Monday, January 10, 2005

Thanks for the tip

Whatever happened to the unobtrusive salesperson? The kind who stay in the shadows and only spring to assistance when you call on them? These days department stores are swarming with irrepressibly cheerful and ingratiatingly over-helpful sorts, who simply take charge of your shopping.

“Ma’am, this colour really suits you. And you must take these matching shoes as well… No shoes? (shocked expression) Ok, what about this bag, then… No? Some perfume then...”

Then, there are the gratuitous advice givers. “Can’t make up your mind, ma’am? Take both. You can wear this one to work and this to a party.”

A couple of days ago, I had completed my shopping and was standing in the check-out queue, when I realised – quite happily – that I hadn’t been accosted by one know-it-all salesperson. I made a mental note to frequent this place more often. I scribbled my signature on the credit card slip, took my bags and headed for the exit, when the billing executive called out to me.

I turned to see him peering at the credit card slip. A slow thudding began in the region of my chest. Had I signed incorrectly? Was there an anomaly in my credit card account? Did I look like a forger? My mind tossed up every remote possibility.

He looked up and beckoned to me, even as others in the queue turned to stare. I felt like a fugitive.

“Madam, just a minute...”
he called out loudly.

“Yes, what’s it?”
I croaked nervously.

“Hope you won’t mind if I tell you this…”

I shook my head vigorously. I am innocent, my mind screamed silently.

“See, you’ve signed your name here and then you’ve drawn a line under it backwards. You know what that means?”

My unblinking, saucer-like gaze accurately conveyed that I didn’t.

“It means that you make progress in life but then you throw it all away; you go backwards in life. Hope you don’t mind me telling you this.”

I stared at him, my thoughts alternating between relief (that I wasn’t going to be arrested), embarrassment (at being pegged as a ‘backward’ person) and seething fury at his superfluous ‘advice’.

I swept out of the store with as much dignity as my red face could muster. I was outside before I noticed the unexpected object in my hand. It was a rather fine and expensive looking roller ball pen. Quite unlike the cheap plastic pens that stores usually offer you to sign credit card slips. I couldn’t help smiling. For someone whose life had purportedly been blighted by a ‘backward signature’, I had nimble fingers.

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