Poverty Line by Emma Robertson

The queue at the foodbank is even longer than usual. Recent events have hit people hard; so many lost jobs and reduced incomes taking their toll on local families. According to Twitter, the number of people needing to use this particular foodbank has more than quadrupled in the past three months and the size of the queue would seem to bear that out. They put out a tweet this afternoon – we are running out of food, please come down and donate what you can.

I hear my neighbour before I see her; her voice has no respect for social distancing. “Hello Sian!” she trills, joining me in the queue. “You saw Twitter as well then, did you?”

“Hello Gloria,” I say, hiding my defeated smile behind my mask. I resign myself to having her in my ear until we reach the front of the queue. “How are you?”

I can tell by the way her ears and eyebrows move up and down that she’s making her favourite mock-hangdog face behind her own (pink, flamingo-decorated) mask. “Mustn’t grumble I suppose, especially…” she leans forward, invading my one metre, “especially when you think of this poor lot and what they must be going through.”

I look around to appraise this poor lot, because I haven’t really taken any notice of them before, but with that one sentence, Gloria has established a them and an us. The haves and have-nots of our community. I notice that they are not one homogenous lot, however, they are a mix of ages and ethnicities, some looking healthier than others. Some elderly, some with children. People.

“You’ve got to do your bit though, haven’t you? That’s what I said to my Terry, I said, we’ve got to do our bit,” Gloria continues. “I got a lovely lot of basics at Sainsbury’s on the way here. Did you know that you can get tins of carrots for twenty pence each?”

I nod; I do indeed know that.

“And this big bag of rice was just eighty pence. It’s amazing what you can get on a budget.”

I wish she’d talk more quietly. I sense people tuning in to our conversation as we shuffle forward. I try to change the subject.

“Those look yummy.” I indicate a box of fancy biscuits poking out of her other shopping bag.

“Oh, yes – I did a bit of shopping for home while I was there,” she says quickly, pushing the box further into the bag. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t begrudge donating these but it seems a waste.”

My silence spurs her on, “I mean, they could get four bags of rice and feed themselves for a week for the same price!” She forces a laugh. “And these hardly help the war on obesity!”

Eventually I shrug. “Sometimes it’s just nice to treat yourself, though.”

“Of course,” she nods. “What are you donating?”

“Oh, I’m not donating.” I look her in the eyes. “I’m here to make a claim.”

Emma Robertson is an inclusive dance tutor and writer from London, UK. Her first fiction pieces were published in late 2020 in the Pure Slush anthology Wrong Way Go Back and in Eastern Iowa Review‘s Water issue. She has previously written articles connected with her teaching work for dance industry publications. She takes part in a weekly flash fiction event with an online writers’ group and her work is published on a number of flash and micro fiction websites.

Twitter: @emmadancetrain