From the darkness, he pounced into the supermarket, with its disgusting fluorescent lights and too many people in his way. His stomach growled at all the food. It was too long a walk to the pizza department. They try to sway you with all the healthy foods first, but judging by the flip-flop crushers polluting the aisles, that experiment hadn’t worked out for America. Not that he was a Greek statue, but at least he wasn’t a blob.
Queueing is a deeply miserable experience when you’re holding just a four cheese pizza at 7:30 PM on a Thursday evening. Some supermarkets have lanes for people with only a few items. Not this one. They prefer to squeeze dozens of people through two lanes while keeping the other three closed. Infuriating, but not exactly unexpected. The Manager must be an acne-riddled boy whose first promotion meant running the whole thing because there wasn’t anyone else around who could spell the word efficiency.
In front of him, a child dangled on his mother’s hand. He was eying the Candy Bars. How colorful they were. Black with red letters, this one, brown with yellow letters, the other one. How tasty they were, too. Most, at least. Not the coconut one. But the caramel ones was delicious, and he pocketed a Caramella while keeping his eyes firmly on his mom. She hadn’t seen. In a better world, there would’ve been a lane for kids that was invisible to bigger people, where they could put all their candy bars and crunchy cereals that they otherwise couldn’t get. All of it would be for free too, because the cashier would be a kid just like him, and he would understand.
But the world isn’t like that, so he had to do it this way. It wasn’t really stealing, like his dad had once told him. If he had the money, he would pay for it. But he didn’t even have a single dollar. The Caramella was heavy in his pocket and his mouth started watering. Maybe tonight in his bedroom or tomorrow on the bus to school.
The kid’s mother placed both her heavy shopping bags on the floor. She fished out her smartphone from her purse and sent a quick message to her husband, asking if he was okay. Immediately, he replied, saying that he felt better. His appetite was returning. Her heart fluttered for a moment. It always did when he said something like this. Maybe this time, she thought, it would be different. Maybe he was genuinely hungry. Maybe the virus had dissipated. Maybe the medicine was working. Everything for a post-disease life like their pre-diagnosis one.
But she’d long realized that the flutters of her heart hurt when reality chops its wings off. Stick to the present, she told herself. Take it day by day. Tonight, we’re eating spaghetti Bolognese. Quick and easy, because it was already late and the young rascal hanging on her hand was restless and hungry. If only the cashier would hurry up a bit.
There were now five people in the queue and all of them were getting antsy. Everyone wants to go home, the cashier thought, and so do I. She’d jumped in for a sick colleague and was on her fourteenth hour of work. This was the busiest hour of the day, but time ticks faster when you can’t pay attention to it. In about an hour, it’d be quiet again. After that, one more hour, another $7.50 in her pocket, and she’d race out.
She told the old man not to worry when he apologized for all the plastic bags he’d put his vegetables in. He’d furled the bags in such a way the barcodes were difficult to scan. It’s important to eat healthy, she said. His wrinkled face turned into a smile. There’s money in a smile, her manager would say. A stupid thing to say as the manager of a regional supermarket. He wasn’t some high-flying salesman flying around the world closing million-dollar deals. He could keep his morally bankrupt philosophies to himself, she thought as she scanned the old man’s final item, a bag of Curtland apples that gleamed like the color of the lipstick she’d soon have enough money for.
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