I stood behind her in the check out line. Peering. There was something about her. Vaguely familiar. Her jacket open with another underneath. To keep her warm? Why did she not just zip up the outer one? Her scent a mix of vanilla and lavender. She was pretty in a sweet way. The wife was nattering in my ear. I paid her half attention wondering about the young woman in front of us. Ran a critical eye over her purchases. Eggs. Pepsi. Pizza. Hmmmmmmmmm…….
I eyed the groceries I had piled on the belt. ‘Hey the first few items are the must haves…..after that we will see’……Nervously I watched the total add up. I had received an unexpected boon today which allowed me to shop for some items to tide us over until payday. Princess looked at me eyebrows furrowed in question. ‘Kay the pizzas. Cream.’ She looks over at me and pointedly at the pepsi I am buying. It came down to personal items (toothpaste/shampoo/vitamins etc) or extras for the kids lunches. Princess flippantly looks over items and in a throw away voice ‘healthy or beauty?’ I cringed having to say this. Furtively I glanced at the customer behind me. Hoping he would not recognize me. ‘Bars. Buy one get one at least have snack for first part of week.’
I zoned in suddenly. Caught the end of the conversation. That voice. Took a moment to cycle through and realized it was our regular cashier. Always cheerful. Smile on her lips. Asked after the family. Teased and laughed with me.Not someone I would have thought would have to make such a decision. I guess I had never really thought about what it must be like for her outside of the service she provided for me. For my wife. My family. Her cheeks reddened as she peeped from beneath shawl of hair. Realized she was checking to see if I had recognized her. Turned away and pretended that I was listening to the wife.
Oh thank goodness he did not recognize me. Benefit of having such long hair. When it is down most do not see me. Princess handed me the bars and I bagged them. Handed her my rewards card hoping there was something I could redeem. Add at least one of the extras but not yet. Shrugged and paid. Ducked my head so that my hair fell forward covering my face. Beyond Princess no one realized I had been there. I calculated what I had spent and yeah so the pepsi is not a must have but a little something as a treat. Not only for me.
I watched as she walked away. Saw her head swiveling subtly back and forth eyes gauging cataloging the people around her. She did not acknowledge anyone with raised voice or hand. She moved quickly neatly between the people blocking her exit. Realizing as she zipped through none saw her a ghost within their midst.
Thank god I got out without anyone seeing me. Hard to explain how money is something you need to count to the penny. Proud asking for no help because you can do it. And it is no one’s business learn to live in your means tighten your belt voice roaring in your head bow beneath the onslaught. Load the groceries into the back of the car pushing the cart back to the pick up area brace self against the sudden gust of rain washing over me baptismal flood slid behind the wheel. Windows fogged as I steam.
I watched standing at the cart corral as she puts her car into drive pulling into traffic. What I was seeing did not reconcile with the picture I had of her. Granted I only thought of her for the maybe 10 minutes a week I saw her. Never beyond but this is not what I had imagined. Kinda like a cartoon that does not end just because the scene has. Suddenly confronted with the bias of my thoughts. Middle class as they were. Laughing because I had been so sure she was middle class too.
I saw him standing watching as I pulled from my parking space. Rain dousing him until he became a blob in the rear view mirror. He knew now. How was I ever to meet his eyes? Poverty is not a sin…..yet we still feel as though it is.
Jan. 3 2020
Picture via Pinterest