It was 3:50 p.m. on a Sunday, and I had just finished texting my husband, with my shopping cart pulled up next to a rack of discounted baked goods at the south side Safeway. I asked him if there was anything else he needed me to pick up before I made my way to the tills.
“nopex”, he replied. He must have been holding our three-and-a-half-month-old daughter as he typed. She had been quite squirmy lately, what with her teeth possibly trying to make an appearance and all. My husband had turned off the auto correct feature on his phone long ago, so the typo didn’t really faze me.
I stashed my phone back into the front zipper pocket of my purse and started to push my cart towards the tills. I was met with some resistance, so I checked to see what the shopping cart may have been caught on. The rear left wheel had caught the bottom shelf of the discount pastry rack, adding another scuff to the collection that had already accumulated.
‘At least I’m not the only one’, I thought to myself. I unhinged the cart from the clutches of the rack, and slowly made my way to the tills.
Late Sunday afternoons at the grocery store are always killer. You either have churchgoers, still dressed in their Sunday best, picking up a few odds and ends, clogging up the self check-out line, or the procrastinators who waited until the last minute to pick up their week’s worth of groceries. Thankfully, I had more than what I would normally scan when using the self check-out, so I weaved past the make-shift line that always formed for the terminals, and surveyed the lines for the regular tills.
Choosing the checkout line that will whisk you out of the store the fastest is tough. I could have gone down to the far end line near the produce section where everyone seems to believe it’s an express lane, when really it’s not. (The express lane is actually next to the self checkout lanes, but it is rarely open on Sundays.) Or I could have gone to the line that had a fairly new cashier working the lane. It was a socially awkward fellow by the name of Alex, or something like that. I remembered him because he rang my groceries through the previous week, tripping over his end-of-transaction script as he handed me my receipt. I wasn’t interested in a repeat performance, so I pushed past his line.
I finally decided on a line that had a mother with her two young boys at the end of it. She was looking a bit frazzled as she started placing her items on to the conveyer belt. One of her boys sat in the child’s seat of the shopping cart, his little legs swinging back and forth as they dangled. He was playing with a snowboarder figurine, dressed in dark green like large, plastic army man, but it stood aboard a neon orange snowboard. The boy ran the figurine along the handlebar of the shopping cart, maneuvering it back and forth as if it were a trick railing.
The boy’s brother, who looked to be about four years old, stood behind his mother as she unloaded the cart’s groceries. He was all over the place as he walked in front of his mother in line, next to her, and behind her again, until she told him to stop and wait for her to finish. He looked down at the floor, dejected. But it didn’t last long as he saw his brother slide the snowboarder figurine back and forth across the handlebar, over and over again. The older brother put his hands up on the handlebar, making more obstacles for his brother to run over, until one pass when the older brother swatted at the figurine, forcing the figurine to the floor. The older brother bent down in front of the front left end of my shopping cart to look for the figurine, but I found that it had landed near the rear right wheel of my shopping cart. I bent down, picked up the figurine, and gave it to the older brother.
“Here you go”, I said to the older brother. He just looked up at me, then quickly turned to his little brother and handed him the toy. It was at this moment that the little boy finally made eye contact with me. He had been so enthralled with his toy that he didn’t notice me the entire time I had been standing behind him with my cart (not that I expected him to). He was maybe two years old. Toys are important at that age, y’see.
“Thanks!” I heard their mother hastily reply, then went back to unloading the groceries. When she was done, she came to the rear of her cart and pushed it on through. Between paying attention to the cashier, her rambunctious older son, and her younger son still sitting in the cart, I could tell her day had been a rough one. Her younger son dropped his figurine a second time, and his brother went to pick it up, but played keep away with it until his brother squealed and his mother scolded him, telling him to give the toy back. Dejected once again, the boy did as he was told, and rounded to the front of their shopping cart, shoved his hands in his pockets, and waited for his mother to complete her transaction.
Having payed for her groceries and obtaining her receipt, she guided her cart off to the north-east entrance, disappearing from my cognizance.
“Sounds like they’ve had a long day” the cashier chimed in, interrupting my thoughts.
“Hmm?” I faltered, then quickly realized what she said. In order to keep up with the social conventions of small talk, I replied “Oh, yeah. Hopefully they’re heading home”.
I was never that great at small talk.