The Package: a short story.
There is always a strange excitement about receiving a package. Strange because these days I order so many that I rarely remember what they are when they arrive, approaching them like a child on Christmas morning who still believes in Santa, or who has very rich parents. These days it’s even possible to get packages sent to a nearby shop allowing you to collect it at your convenience. Today’s delivery had been left at the Star Value Supermarket on Well Street, not a four minute walk from my Hackney flat. I knew this because an email told me, and the imbecilic excitement it provoked displaced my usual morning rough-headedness.
I made a cup of tea: I do not like the tea bags we currently have in our flat, and unfortunately someone has just bought 500 of them. I made it all the same. I ran over the possibilities of the contents of the package: whilst a work of fiction would have been the bookies favourite, I could not rule out a kitchen utensil of some sort: a knife or set of knives, or perhaps a convenient little blender, for smoothies, soups and other such reductions. It was close to November so there was an outside chance it was a Christmas present for a family member, which would have been a thoroughly disappointing outcome.
The suspense got the better of me just below the half-way point of my tea. (I tend not to fill my cup to the brim — a phenomenon some of my more racist acquaintances have coined ‘jew tea’, leaving a bit of space before the lip to mitigate spillage from movement- resulting in my half-way point coming in a little bit lower than most. This was factored in to my determination of ‘below half way’). I decided to leave it for when I returned, the package pick-up point being so close as to not compromise completely the tea’s integrity. I dressed too lightly for the fierceness of the weather outside, forgoing socks and a jumper, knowing the brevity of the journey made it possible for me to comfortably take such risks. I did not lock my front door, and did not think twice about it.
The shop was empty but for one Polish national unsuccessfully seeking photocopying services or his passport, amongst other things. Afterwards, I presented my phone with the barcode and my driver’s license ID, and informed the cashier that I was picking up a package. His unwavering expression and lack of eye contact revealed a man exhausted with life: perhaps just today, perhaps his whole life, but most likely with his wife and/or wives. He took my phone and scanned the bar-code. I signed and whilst I waited for him to fetch the parcel, I received an email from the delivery company confirming my receipt and thanking me for collecting it. After about five minutes, a queue had formed at the till, still no sign of the parcel. He returned.
‘Are you sure you got an email this morning?’
‘Yes. That was where I got the barcode from, the one you just scanned”
I was not worried by the foolishness of his question. I should have been.
“What exactly is it I’m looking for?”
“A package…with Jamie Chang on it”
“Small? Big?” He said, flinging parcels around like an Easyjet baggage handler.
I hesitated. “Im not sure”
“What do you mean you’re not sure?”
“I’m not sure what it is.”
Now it was me that looked silly. But how was I to know? Didn’t he know how many packages I ordered in any given week? How was I to know what this exact one was? I tried to run through at least some of the possibilities in my mind but I drew a blank.
He returned empty-handed and began to serve customers in a queue that had grown in equal measures of size and impatience.
“Maybe it come tomorrow” He said in that endearing way that foreigners have of forming a sentence that isn’t correct.
‘But I specifically paid for it to come today.”
I wasn’t sure if this was true, but I knew it gave me a chance of getting him to have another, more robust search. I added, “And now I have an email saying that I have collected it”
I presented my phone. He looked at it how old people used to look at text messages before they all got addicted to Facebook.
“So you have already collected?”
“No. You prematurely scanned the barcode, confirming collection before you gave me the parcel, and now the delivery company will assume the transaction has been completed”
He was speechless as he rung up a four pack of Fosters and a scratch card for a man that smelt something not dissimilar from a rotting beaver’s carcass laying on a dead pine tree in a Canadian forest. He paid in change no greater than a fifty pence piece.
“Maybe you come back later”
“But my package is here. I wouldn’t have gotten the email otherwise”
‘Later, later. Or tomorrow” He was stalling.
“But I need it today”. Technically this wasn’t true- technically I still didn’t know what it was- but my curiosity was peaked insatiably.
“Please have one more look”
“I have customer!”
“I am your customer. You haven’t finished serving me yet.” I said in a slightly more raised tone than before, but not so raised as to have been detected by anyone other than myself. I knew the parcel was in there somewhere. I gave him my telephone number knowing full well I would not receive a call. I left defeated, borne back by the blustering wind: under-dressed, under-parcelled.
The day ruined, I could not sustain my focus on any of the morning’s tasks without my mind wandering back to my package and the injustice I had encountered. I tried to call the Star Value Supermarket some hours later but there was no answer, and then there was no answer again. I had to go higher, the delivery company? What about the company I ordered the item from? But no, I couldn’t remember who they were. I opened up the email and sought the details of the delivery company, they would be my port of call, my touch of base. I noted down all the tracking numbers, customer numbers and confirmation codes relevant to my case. I called the company.
Producing for you the transcript of that conversation would force me to relive for a second time the eye-watering, head-scratching incompetence I was subjected to. The meat and bones were thus: Their driver confirmed delivery, the cashier confirmed receipt, as far as they were concerned it was case closed.
‘Except I don’t have my parcel”
“is it possible that you can’t remember picking it up?”
“Are you being serious? I went as soon as I received the email”
“and what was the package?”
“I don’t bloody know!”
“But you ordered it?”
“so what was it?”
“I can’t remember. But I can’t see how this is relevant. Your duty is to deliver it, not to determine what it was”
“How can you be sure the package was yours if you don’t know what it was sir?”
“because I received an email asking me to pick it up.”
“And we received an email telling us you picked it up”
“well I didn’t.”
“then why did you confirm that you did”
It was around this point that I exploded, put onto a manager, and told that no abuse would be tolerated by the customer service staff and any qualms would know have to be dealt with in writing or email. Of course I did not relegate myself to comply with this ridiculous and degrading method, and weighed up my other options such as the ombudsman or even a national newswire. It was, after all, a case of public interest. (Of course, all social media channels should be considered and I implore the closest of my friends, or those with a modicum of influence, to support me).
What was meant to be an invention of convenience and modernity had revealed itself to be an inconvenience of the grossest proportion. It was becoming increasingly apparent that this went higher than the package. I had potentially stumbled upon the symptom of a wider conspiracy. I deduced that back handers were likely given out to co-operative pick-up points (read: Star value supermarket), who ‘lost’ packages- but not before retrieving a receipt confirmation from an unwitting collector, leaving him legally legless. I feared now not only for my package and the psychological damage thereby incurred, but also for my safety. Had I already gone too far? Pushed and probed recklessly into the danger zone, revealing I may already know too much to the wrong people — the faceless puppeteers behind the whole operation- unreachable, invisible, immune. Even if this conspiracy did make it into the light of day, no doubt it would be the pawns of the operation who took the fall. That’s how these things worked.
The pressing issue was that they knew who I was in complete. Full name, address, bank details, retail habits. I couldn’t even run, my paper trail would be easier to follow than a bearded prophet in an ancient, recession struck Nazareth. There was probably someone on my tail already. I wondered if it was in some way connected to the item I had purchased, perhaps it threatened the powers-that-be. If only I could remember what it was! Oh! I needed it now even more than I needed it when I ordered it, and god knows I needed it then. But it was too late now, even if I did know what it was. These were the kinds of people who didn’t listen to reason. I was in real, palpable trouble, and the whole debacle stank of a stench that made me sick to my stomach. I contemplated suicide. That was the only way to escape the impending shit-storm coming my way, the only way I could control the narrative of the situation and end it on my terms, the only way to unshackle myself from the burden of being a cog in a bigger machine. But I was not a cog, no, I was not even remotely cog-like. I had to stop the machine. Break the chain. Stop the wheels from turning. But it meant making the ultimate sacrifice. I thought of all the people that would be left behind, but also of all the people I would save. I thought of my package, and it gave me strength, maybe we would be reunited on the otherside.
It was decided. Finally, I was calling the shots, all that was left was to decide the method; I didn’t have the constitution for overt self-harm, terrible claustrophobia eliminated hanging, (also, having a penchant for tracksuit bottoms severely reduced the possibility of even having a belt in the cupboard), but the medicine cabinet maybe…
I mix myself a healthy cocktail. Should I leave a note? No- maximum confusion will be the aim. I didn’t want to give them anything to go on, give them a taste of their own medicine, plunge the investigations into disarray. Hell, the authorities may even suspect murder. I could hardly contain my excitement!
And so it’s been fifteen minutes. Starting to feel slightly drowsy now. My phone is vibrating, I hope its them, I want to hear them panic.
‘Hello, sir? I’m calling from Star Value Supermarket, we found your package sir. Sir?…Hello?”
I drop the phone. I think the seven paracetamols and a Sudafed have taken a hold.