Scratchy Card Loop

I first spotted her standing outside the local supermarket. She was about 60, thin and worn, head bent over a scratchy card, bony fingers rubbing at its surface, intent on getting that genie out of its bottle.

I noticed her for a second time while I was inside the supermarket. She was lined up with other customers at the scratchy card counter. It was a long queue, and all the side to side shuffling told me she was bored with the waiting.

Then, when I’d finished my shopping, I saw her for a third time. She was standing in the exact same spot where I’d first laid eyes on her, and she was working hard on another card. I couldn’t decide whether it was hope or despair that was driving her on. Maybe a bit of both. Then I began to wonder what would happen if those winning numbers suddenly appeared. Perhaps a shriek of excitement? Maybe just a wry smile? With any luck those knotty shoulders could finally take a break.

But none of that happened.  I watched as she thrust another worthless card into a nearby bin, and trudged back into the supermarket. Then it dawned on me –she was trapped in a scratchy card loop, one of those perilous loops that are dotted all over the world, designed with hope in charge of marketing, and despair making sure the loops are built to last.