Have you ever forgotten where you parked your car after shopping in the supermarket?
This is an interesting story from a friend of mine, Tim, who had a very strange experience when he worked in a supermarket.
When I saw the old lady wandering around the top-storey car park of the supermarket where I’d only been working for a month, I wondered just what I should do.
It was 6 o’clock on a freezing cold winter’s afternoon, my shift about to finish. I was worrying about the scaffolding and building work going on at the neighbouring office block above us that seemed to be threatening the safety of our customers. Just this morning a bricklayer had accidentally dropped his trowel from 20 feet above, and it could easily have hit a customer or damaged a car.
The wandering lady appeared to be mid 80s, perhaps, shy, bespectacled, wistful looking, hardly aware of the supermarket bag she was carrying.
“Excuse me madam,” I said, walking up to her. “Can I help you?”
“Oh yes please,” she looked up at me with eyes that were moist with tears. “I’ve lost my car. I think it’s been stolen. I really don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said, “I really—”
“—Come down to our office,” I coaxed, taking the carrier bag from her. “We can take a look at the CCTV of the car park.
“It’s very valuable, you see,” her voice was anxious. “A Mercedes. My husband bought it new, not long ago. A month before he died, in fact.” The smoke from our breath funnelled up into the sky, and I noticed she was shivering as well as on the brink of tears.
“That’s why I came here this afternoon,” she concluded, wiping her eyes with a tissue as we sat in the office, watching the screen. “We used to come here every Saturday, my husband Clive and I. And we would always buy a bottle of your own brand Celebration Champagne. That’s the only thing I bought today. I wanted to take it home and drink it all on my own. And think about Clive and try to remember what our life was like. Just for tonight I wanted to try and recapture the past.”
She was crying so much that I didn’t know what to do. Then I remembered the whisky bottle in the bottom drawer of my desk, left there by my predecessor. When she was sitting there oppostie me, I found a glass and poured her a drink. She took it without a word, and sipped. “You’re kind,” she said to me. “And I think you’ve got problems of your own, haven’t you?”
She was a sweet kind old lady, so sympathetic that I found myself telling her about the job I had as a publisher’s editor that I’d lost, and how I’d taken the job in the supermarket, thinking I’d get used to it, but couldn’t seem to get on top of the work, no matter how hard I tried. And how my wife had left me and I’d lost my flat and how lonely I sometimes felt.
“I think things will work out for you, young man,” she told me. “I’ve got a feeling your luck is going to change for the better. Something good is just around the corner.”
And do you know what? I had the feeling that she was right, and in her kind eyes I could see compassion, and felt that I might have a bright future after all.
Then, it was the weirdest feeling. As I looked up again at the cars on the CCTV screen, in all the different parts of the car park, I suddenly realised that they were different cars to the ones I’d seen just now, when we were walking around up there.
I asked her to wait a moment, then dashed back upstairs.
It was just like before!
No new Datsun in the far corner, as it had been on the CCTV. The elderly Vauxhall I remembered from earlier on was there now in its place.
And then, to my amazement, I saw it! The Mercedes, the car the lady had been looking for! I walked up to it, stood beside the passenger’s side door and looked inside.
Then, reflected in the window glass, I saw the lady herself, standing beside the car park’s parapet wall twenty yards away. Her arms were held out to the night sky. I ran headlong towards her, and it was right then that I heard the crash of the collapsing masonry wall above. The landslide of bricks and rubble was everywhere, knocking me flat, sending me sprawling, a vast cloud of debris rising up and swallowing up everything in sight.
I remember a lot of shouting, people running everywhere, and assuring Sean, my young assistant, that I was okay, that I’d moved out of the way just in time to avoid being killed by the vast heap of broken masonry.
The first thing I did when I could walk was make my way over to the parapet wall where I’d seen her about to jump, aiming to haul myself up to look over the top. But I couldn’t do it.
No one could.
The wall rose up sheer for 12 feet, and it would have been impossible for even a professional climber to scale it without a rope. And the Mercedes? It wasn’t there either.
I assumed that both the car and the jumping lady, even the different cars I thought I’d seen, must have been some kind of a hallucination, bought on by stress and worry. That was the only possible explanation.
However, as I joined the men sifting through the rubbish, just before we were all told by the emergency services to keep back, I found a carrier bag. I took it away and shook off the dust and debris, then looked inside at the shards of glass that had once been a bottle. One section of the gold coloured label said Celebration Champagne. And underneath that it said Safeway’s own brand.
Safeways? That had been the name of the original store here, yet for 10 years now, it had been named Morrisons, as were all the erstwhile Safeways stores around the country. I looked at the carrier bag. It was a Safeways bag – the familiar red logo on clear plastic that was no more.
Next day I talked to my boss about what had happened.
“Funny, it was ten years ago to the day that this old lady jumped off the roof,” he told me. “Really weird, you know I saw her just before she jumped, but I couldn’t get to her in time. And I swear she wasn’t on her own. There was a man with her. Man of about her own age.”
“What happened to him?”
“Who knows mate? Must have been a hallucination.”
A week later I went for an interview for a car sales job – a Mercedes dealership as it happens – and the moment I met the owner I knew I’d landed on my feet. It was a small family firm, and I liked them all. I got the job and loved it, not only that but I fell in love with the secretary who worked there – we were like one big happy family.
And I often think about that old lady.
And the day my luck changed.