This is the start of the second chapter, again edited and condensed for context.
Shampoo. Was his hair greasy or dry? Thick or flyaway? Wavy or straight? What if it was both greasy and thick? And what was normal? Did he want a shampoo that made his hair smell like a spring meadow, a tropical island or a winter morning? What type of nozzle or dispenser cap did he want? Did he want a container that could hang upside down from the shower fitting or one that would stand solidly on the side of the bath?
Fenney usually shopped with a stoop – all the products he could afford were hidden away on the shelves by his ankles. On Wednesday night, however, he was meticulously studying the goods displayed at head height. He examined and evaluated every product, read every label, considered every price.
The Eligibility Notification Document was waiting for him at home.
Teabags. Did he want ones that were round, square, cubed, spherical, pyramid, or novelty animal shaped? How did other people choose? What criteria did they use? Did they buy the ones that fitted with the shape of their mugs or did they go for the box that matched the colour scheme of their kitchen? Maybe it was a lifestyle choice and would demonstrate what sort of person he was. Did people judge you by the type of teabags you used?
He still hadn’t opened his EN-Doc. The crawling traffic on the drive home from work yesterday had provided enough time to dull his sense of urgency. The Festival didn’t start until Saturday afternoon, what was the rush?
The depots had only been open for two days and the news reports were saying that the queues were very bad this year. Festival Facilitation was struggling with an updated operating system and many utilities hadn’t even arrived yet. Fenney reasoned that it would be quicker to wait until the backlog had cleared and the stocks were full. There was no urgency for him to find out who his AM was if he wasn’t going to hire his utilities yet. He’d go to the depot one evening later in the week – when he had time.
He’d been in the supermarket for an hour. In his shopping bag were several tubs of rehydratable ready-meals, a loaf of bread, a bar of carbolic soap, a plain green bottle with the word ‘shampoo’ stamped on it in the style of a military stencil and a box of dolphin shaped teabags that were on special offer. They were all from the bottom shelves.
He straightened his back and looked up to refocus his eyes after studying the bright colours of the packaging. There were five large, black cameras embedded in the ceiling of the aisle and all of them were pointing at him. They swiveled in their housing, following him as he shuffled to the exit.
The scanning machines flashed a blue laser at his shopping bag and he inserted his citizen card into the panel of the turnstile. He’d just been paid but he kept to his usual strict budget for his supplies – he needed to save as much as he could for hiring utilities; there wasn’t much in the utility fund that came out of his wages each month.
The machine spat out his card and the turnstile unlocked. He walked outside into the car park and looked at his watch. 8.30pm. If he hurried, there was still time to go home, open his EN-Doc and visit the depot before it closed at 10pm.
He decided to go for a walk.
The sun was beginning to set and there was that peculiar orangey light of a warm May evening. The supermarket had been built on top of the sea wall and the car park overlooked a short strip of beach. At the other end of the beach some steps led up to coastal path that followed the curve of the headland round to the quayside. A little way along was a bench where Fenney often sat – he liked the view from there, you could look out to sea without seeing any land at all. The pulsing lights of the watch beacons punctuated the line of the horizon and the checkpoint tower glittered like a Christmas tree. If you turned around and looked behind, you could see the whole town of Greystone spreading up the hill – it could be quite pretty at night with the lights of the streets and houses twinkling in an irregular pattern.
Fenney went down the beach, the sand finding its way through the holes in his shoes as he followed the sooty tidemark of grit and debris towards the steps. At the top of them he could see that all that remained of his bench was a metal frame embedded in concrete. There was an electrified SafetyCam pole in its place – extra monitoring ahead of the Festival. Fenney paused to look for somewhere else to sit and saw the red glow from the setting sun reflect in the camera lens as it turned to point down at him. He continued walking along the coastal path for a couple of hundred meters to the point where you were high enough to look down on the quayside.