I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. I tried to just erase the moment from my memory, because of what had happened and equally just as much for the way that my friends and I reacted.
But I went back into that shop today for the first time in a month to get milk and it came back into my head and I’ve been feeling bad since.
Myself and two of my friends were hanging one Sunday, a fierce feed of pints the night before was the diagnosis and a chicken fillet roll the next morning was the solution.
I normally don’t go to this shop but I said ‘fuck it’, their deli might be nicer than my local and sure, we have the car and it’s only another minute down the road.
The shop is empty and there’s two shop assistants – one is a cashier, the other is behind the deli.
If this was any other story, this detail wouldn’t matter or need to be mentioned but for this story, sadly it does.
The two men have different colour skin to my friends and I, and if we didn’t notice that fact when we came into the shop, we certainly knew about it when we left.
As we ordered up, this young lad – no more than 15 years of age – comes up to the cashier and asks for cigarettes.
The cashier asks for I.D. and when none is provided, he declines the young boy’s request and rightly so.
A minute later, the same lad comes in but this time about four or more boys come in along with him.
There’s one ring leader and he swaggers up to the counter asking why his friend was declined. By this stage, we knew something was up because the person behind the deli stopped making the roll and was edging to the outside of his station.
It soon became clear that it wasn’t the first time these boys had came in asking for cigarettes and it wasn’t the first time they had confronted the workers about it either.
“What’s the story so, blacky? Why won’t you sell cigarettes to my friend”, the ring leader said. By this stage we were thinking that this was out of order but none of us said anything.
This was followed by the usual comments of “why don’t you go back to your own country” and so on.
Despite the abuse, the cashier kept answering back calmly and cooly and tried to explain that the young boy had no I.D. to prove he was 18. Simple as that.
By this stage the ring leader gets a drink and brings it up to the counter slowly while his friends follow him. He starts firing the coins down on the counter with some bouncing over the the counter and on the floor behind the cashier.
As he fires in the last of the coins he starts walking backwards with his ‘gang’ and then the outpouring of slurs begin.
“We’ll see you around you black c***. You black fucker. We’ll be waiting for you when you finish work. You’ll sell my friend cigarettes next time or you’ll be gone by next week…” and so on until they eventually ran out of insults.
And we just stood there, frozen, not knowing what to say or do. We felt useless and ashamed.
It was the first time I had ever witnessed an act of racism in my life and I just felt so bad.
After that, they just carried on as normal. Literally, a few seconds after the boys had left, the deli assistant asked one of us if we wanted our roll cut in half. We were still trying to process what had just happened.
We thanked them both profusely and said multiple times that we were sorry that they had to put it up with that just there. What’s worse, the cashier said to one of my mates that “it was fine, I’m used to it.”
No one should have to get used to that sort of racial abuse.
So, when I went in today and realised it was the same two people on, a part of me was glad that they were still there and hadn’t been bullied into leaving but I feared about all the times since that they might have had repeats like that day in the store.
They didn’t remember me, I don’t think I could ever forget them.