Ben and Esther

“Is this yours?”

Ben held up the handkerchief he had just picked from the young woman’s pocket.

“Only, I found it slipped among the courgettes here. Not very nice, is it, given the circumstances?”

Esther frowned. She checked the pocket of her coat.

“Sorry…I didn’t…thank you.”  She took the crumpled blue-trimmed cotton square and returned it to its home.

“Ben”, said Ben, holding out his elbow in an exaggerated show of the very opposite of social distancing. He had every intention of getting as close to Esther as possible, regardless of the lockdown. Although masked, her figure told him almost all he needed to know, and her tight, dark pony-tail sat high on her head.  Ben didn’t like the low drooping variety which said that its owner just wanted to get their hair out of the way. A high pony tail was a deliberate, provocative act. And he was provoked.

She looked uncertainly at the elbow, and then at his face. He smiled.

“And your name is…?” he prompted.

“Thanks for the hankie,” she said again. “I must get on…washing powder,” she mumbled, and started to push her trolley around him.

“Funny, me too…we can go together if you like.” Esther noted his empty basket. Was he here to shop, she wondered.

“We’re not supposed to…together I mean.”

“Oh, no, no, that’s alright. I’ll just follow you at a respectful distance.”  He laughed. “Now we all know that’s two metres, don’t we?”

Esther kept pushing ahead, but threw a laugh over her shoulder. Ben was encouraged.

“So, do you come here often?” he asked. Esther kept walking. The aisle was empty, giving her time to look up and see where the cleaning products were signposted while still moving. She had to get to the other end of the store.  As they passed the books, he called after her,

“Read any good books lately?” She wheeled around and stopped abruptly. Ben, surprised, walked into her trolley, but Esther held firm.

“Look, I realise dropping my snotty hankie into the veg was careless, and very possibly unhygienic, but your finding it and giving it back to me doesn’t entitle you to follow me round the store throwing out corny chat up lines. Besides-“

She was interrupted by another shopper, coming up from behind, trying to reach across her to quickly snatch a best-seller from the shelf.  Esther turned round to give the thoughtless individual a piece of her mind, but before she could say anything, Ben intervened.

“Do you mind? Can’t you see I’m trying to chat the lady up? You’re in our way.” He darted round the trolley, snatched the book out of the shopper’s hand and threw it over the top of the book stand.

“Now keep your distance!” He put a guiding arm round Esther, who pressed ahead, trying to make sure they didn’t touch.

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