At the Supermarket

by Howard Minikes
(Freeville, NY)

Waiting for change always takes longer than you would expect. So I counted again. Not my change; my items. There they sat in my grocery basket: a bunch of bananas, a package of pork chops, a box of cereal, a box of garbage bags, two bags of chips and a 20 oz. bottle of soda.


There were two people in front of me in the checkout line. First was a guy who looked to be about my age, a little taller than me, about five foot, nine inches, and weighing about 200 pounds. He wore a denim jacket and blue jeans. He was buying a case of beer, a package of napkins, and a foot-long sub from the deli counter. Whatever else he may have been, the napkins suggested that he either liked to keep things neat, or he had a girlfriend who did.

Behind the guy in denim was a short thin woman, about five foot three, maybe 95 pounds. Her basket was filled with fruit and vegetables. I wondered what she was doing in a supermarket instead of a farmer's market.

But then I watched the checkout clerk ring up the denim guy's purchases. Her eyes moved from item to register and back again. The scanner beeped as she robotically moved each item across it. From the sluggish way the checkout clerk was working, I guessed that she was near the end of a long shift.

Her name tag read, "Kathryn," and Kathryn had red hair in a pony-tail, was thin and about my height. She wore a supermarket uniform that was as drab as her mood.

The denim guy paid for his purchases in cash and Kathryn made change from the register. She smiled as she handed the denim guy his change and receipt, but one look in her dull, staring eyes told me how hard it was for her to smile.

The denim guy left the supermarket and Kathryn sighed as she looked at the small woman's purchases. Fruit and vegetables. That meant Kathryn would have to weigh each item rather than merely scanning them.

Kathryn's arms moved somewhere between the pace of a snail and a tortoise as she weighed each item in the small woman's basket. When the small woman took out a food stamps card to pay for her apples, bananas, cabbage and onions, Kathryn rolled her eyes. The small woman didn't notice. She just slid the card through and waited for her receipt. Now I knew why she was in the
supermarket. The fruit stand probably didn't accept food stamps.

"So Kathryn," I said, as she started to ring up my items, "glad to get out of here soon?"

"Oh yeah," Kathryn said, "but how did you know that it was near the end of my shift?"

"Just the way you rolled your eyes when that woman brought out her food stamps card."

"Heh. You caught that, huh?"

"Yeah." I smiled as I paid and took my bags out of the store. Kathryn smiled back, and this time, I could tell it was a real smile.

As I left, I felt I had done my good deed for the day. Sure, making a tired employee smile is a small thing, but if enough of us do small good things, they eventually add up, and make the world a better place.

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