroom last week, my arms left like rags.
I’ll need to call him.
When he answers the phone, I try to sound independent.
I got ill at the supermarket, I say. Can you please get some groceries on the way home?
What do we need?
Pasta, salad, bread. Basics.
I’ll nip home just now, he says. I need to get out of here for a bit anyway.
I’m sorry, I say.
It’s not your fault, he replies.