She arrived at the supermarket and immediately experienced the overwhelming, but common, sensation of exhaustion. Each noise rattled sharply in her head, her limbs had to fight against gravity and her vision blurred around the edges: leaving her in a distorted work of impressionist art. She would not be capable of shopping in this condition. She had two choices: she could retreat back to the car and meditate quietly hoping that the dull aches settling inside her bones would disperse and allow her time to complete her task, or she could take a few minutes in the cafe to bolster her strength and forge on ahead.
The cafe was simple and bare: every whining, scrape of a chair, each piercing ring of the till, every rattling, clunk of a teapot reverberated across the sparsely decorated room echoing against plain wooden furniture and pale cream walls. There was a faint smell of burnt toast and baked beans, reminding Sonya that she had skipped breakfast in favour of more time in bed. She took a deep breath, her ribs sore as her lungs expanded, and shuffled toward the counter. Ordering tea and toast, she paid dutifully – the clang of the till forcing her to close her eyes as a spark of pain echoed in her head – and found an isolated seat at a table near the window. As she sat, her legs almost giving away beneath her in relief, she forced herself to relax her tense shoulders and feel them drop an inch. For a few moments she concentrated on her breath – slow, methodical and shallow – attempting to ignore the clattering of the working cafe beyond. She noticed her hand was shaking slightly, but she couldn’t make a fist, or stretch the knuckles out straight, the joint pain was too restricting. Sighing quietly, Sonya poured her tea, mindful of her unsteady grasp. She gritted her teeth as tea flowed out and over the spout, down the teapot to create an expanding puddle of tan liquid on the tray; why was it that all cafe teapots always leaked in this manner? It really shouldn’t have bothered her, but she had only filled two thirds of her cup, the remainder spilt from the dysfunctional pouring device, and it irked her. She got up, the teapot still in hand, and strode over to the counter – her knees creaking at the unexpected use.
‘Excuse me, but could you refill this please? It spilt all over my tray when I tried to pour it.’
The cafe assistant looked at her, no expression apparent on her young, over painted face.
‘Sorry,’ she said, without a hint of apology, ‘you have to pay for another cup.’
‘I didn’t even get my first cup.’ responded Sonya, banging the metal teapot on the counter.
‘Don’t ‘company policy’ me,’ Sonja felt her voice rising with each emphasised word, ‘I paid for a cup of tea, and I would like to be able to have a full cup. As it is, because of your faulty equipment, I don’t have that. Therefore the least you could do is splash some hot water in the teapot.’
The girl remained compassionless. ‘Sorry.’
Sonya huffed, and narrowed her eyes. The familiar caress of a headache was creeping up the back of her neck, and she felt her shoulders rise again, like the hackles of a dog.
‘Get me your manager.’
By this time the haze of loss that she had noticed in her peripheral vision when she had entered the supermarket was spreading. The impassive attendant girl seemed very far away as she slid off her chair and took a step back behind the counter. Her yell for the manager sounded muffled and slow to Sonja; like her ears had been punched simultaneously with a pair of boxing gloves. Suddenly Sonya found herself moving backward, away from the girl and the counter and the till. Her point of vision disintegrated into total blackness and just before she ceased to hear anything at all, she heard the impact of a cracking thump from far away.