She had just finished disinfecting her hands when the manager told her the bad news:
“Need you to work the tills today.”
Nadeen was always amazed by her manager's ability to tell his employees to do things he knew they didn't want to do without feeling at all bad. If she was in his position, an order to work the tills would have been accompanied by an onslaught of apologies and promises of making up for this in the future. This social anxiety was the main reason why she hated working the tills so much.
“Why?” she asked, hoping she could talk her way out of this but knowing she couldn't.
“Tills are understaffed and kitchen's overstaffed. And you're the only one with till experience. So take the apron off and get a waiscoat on.”
And so it would be that the next 6 hours of Nadeen's life would be very unpleasant. The night shift in a chip shop kitchen in the middle of town was already very low on her list of places she would choose to be. The only place that would rank lower than that would be the till.
She sighed and walked through the kitchen and its aroma of disinfectant and fries into the girl's dressing room to get her waistcoat. Sandra was already inside, finishing the knot on her apron.
“Grill?” She said.
“Till.” Nadeen replied.
“Ah.” No more needed to be said.
Nadeen liked Sandra. She'd worked at the shop for almost 15 years and would often cook her up a burger at the end of a busy shift. A good burger, not the greasy monstrosities she would make for the customers. Nadeen had once asked her why she makes such terrible burgers for the customers when she's capable of cooking up something better. Sandra waved a dismissive hand:
“The people that want a good burger, they don't come here.”
Nadeen stood at the doorway separating the kitchen from the tills area, took a breath, opened the door then immediately closed it again when she saw who was at the front of the queue. A wide-eyed panic look had taken over her face. Sandra, who was dumping a bag of fries into the fryer, saw this:
“I can't go out there.”
Nadeen cracked the door open for Sandra:
“The white boy with the Beatles shirt?”
“He's the head of the vegan activist group I'm a part of.” Nadeen closed the door again.
“He can't see me here! He can't know I'm working at a burger joint.”
“Hold up, hold up. You're vegan?”
“Yeah, sort of.”
“Yeah, well, I haven't been doing it for long.”
“You've eaten so many of my burgers.”
“I'm not rich, I'm not gonna turn down free food.”
“Shit, if he sees me here, I'm getting kicked out of the group for sure.”
As if on cue, the manager appeared from his office behind the kitchen.
“The hell are you still doing in here? Get out there!”
Sandra gave her a look. Not a mean look, not a friendly look, more like a “you're on your own” look. Nadeen knew she would need to give him a reason to delay going out there. The best she could come up with was:
“Can I just start in 10 minutes?”
Her manager froze for a second and blinked at her. It was as if he couldn't quite process what she had said. He then came to his senses.
So that was that. Nadeen went through the door and walked towards her till, the one next to one the white boy in the Beatles shirt. His mouth opened slightly when he saw her approach. She turned to look at him and was surprised when she didn't see anger or shock in his face but fear. That's when she realised that she might be working at the burger place but he's going to the burger place.
They looked into each other's eyes for a a brief moment but a wealth of information was shared in that moment. In that moment they agreed to not acknowledge each other. In that moment they agreed they would never speak of this again. And in that moment they agreed they would try to do better. But for tonight they were both content for her to work at the burger place and for him to frequent its business.
When Sandra asked her at the end of the shift if she was still in the group, Nadeen was so tired she'd already forgotten about the encounter. She reassured Sandra that everything was fine and turned down her offer for a burger.
When Nadeen got home that night, she started looking for a new job online.