Working at a grocery store is strange. After years of prospect research, writing and submitting grants, one finds himself sweeping floors again, shelving cans of soup with a smile. And one day you're at the register dragging a bag of potato chips over the scanner then another, and another, another. You look up to see the woman standing there staring right at you. She is frozen, and now so are you. Her face is asking you something, but you are an idiot. Sure, you can ask, but your years of respectable work in the nonprofit environment won't help.
"I just found out my son was killed in Afghanistan."
Two Fujis @ .39
One box Chocolate chip granola bars @ $2.39
You should break character. You really should. Now. The world simply stops, and it is just you, a stranger, and a reality that has ceased to be.
"I'm...sorry. I don't....I..."
"Can you help me with this?" she interrupts, extending a shaking hand to give me a credit card. The world is offline, and transactions like this are grayed out. I helped. I rang up her meaningless basket of food, bagged them, and gave her a receipt. Going through the motions. That's what we both needed. I played along.
"I send you peace." as all I could muster before she pushed her goods out the door and disappeared into the left side of the storefront window. As she did, a song played in my head, but I couldn't have told you the name.
When I turned back to my register, there was already another customer waiting, hands on hips, ready to get on with her day. I held back the thing pumping in my throat and behind my eyes, but the seconds don't stop ticking. Through a watery gaze, I knew all I could do was play along.
"Paper or plastic for you today, ma'am?"
Days later I heard this and realized it was the song I couldn't place. Enclosed is the CD. I hope you like it.
I send you peace, too.