Four Cadbury’s Creme Eggs, a potato peeler, a Peppa Pig hair band and a bottle of strawberry milkshake.

Laid out on this table in a very small, rather dingy office what had felt like a bounty of treasures suddenly looked rather disappointing and ultimately sad.

She couldn’t take her eyes off the potato peeler. She could explain to herself reasons for all of the items except the potato peeler. How strange.

Both the lady, who she assumed was the manager and the man, who she assumed was a security guard, looked at her with more compassion than she expected.

It was probably the potato peeler which explained their sympathy.

She had seen teenagers escorted by the very same security guard before, having helped themselves to alcohol or sweets, so a middle-aged woman, dressed in quite respectable Boden lounge wear, accused of stealing, amongst other things a potato peeler, probably explained their awkward expressions.

She could not and did not deny what she had done because all of these items had been stuffed into her coat pockets, recorded on the CCTV and did not feature on her shopping receipt. Yes she had paid for some basic staples, which she could afford, she just had not paid for these other items which she simply could not afford and, in all honesty, probably did not even need.

She was known to these two people having lived local for 20 years and having popped into this shop almost everyday. She was one of those successful business women, living in a small London terrace with shutters at the windows painted duck egg blue which elsewhere in the country would appear to be unimpressive whereas in London was the sign of money.

A single career mum, riding the waves of success and wealth but who was now struggling to keep her head above water.

Out of work, out of money and now out of ideas, her life had imploded and this seemingly inconsequential, perhaps even bizarre, array of items are actually symbols of so much more.

They symbolise choice, something she no longer has, and they symbolise a cry for help.

She suddenly realises the deep, guttural sound filling the room is coming from her and, as the tears pour down her face, a weight is lifted from her shaking shoulders as the lady sitting opposite touches her arm and asks the life saving words “Can we help”?

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

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