He gazed up at the sky, captivated by the beautiful shade of red that was visible between the clouds. It was likely that there was some poncy name to describe it, like rose or blush, but there was no way that Spencer would’ve known what it was. He imagined spitfires silhouetted against it, flipping, turning, darting as they tried to get the enemy in their sights. In his mind, he could almost hear gun fire and smell the smoke as another BMW 801 engine was shredded by his great grandad’s Hispano cannons. Without even being aware, Spencer had started humming the theme music to The Dambusters and was stroking his fledgling, ginger moustache.
‘Spencer!’ He was brought out of his daydream by Mr Braun, the assistant manager. ‘What are you doing? The shop, it is heaving and there are very few trolleys left for customers who are arriving.’
‘Sorry, Mr Braun,’ Spencer mumbled. ‘I was just thinking about how we could make efficiency savings,’ he added, hopefully.
‘You are not employed to find ways of saving the company money,’ Mr Braun told him. ‘Please, remind me what your job title is.’
Spencer felt himself going red, probably not a dissimilar tone to the sky that he’d been using as the backdrop to his Battle of Britain fantasy. He hated how this happened when he was nervous or embarrassed, but knew it wasn’t uncommon in those with pale skin and red hair. ‘Junior shop assistant,’ Spencer whispered, unable to meet Mr Braun’s piercing gaze.
‘That is correct,’ Mr Braun agreed; although his English was excellent, he still retained a slight German accent. For just a fraction of a second, Spencer pictured him trapped and screaming in the cockpit of a Luftwaffe as it plunged to the ground and exploded in a fireball. ‘And what task have you been asked to attend to this evening?’
‘To collect trolleys from the carpark and return them to the front of the store,’ Spencer told him. ‘It’s just that…...’
‘Just what?’ Mr Braun demanded.
‘It’s just that I have so much more to offer’ Spencer explained, even managing to make eye contact.
‘Yes, yes,’ Mr Braun replied, impatiently. ‘I am well aware of your, supposedly, highly-developed organisational skills and your belief that you can lead at a strategic level. Rarely a day goes past without you informing me or one of my colleagues of this.’ He paused and tried to take a more reconciliatory tone. ‘How long have you been working for us here at the Chadley branch?’
‘Just over two years,’ Spencer confirmed. ‘Straight from school.’
‘And are you really sure that this is the right career path for you?’ the assistant manager asked him gently. ‘You have such enthusiasm for the Army Reserves. Have you not thought about applying to Her Majesty’s Armed Forces full time?’
Spencer felt his face going a deeper red and a lump appear at the back of his throat. ‘I have applied to join full-time,’ he said tetchily. ‘Unfortunately, it’s not possible due to my asthma.’
‘That is very sad,’ Mr Braun said sympathetically. ‘I guess you better be more realistic with your dreams.’ He placed a supportive hand on Spencer’s shoulder. ‘Work hard here and stop spending so much time off in that little world of your own and you may yet do well. Now, schnell, schnell!’ With those words of encouragement, Mr Braun headed back into the store.
Spencer started pushing the row of trolleys that he’d strapped together and felt that familiar tightening in his chest; it often happened when he felt emotional. Looking around to make sure that no one was watching, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his Ventolin inhaler and took two quick puffs. Within a minute his breathing had returned to normal. It was hopeless; if he couldn’t round up trolleys when he felt stressed, what hope was there of him ever leading a platoon of his own men into an operation in Helmond Province?
Something had to give; he’d had enough of being told what to do by others who didn’t have his vision. He knew that he was born for greatness, even if no one else had yet to see it. Even though Spencer considered it below him, he put his back into the work and by the time he’d finished his shift, every trolley was safely back in store ready for opening in the morning. Fortunately perhaps, he was completely unaware of the futility of his work; there would be no need for trolleys in the morning. Life, as it was known, to Spencer, Mr Braun, the customers, the wider population of Chadley and beyond, was about to end.