Something happened at work the other day. I left my pen in plain sight, something I very rarely do anymore. You'll understand why very shortly.
So I'm a checkout assistant, till op, cashier, whatever you want to call it. My job is simple, scan the shopping, take the money, be polite and courteous at all times. ALL TIMES.
A customer approaches the checkout with a trolley full to the top. As she starts loading onto the belt it becomes apparent that she is shopping for her whole neighbourhood and wishes to pay for three items at a time so she can get separate receipts. OK fine, I'm here all day anyway, so it makes no difference to me.
She unfolds the list from her pocket and starts rooting through her bag. Uh oh, she hasn't got a pen.
At the exact same moment, both of our eyes land on my pen, the one I left in plain sight. How could I be so stupid?
"Can I use your pen for a sec" she asks. I knew it was coming but hearing the words out loud still paralysed me for a moment. An excuse, I need an excuse. Should I say it doesn't work? Not believable, why would I have it just there if it didn't work. And she might ask to try it anyway.
Too late, I hesitated for too long so she grabs it anyway and begins crossing off items as she removes them from the trolley.
Right OK, it's done now. Note to self, do not leave pen lying around. I continue scanning. I tell myself to get a grip, the world won't end just because someone used my pen.
I press total. That will be £4.95 ple... WHAT ON EARTH?
My pen is hanging from her mouth. I don't mean just held between her lips, shes sucking on it like it's a lollipop. My stomach does a weird flip like I might be sick or something. I resist the urge to snatch the pen from her mouth and ask her what she thinks she's doing. I need to politely ask her to remove my pen from her mouth but I can't speak.
I notice her friend is staring at me with an odd expression on her face. That's when I realise I'm gawping at my pen in horror. My friendly smile and professional manner have failed me. What must I look like?
After what seems like a lifetime, she removes the pen from her mouth and that's when I see the string of saliva stretch out and the drop onto the conveyor belt. It was like a horror movie. I didn't want to look, I wanted to scream and run away but at the same time I couldn't tear my eyes away from this disgusting scene.
I leave the pen where it is for now. I need to psyche myself up before I can retrieve it. It's the same panicky feeling I get when I see a spider and theres no one else around to move it.
The rest of the transaction is a blur. I scan but I'm not there. I'm in my safe place, waiting for her to leave so I can grab my hand sanitizer and plan my next move. I don't know whether I should go and wash the pen, whether I should throw it in the bin or whether I should leave it where it is and for the first time in my life hope someone comes along and gives it a good home.
As I looked at the pen, covered in spit, I felt sad. I had no love for it anymore.
I'm not completely heartless. I couldn't just leave it there, abandoned and alone. I did eventually take the pen, wash it thoroughly with soap and put it in my locker. But that's where it's been ever since.
Will I ever use it again? I don't know.
I'm sure the customer who caused all this heartache has no idea what she's done, it wasn't done intentionally so I'm prepared to forgive although I'm not sure I'll ever forget.
Why am I telling you this? I'm telling you because I wan't to raise awareness and let people to know that it is NOT OK to put someone elses pen in your mouth. Next time you are tempted to pop a pen that doesnt belong to you into your mouth - stop and think. Do you really want to force this pen into early retirement? Do you want this pen to live the rest of its life in a dark locker or worse, in the bin?
If I can save just one pen from suffering the same fate as my poor promotional pen then it won't have all been for nothing.