Under the flatly neutral white fluorescent lighting, I navigated through the sullen-faced crowds of busy parents and lonely singles that populated the Target department store half a mile away from my home. It was not difficult to ignore them. As I habitually did, I had earphones plugged into my head, and I had a hunter’s distant gaze in my eyes. Coming in from the slight chill of a December afternoon, my hands were covered in gloves made of lambswool, and my cashmere scarf shielded my chest and neck. The only skin that was exposed was on my face.
Less than an hour before, I had finished my last final exam. The previous night, I had decided that I would celebrate my freedom with a movie night and made a mental list of movie theater snacks that I needed. Popcorn that came in a bucket was high on the list. Hot dogs, tacquitos, SnoCaps, Twizzlers, and cookie dough bites were there as well.
And thus I hunted. With a teen doo-wop album crooning about love in my ears, I went about searching, finding, and collecting items on my list. The bodies that were in my way mattered little to me as I moved smoothly around the obstacles in my efficient hunt. I moved continuously from aisle to aisle, smoothly reaching out to snatch items into my basket without breaking my stride. When my basket was filled to the brim, I headed to the cash register and finally came to a stop, standing in a line.
A dumpy pasty Indian woman was working the register. When it was time for my goods to pass over the scanner, I barely looked at her. I was far away in my own mind, engrossed with the lyrics of an illusory innocent love that might’ve never existed. Then the woman spoke. She spoke softly and in an accent, and I could not hear her. I gathered though from the brevity of her comment that it was a perfunctory greeting, so I gave her a polite silent smile.
But then I realized that I was being rude. And so I took off my left earbud and let it hang on my shoulder. She swiped the mesquite beef jerky and then the bucket of popcorn. She looked surprised at the popcorn and asked me if it came that way. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant and I merely affirmed that it came that way off the shelf. I took off my other earbud and let it dangle in front of my chest. In short order, I took off my gloves and swiped my credit card.
Then, I turned to her squarely and openly, looked her in the eyes, and smiled at her earnestly. I said to her, “Thank you so much, have a happy holiday!”
And then, there was change. The gray boredom in her face was replaced with warmth and color. A touch of liveliness returned to her eyes, and she smiled back. She gathered the bags and said to me, “Oh, why thank you!” She told me that I had four bags and handed them to me, helping me hook them onto my hands as I wiggled my hands back into my gloves.
I left the store and walked home. I felt that it no longer seemed so chilly, so I took my gloves off and untied my scarf so that it laid openly on my shoulders. A few blocks later, I realized that I had forgotten my cookie dough bites. I considered going back to get them, but concluded that it was fine: I had come away with much more than I expected.