I went to Greggs to buy a vegan sausage roll. I waited in the queue, my £1 coin clutched in my fingers like I’d won it somewhere, or mined it from the asphalt outside.
The gold gleamed its promise as I edged towards the counter. “One vegan sausage roll,” I said, and the server’s eyes glistened. She nodded behind me. I turned to look. I was the only customer left in the shop.
I looked down at the counter. Only one vegan sausage roll remained. “That’ll be one pound, please” said the server. I put the coin on the counter. The server removed the sausage roll from its tray and placed it inside the paper bag.
But she didn’t pass it over. She grinned. “Want to see something cool?” I didn’t respond. I wanted my sausage roll, my vegan sausage roll. She picked up the pound coin and held it up, like she’d won it somehow, or found it inside a sticky bun.
“Come with me,” she said. She beckoned me around the counter and led me to the door at the back. There was a ‘Staff Only’ sign on the door and I could hear noises beyond: distant clanks and clangs of echoey metals. She was still holding the paper bag.
“Are you vegan?” she asked. I nodded. “Good.” She pushed open the door and put her arm around my shoulder as I walked through. I entered a wide corridor, pristine in the blues, whites and yellows of the logo.
A multitude of doors lined the corridor, each with a single name-plate and a tiny peephole. As she led me past, I noticed that none of the doors had handles. Instead, where the handles would be, there were slots for coins.
I glanced at some of the name-plates as I passed. Steak Bake, Beef and Vegetable Pasty, Three Cheese Pizza. The server led me all the way to the door at the end of the corridor. It seemed to shine at me, fresh and new. The name-plate read Vegan Sausage Roll.
“Here,” said the server as she handed me the pound coin. “Go ahead.” I knew what to do. Something in my blood, in my guts, told me what to do. I put the coin against the slot and my eye to the peephole. I let go of the coin.
It appeared in my vision, a streaking line of golden light as it rolled along a track of some kind. It whipped upwards into a loop-the-loop and when it came back down again it triggered something. A rush of streaking glows shot out from beneath the track and filled the room.
It was a palette of greens and browns, with flashes of yellow, and it showed huge towers of sausage rolls, vegan sausage rolls, and down in the vast depths, the gleaming machinery that bakes the pastry and wraps it around the fake meat.
I saw conveyor belts of the rolls, as if baked by Santa’s elves, huge cartfuls of the perfect things, and a host of tiny figures in aprons and hairnets, attending to the pastries like cherubim.
The coin rolled on and on, a straight as an arrow, until it was nothing more than the tiniest dot of light on a sunrise horizon. And there, it shot into the air, winked back at me, and landed upon the crest of a distant hill.
“Keep watching,” whispered the voice of the server, but there was nothing that could tear me away from the glory of this vision, this glimpse of Elysium. And from the coin, a sapling sprouted, reaching up like a new-born angel, or a goddess freed from the underworld.
It grew upon the instant, a dappled silhouette, a many-branched thing, a mighty oak full with impossible fruits, with vast sheaths of wheat at its base and birds fluttering about the canopy. A tear rolled down my cheek.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and was gently prised away. The server had tears in her eyes too. She handed me the paper bag. “Enjoy,” she said. My tear dropped from my jaw and splashed against the Gregg’s logo like libation.
She led me back down the corridor. The bag was warm in my hand and the grease leaked through to my hand. I thought of all the lives I was saving by choosing this product, all the trees I was planting, all the life I was giving back.
As I emerged back into the shop, another customer entered, their pound coin grasped and ready. I wiped the tears from my eyes and gave a little embarrassed chuckle. I nodded at him as I made my way to the exit.
I lingered, just for half a second, to hear what this man was ordering, but I didn’t catch it. It didn’t matter. I left the Greggs, crossed the road, and sat down on the bench. I took my vegan sausage roll out of the bag and admired it.
As I took my first bite, a few pigeons fluttered down to pick at the scraps. One had feathers missing from its neck, another hobbled on a gnarled stub of a foot. I tried to shoo them away. I chewed the vegan sausage roll. It was nice, if a little salty.