When I was 16 and studying at college, I was delighted to be employed as an unpaid volunteer in a charity shop – my parents were somehow not quite so impressed despite their “get a job” instruction having technically been fulfilled.
I remember sitting across from a vandal, Ben, who was employed there as part of his community service. We had committed to sharing songs with each other – an activity based on the unquestionable truth that people needed to be MUSICALLY EDUCATED. As part of his enlightenment I had deliberately chosen a song on my MP3 player with the most screaming – proving of course my innate uniqueness – even though I didn’t particularly like it myself because of its long and pointlessly histrionic introduction. As I sat there listening to the obscure popping noises from his own headphones, I almost felt sorry for him. He raised his voice once above the popping to ask if his song made me feel like I was in space. “No!”, I lied.
I also remember Christina, a middle-aged stock assistant and the first openly trans woman I had ever met. I would purposely spend as much time with her as possible, discussing comic books and her growing desire to sample gothic fashion – a fantasy we indulged in despite a distinct lack of action from either of us to arrange a shopping trip. She liked that my hair was purple and spiky, I liked that she was proud that she had grown her own breasts. I always thought that she looked a bit like my Uncle Roger, but I never told her because I loved her and she was beautiful anyway.
I vaguely remember the manager who had given me the job, though I don’t remember her name. It frequently struck me as odd that she was the only person being paid, and yet the only person who didn’t seem to do anything – nonetheless she was very good at it. I recalled her telling me how much she liked a certain song that she had heard on the radio but couldn’t find it on a disk, so I burned it for her using some illegal software that I was convinced I was the only person to know about, and she complained that really she had wanted the whole album… which if I think about it now actually makes a lot more sense.
A few years later, after I had left college, I read that there had been a fire in the charity shop. I read the news sat at home in my faded skeleton pyjamas.