“Finally, this is the Keeping Safe”.
I looked at my brother Jack, quizzically. He had been taking me on a guided tour of his enlarged shop. Three years before he had bought a small property and opened it as a general store in the small seaside town where we live. There were no such similar shops in the area and though he knew he had to compete with the online market, he was managing to make a profit, enough to buy the adjoining premises when they came up for sale earlier in the year. His new-look shop now gave him the space to stock a greater range, his aim being to offer a wide variety of useful products not readily available in the high streets. He had spent nearly 20 years in retail before deciding to take the plunge, and with part-time assistance from his wife Alice, was making a success of it. However, with Alice’s mother needing her help more on a daily basis, and my company making me redundant, Jack asked if I’d like to join in the daily running of the shop and I jumped at the chance, even though it meant a career change, after my many years in an IT Dept.
The guided tour was also my initial training course as he showed me the layout, while explaining the scanning of goods and replenishing of shelves, linked to ordering stock via computer alerts. We had arrived in the storeroom where two small safes were fitted to the wall. The first contained a small amount of cash, little more than a float as most customers paid by debit card, and I queried the need for two.
“I think it’s sensible to keep things separate,” Jack explained.
“Our money and lost property.”
“Lost property – how much is lost in here?”
“A surprising amount, quite often debit cards, gloves, an assortment of other possessions, even small change left at the check-out, though most is claimed soon after, on proof of ownership.”
“And the “Keeping Safe” is for keeping customers’ belongings until they are claimed?”
“Exactly, with each item kept in a bag in there. Hence the name Keeping Safe.”
“Very organised,” I conceded.
We concluded with a long chat about how to scan items on to the till, the use of debit cards, voiding products and other associated purchasing mysteries, with Jack assuring me he would be on hand to help out and I’d soon get the hang of it.
We had a last look round the newly-organised double shop before making our way home to our families. I was looking forward to the next day when I would become Jack’s assistant, though with some apprehension as it was a real change for me, but he was convinced I would be an asset, especially when computer knowhow was needed. The shop had been closed for 10 days while the builders knocked the two shops into one, and carried out refurbishments, then Jack had stocked all the shelves. Though it was just a short closure, he had decided to have a Reopening Day, with some discounts plus free balloons for the children. He had put an advert to this effect in the local paper which was circulated around our town and neighbouring villages and he hoped the message would reach more of the population than a notice on the shop window.
Reopening Day dawned warm and sunny and we were surprised how many customers came along. Jack knew most of them but there were a few unfamiliar faces, probably a result of the newspaper advert. We gave away over two dozen balloons to excited children enjoying their school summer holidays, while Mums bought all sorts from household goods and food to treats for their girls and boys. Shortly before we were due to close, Jack answered the phone to an upset lady who had lost her wedding ring and was wondering if it had fallen off in the shop. Jack told her nothing had been handed in but we would have a look and noting down her phone number, promised to let her know if we found it.
Soon after this I checked stock levels on the computer, then with list in hand proceeded to physically fill the shelves, from a trolley full of items from the storeroom. As I moved the fish fingers aside in one of the freezer cabinets, I saw something glinting. I picked up the shiny object and lo and behold it was a plain gold ring, but with an inscription inside – initials and a date. I put it in my pocket while I loaded all the frozen items quickly, but not very neatly, into the freezers and rushed over to show Jack the ring.
“This must belong to the lady who rang you,” I said, relieved and excited to have found it.
He looked at it and said, “Almost certainly, as these freezer cabinets are new, unless someone else has lost their wedding ring but it seems unlikely. I’ll phone her. She did mention something about initials around the inside.”
He picked up the phone and within a minute was speaking to Caroline Shelton. He had switched the speaker on so I could hear the conversation clearly and she sounded relieved and tearful. When he asked her to describe it, there was no doubt it was her ring – the initials and date were identical, the latter her wedding day just over a month before. She asked Jack if she and her husband could come and pick it up shortly and he agreed to wait while they drove in from a nearby village. Meanwhile, it was placed in the Keeping Safe, awaiting Caroline’s arrival.
About 20 minutes later a young couple walked into the shop and I remembered serving her in the late afternoon. They were hand in hand and very obviously newly-weds. Caroline smiled and walked up to us, introduced herself and husband Ben, and thanked us for phoning her, adding that she had brought some photos to try to prove that the ring was hers, and pulling an envelope out of her bag handed a few to Jack and me. The photo of the ring was very clear, with the engraving legible, and there was even a close-up of Caroline in her wedding dress, holding the ring close to her face and the outline of the initials and date were visible, plus one of her wearing it with her engagement ring. Ben also had a ring identically engraved which he removed from his finger to show us. There seemed no doubt it was hers so Jack made a beeline for the Keeping Safe and returned with the ring in a small plastic bag, with Caroline’s name written on it. While he was gone, she and Ben had been explaining that it was slightly loose as they were allowing for her finger to expand over the years and her engagement ring kept it from slipping off. However, she had forgotten to put her engagement ring on that morning, but had ensured she was wearing it before coming out to see us. Ben said she was distraught when she had got home, having found her wedding ring missing.
Jack returned with the ring in the bag and handed it to Caroline who immediately put it on her finger. It fitted without seeming too loose but, as she said, her finger had probably got slightly slimmer as she rummaged through the freezer looking for the items on her list, and so it had slipped off. I suggested a clip which a jeweller could fit as this would take up any slack, especially in cold conditions, and Ben said he would take her into town on Saturday to buy this attachment. Caroline was so thrilled to have her wedding ring back and kept looking at it on her finger and hugging Ben who was trying to offer us a reward. We refused, of course, so Caroline gave us both a hug and promised to be one of our frequent customers in future, and she has kept her word. Before they left Ben remarked that the words “fish fingers”, on the packets where the ring was found, must have held some sort of attraction as he reckoned it was probably trying to fit itself on to one these frozen fingers.
“Imagine being married to a frozen fish!” I joked.
So a happy ending to my first day as a shop assistant. Jack had locked up and as we stood on the pavement looking up at the new sign with the original shop name “Jackal”, formed by a combination of Jack and Alice, my brother looked at me and said, “Maybe one day in the not too distant future, the last two letters could also relate to your name, Alex”. I smiled at the thought, hoping Alice wouldn’t mind sharing part of her name with part of mine for the purposes of the business.