I usually visit a supermarket 3 or 4 times a week, usually to do a couple of larger shops, the other two usually for smaller quantities, often of things I forgot to get before or for salads and things which I prefer to buy every day or so anyway. Earlier this week I was doing a larger shop in Inverness in the ubiquitous Tesco and was waiting in line at the check-out behind a man who had only a few items to pay for, so I assumed it would be a speedy transaction and he would soon be gone and my own purchases would be rung through the till.
However, that was not to be. Instead, his transaction seemed to be taking rather a long time; at first I wasn't paying attention, but the delay made me watch and listen in a little more closely, whilst trying not to pry. As I mentioned above, he had only a few items to pay for (I think a sandwich, a small soft drink and perhaps some crisps or a small confectionery bar) - as it was early afternoon I assumed it was his lunch on a break from his office or sales route. I think the total was less than £5-, perhaps even less than £4-, but he wanted to pay by card - he put it in the card-reader, but it was rejected. He tried it with the same card a couple more times, with the same result. Then he tried it with another card, but it was rejected too. He then started to look in his wallet/money-purse, presumably for a bank note or some coins, but it seems he did not have ANY cash at all, so could not pay and had to leave without the items he had tried to purchase.
Who knows what the story is behind this little incident - someone who has lost his job or whatever benefits he may have been receiving, or someone who has exceeded his account limits and the bank has stopped all his cards, perhaps someone who is undergoing a messy divorce and his partner/wife has cleared out his account, or perhaps even that someone has cloned his cards and cleaned out his accounts that way. Whatever, I don't think he could have been completely unaware of what might be likely to happen, because he did (on later reflection - and that's where the slight feeling of guilt comes in which I'll explain a little later) seem to have a slightly hang-dog demeanour. He was wearing a suit and tie, with a rain jacket on top and seemed perhaps to be in his thirties - I took him to be an office-worker or perhaps a travelling salesman doing his sales route around this part of the country. Whatever the case, it was obviously part of a bigger drama in this young-ish man's life.
It was only a little later, after he had left the supermarket, that I was jerked out of my abstraction whilst packing my own purchases into bags in my trolley and rebuked myself for not doing the charitable thing and offering him the money to pay for his lunch - a £5 or a £10 note from my wallet, or a few £1 coins from my purse, would have meant almost nothing to me. I hope that if I observe another similar incident in the future, I will be quicker to react and offer the paltry sum required as a gesture from one human being to another - that's where the slight feeling of guilt comes in, that I didn't react quickly enough to allow him to have his lunch-time snack and simply offer a small hand of friendship to someone going through some kind of personal tragedy.