Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Scene at the drugstore: happiness, sadness, and more happiness

He stood in the too-bright drugstore candy aisle, head down, thumbs in his beltloops. It looked as though he was deciding between the caramels and the toffee bites, but in truth, he was just staring in their general direction as he pondered what he was about to do.

Given the choice, he would prefer to not rob the young black girl behind the counter, who was picking at her fingernails between ringing up sales. He now knew she had a nervous habit of chatting a little too much with her customers, provoking mild to extreme discomfort. "I'm fine, thank you," she'd say in a mousy voice that got stronger as she went on. "Only 30 more minutes here, and boy am I glad since I'm so hungry--didn't have time to eat lunch, and I walked here really fast, but today's been so, so long! I'm tired--boy, I can't wait to get home, but I think I say that every night!" She ends with a laugh each time, never seeming to notice the foot shifting or sideways glances of uncomfortable people as they stood pinned at the counter, listening to her earnest, sad chatter.

Maybe they're sad they can't open up like her, in such a genuine manner--that ship sailed, I can almost hear several of them think, unconsciously comparing themselves to her. Or they're in a hurry but not quite rude enough to interrupt her. They could be dealing with a tragedy, with such deep sorrow lying so close the surface that any bit of happiness or authentic joy, however tinged with sadness, could crack the fragile surface, and no one wants to boil over at the Walgreens cash register.

Or he could be paralyzed with fear, about to engage in an act of desperation so foreign and terrible he must muster up hate and ugliness to do it. "Oh boy, do I feel like taking home a candy bar, or maybe just popcorn? I'm so hungry I can't even tell. How are you tonight, sir? Am I laughing too loudly? I do that sometimes...ha ha ha! Did you have a good day?"

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