So far Ben has managed to keep his face hidden and pick out the groceries he’s after as he trudges up and down the aisles. His cap is still pulled low over his head while his mirrored sunglasses cover the top half of his face. His hood is down now and his hands are covered in gloves, but he’s starting to feel like he’s being watched.
You’re just being paranoid, he tells himself as he pushes the trolley down the freezer aisle. There aren’t many people in the grocery store and this aisle in particular is a straight shot without a single obstacle in his way.
But having trundled down a little over half of its length, Ben can no longer resist the urge to ignore the feeling of being watched. So he turns and while still making sure to keep the peak of his cap low enough to help shroud his face he glances over his shoulder. At the far end of the aisle there are a couple, but they’re paying no attention to him as they chat idly and pick up some washing powder from the shelf. Ben breathes a sigh of relief and turns his head to face forward again. As soon as he does he catches sight of a shifty looking man with a camera hanging around his neck.
Ben freezes, his body stiffening, but somehow he manages to keep walking. Have to play it cool, scrolls through his mind as he edges further and further along the aisle toward the man with the camera around his neck. He could be a tourist, he says trying to reason with himself but then the man who is also wearing mirrored sunglasses goes for the camera around his neck. Ben tries to suggest to himself that he could be doing it for a number of reasons. Ben can’t fathom what any of those reasons could be, but it soon becomes apparent that his initial conclusion had been correct as the shifty looking man exclaims, “Ben Wu! Ben Wu! He’s here! This way!”
Ben stops dead in his tracks. He feels paralysed and watches as nearly a dozen paparazzi all with cameras appear and begin to hurry toward him. Ben’s eyes go wide. He actually thought he might be able to complete a grocery run without being hounded this time. Stupid, he says chastising himself before screaming mentally, run! It should have been a natural reaction. It usually is. But for whatever reason it wasn’t this time. However, the exclamation did the trick as Ben releases the handle of the metal wire framed trolley, turns, takes a step and then explodes into a run.
Ben tears past the couple who had claimed the washing powder and then begun to wander down the aisle he too is in. The look on their faces is that of disbelief. Perhaps they think the former astronaut is a thief or other such criminal. Though, they do nothing to interfere as Ben reaches the end of the aisle, and stops dead opposite the shelves stacked with washing powder.
He spins on the spot checking if anymore paparazzi are coming at him from either of his possible routes of escape. They aren’t and while that is a relief, Ben doesn’t get the chance to feel an ounce of it as he picks the shortest option that will take him back to the entrance and bursts back into a full run.
A number of the other customers milling about react in surprise as a blur of motion goes shooting past them. Thankfully, none of them intervene as Ben continues to hear the cries and calls of the paparazzi chasing him. Then he turns down the first aisle of the grocery store. He can see the entrance in sight. It’s clear and a weight begins to lift from his chest as his hatred for what his life has become tears at his mind.
Suddenly someone pushes a trolley out in front of his path. Ben doesn’t know or have the time to contemplate if it was calculated or not. Instead, he simply reacts by leaping sideways to avoid slamming head-on into the shiny metal frame of the deep and long basket on wheels. His evasion succeeds, just, and he slips narrowly past the end of the trolley. As he passes it he sees the horrified look of a pap whose mouth is hanging agape in dissatisfaction. Ben snarls, more to himself than the pap hound who had tried to bring his flight to an abrupt end. Then he turns his focus forward once more. He is so close; he can almost taste and feel the warm air outside. Unfortunately, he doesn’t reach it as a new horde of paparazzi appear from the left. Ben curses and skids to a halt maybe four metres from them. The pap waste no time. They’ve clocked him.
Ben snaps his head right to peer over his shoulder to find he is still being pursued. He’s been pinsired. They’ve come at him from two separate angles. Ben curses again this time visibly screwing up his face as the expletive silently leaves his lips instead of simply roaring in his head loudly.
Ben turns; he’s side on to the two separate groups that are quickly closing on him. His head snaps left and then right to survey the proximity between him and them. They’re getting close, fast. Ben doesn’t like this, not one bit. He can’t think of anything worse than being surrounded by these news hungry hounds. Why can’t they just leave me alone?! Ben thinks as he looks up at the false ceiling above him that is grey with cream speckles. The false ceiling is made of foam tiles, square in shape that sit within the suspended ceiling frame that helps to cover the pipes for the fire suppression, the bulk of the AC units and the cables from which the stores lights are suspended from. None of that can help Ben, who now desperately searches around him.
It feels like time has become truncated and that the paparazzi are approaching him in slow motion. Their teeth are bared and their eyes are hungry. It makes them look like rabid beasts baying for blood. They aren’t, but that is how it appears to Ben until he catches sight of a fire exit. He lets out a deep breath. He doesn’t like the choice, but there isn’t really one. So Ben launches himself forward toward the fire exit between two banks of fresh vegetables, cabbage and celery to be exact. Because of his sudden change of direction and departure the paparazzi groups collide into one another. They didn’t have the chance to backpedal and cut their momentum in time. Ben is unaware of the collision, but if he were aware of it he would have a broad smile on his face. Instead, he’s already slamming the fire exit release bar down. A loud metal on metal clang rings out as he shoves the heavy metal door which gives and bursts open and into a back alley.
Ben is already across the threshold and is now legging it up the alley as fast as his legs will take him. He doesn’t dare to glance over his shoulder encase he’s still being pursued. He isn’t but he is completely unaware of that and just wants to get as far away from the grocery store, that had nearly become a prison, as he can.