Why can’t they ever have enough clerks working this time of day? Surely they realize that people will soon be coming home from work and need to get supper on the table. I had about twenty minutes before the kids would be getting off the bus, and it was starting to rain a little. I didn’t want to hear the complaints if they got wet while walking the half block home.
As I became more and more annoyed at the growing lines, I noticed that one clerk was readying a checkout line to open. As I steered my rig toward it, I noticed an old man nearby in an electric cart fumbling with his hands in front of him.
“Excuse me sir, are you in line?”
“No, I’m not.” He looked up at me with a smile as he continued to struggle with whatever he was holding. Most of his teeth were missing. “Could I ask you for help with my wallet here? I need to get my grocery card out.”
His dry, gnarled hands were clumsy; he couldn’t grasp the discount card that most stores these days require their regular customers to have in order to drive loyalty. Like me, he had a wallet crammed full of them.
I leaned close to the man as I easily slid the card out of his wallet. He smelled like a person who doesn’t bathe regularly. I noticed that he was very old, maybe even as old as my grandparents, who are in their nineties. Why is he alone? Where is his family? Doesn’t he have a companion to help him? How is he getting home?
Thank you, he said. He had one item in the basket of his cart. I had thirty. I offered to let him go ahead of me. He refused. I have to get my money out next, he said with a slow smile. At least let me put it on the conveyor for you, I replied.
As the clerk finished up my order, I motioned for her to add his item to my bags. Before he could protest, the cashier and I had finished the transaction and his bag was in the basket of his cart.
Oh, you didn’t have to do that, he said.
I know, I said. It’s my treat. Although I think I stole your loyalty points, I joked.
Oh, no, he smiled. I’ve been looking forward to this all week. I had just bought him a bag of chocolate candy. You made my day, he said.
As I waved goodbye, a little embarrassed as if I had gone too far, I thought: actually, it’s you who made mine.