As I stood behind her at the cash register I realized that this must be a transaction gone bad. I thought perhaps at first we were waiting for a cashier to come clear an error or a locked-up register. But as things played out I watched as the lady and the now two cashiers discussed what items she wanted to put back.
At first the lady removed three things from her cart. A bonus buy on packaged chicken, a small thing of juice and a bag of tomatoes. The (scowl-faced woman) cashier re-rang everything and swiped a card that the lady had and asked her to type in her PIN number again. The other cashier (scowl-faced man) told the lady she still didn't have enough money and that she was going to have to put something else back.
For ease of the tale, let's call the clerks Sunshine and Joy Boy.
Standing there, I could not help but feel for this woman who had already removed her dinner from her cart and was now in the process of returning a box of diapers she was obviously in need of. Her bonus buy on chicken was returned to her cart while the small six-pack of juice stayed out. In the meantime, the bag of tomatoes had already been sent back to the produce section and the diapers remained at the register waiting to be returned to the infant section. Again the columns were totaled and the card was swiped. Joy Boy and Sunshine still told the Lady she didn't have enough.
Realizing that this was going to happen one more time, I asked Joy Boy how much the diapers were. I'd already decided this woman was going to have dinner tonight and she was definitely going to have diapers. I quietly turned to her and asked her if that was all right. She nodded and whispered thank you and smiled just slightly. I wished I had caught the bag of tomatoes and the six pack of juice before they were sent back.
As I went to pay for the Valentine's Day cards I held in my hand and the box of diapers (I would thankfully never have to use), I noticed the sign above my head said Twenty Items or Less. Life shouldn't be that hard, I thought to myself.
My wife asked me what had taken me so long and I told her about the Lady and the food and the diapers and the scowl-faced cashiers and she took in a breath and sighed.
"We're going to be seeing a lot more of this," she said, "It's everywhere."
Today when I went to work I found out a co-worker had been laid off -- one of my best friends -- along with ten others.
I was reminded of this woman.And I could hear my wife saying, "It's everywhere."
And I was thinking about the thousands of others who were probably sent home today.