Hibbert's was a designer butcher’s shop.
They sold ‘happy’ meat from their own farm, attracting the pre-veggies.
Those in the late transitional stage, just prior to making that full commitment.
I’d come early to avoid the usual Saturday morning onslaught but the queue had already pierced the front door.
A lady approached from my left, on a collision course for that coveted next place in the queue.
Dressed in a tie-dyed gym suit, she sped up with every stride.
I reacted, but she was too fast - stepping effortlessly in front, gliding through the rainbow coloured drapes of the open door to take her place.
She turned with an apologetic smile.
-Still pumped from the gym, I guessed.
-she probably did triathlons, like that newsreader off the BBC.
I smiled back.
Etiquette for the Hibbert's queue had evolved over many decades.
Start at the door, then make its way towards the cheese display at the far end;
double back in a hairpin turn past the cooked meats then ease towards the counter where the two Hibbert brothers lurked in their blood splattered overcoats.
The queue had more men than usual - all around mid forties I guessed, and I counted three pairs of beige trainer-shoe hybrids on show….
- not trainers, but not shoes.
“Next please!” ,
came the cry from the counter, and we all shuffled as one, anticipating movement from the front.
The drapes parted again as a lady dressed in a bright lilac lycra suit rushed in, stopping suddenly and parking herself directly behind me in the queue.
The lady in front, turned and gave her a wave - meaning I was stuck in the middle of two gym buddies on a post work-out high.
“Do you want to go in front?” I said.
“Ooh thanks so much!”
she replied, then greeted her friend in front before riveting her huge brown eyes onto mine.
“We do spin” she said,”me and her”.
She had a tattoo of Chinese letters, dissected by a shoulder strap.
Nike trainers on too, Airmax by the looks of it.
“You must be pretty fit then”, I said.
My face flushed, at the stupidity of the reply and quickly tried to recover,
“To do spin - I mean”.
“I knew what you meant”, she said,
“And you’re right - I am”
Her friend laughed as if spitting out an invisible cup of tea.
We shuffled one place on, passing the cheese display, which was always a milestone.
A man glanced over from near the counter, pretending to study the cow diagram on the wall, his eyes lingering across the lilac gym suit on their way back.
I stared at his shoes, and tried to work out what would possess anyone to buy them.
She must've been thinking the same thing.
“So…Where do you do spin then?” I asked.
“Oh you’ve pulled, Renee!”, said her friend, with a gentle, Dick Emery style push in the back.
Renee rolled her eyes to the ceiling.
She didn’t say she hadn’t.
“Xercise 4 less - Thursdays and Saturdays”.
The voice in my head chanted a strict instruction,
‘tell her you’ve got a bike , tell her you've got a bike'.
That voice had been wrong many times before, though.
But this was as clear a sign as I’d had - for a good while at least.
“Er - I’ve got a bike”.
Renee nodded whilst extending her bottom lip.
I sensed something.
A presence I’d not felt since...I couldn’t remember, but whatever it was …it felt like it was going well.
In ten years time - I could see our friends imploring us to tell the story of how we both met in that butchers shop, as we finish off the after dinner Chateau Neuf De Pape.
We could have holidays in France.
Take our bikes.
Do the vineyards of the South West - stopping at guest houses en route.
Just the two of us ….on a summer tour of the Aquitaine region.
“You don’t need your own bike for spin”, said Renee.
“You did at the one I went to”.
“Not at this one”, she said.
bellowed Hibbert junior , causing a collective shuffle at the instruction.
Rennee’s friend was up next, giving way to some welcome privacy,
“I like your trainers”, she said
“Oh thanks. They're Adidas SL72’s”.
“I know what they are!", said Renee.
I must’ve been waiting for this girl all my life - but just didn't know it until now.
“I like yours too”, I said, "Air Max?”
She nodded confirmation of what I already knew.
“Do you mind if I ask you something?” she said, only for Hibbert senior to but-in and beckon us both to the now empty slots at the counter, leaving her question hanging in the butchers shop air.
The Butterflies broke free from the confines of my stomach, venturing down into legs and fingers.
What if this was a sexual request… right here in the shop?
The internet had bulldozed long-standing inhibitions, but mine were embarrassingly, still intact.
The trainer thing - what if it was some sort of code?
What if she was one of these crazed dildo-sporting types, like Janice Soprano, on a mission to claim my back-door cherry?
Knowing me - I’d probably end up doing it.
We'd have to call it ..a trust exercise.
“Are you alright, mate?” asked Hibbert snr,
“You look a bit under the weather there”.
He’d never done shop-chat with me before, and I always got him and his brother mixed up.
“I’m alright thanks - Mr Hibbert”.
“You can call me Keith”, he said,
“I mean - we were in the same class at school for five years”.
He finished the order, managing to avoid any further eye contact throughout.
Renee paid her bill then approached the door.
I swiped payment, to time a synchronised exit, and parted the rainbow drapes for her to stoop through.
“So what is it you wanted to ask me then?”
I said, as the morning sun coaxed the two of us under the striped awning outside the shop.
“I don’t usually mention this” said Renee - “but I can sort of …read people",
“Oh aye - Read what exactly?”
"Energy, emotions...that sort of thing".
I didn't need anyone reading my emotions, especially the ones from the last ten minutes.
"There’s a girl,” she said,
”It's written all over your fac. She left you didn’t she?”
“About a year ago. How do you know stuff like that?”
“I can only see it in certain people. She still misses you - I can see it”.
I wanted to believe she was right.
"So, what else can you see then?"
“It might sound weird, but I’m getting something about The Sopranos. I’m guessing, you must be a fan”.
She stepped out of the shade, swaying from foot to foot, along with her striped, carrier bag, and I watched the morning sun reveal the red tips on her pony-tail like charcoal embers,
“You’ll have to come spin class one time,” said Renee,
“Even bring that bike o’ yours”.
“Xercise 4 less, Thursdays and Saturdays”.
I suppose we could call it..a trust exercise.