It’s obviously Friday afternoon. A quick glance into the shopping carts that snake both ahead of her and behind her, like some sort of long grocery train, confirms the fact. Cartons and six packs of beer, bags of chips, and plastic wrapped packages of hamburger and steak. She won’t make this mistake again-shopping at the start of the weekend-and for a fleeting moment she is tempted to break from the line, put back the few items in her small basket, and leave. But she is hungry, she is already homesick, and she still has not finished unpacking-and the comfort and nourishment that a bowl of homemade soup promises is too compelling. And so she waits.
The train of carts inches forward until she is near enough the check stand to place her humble basket on the conveyor belt, watching it now inch forward, waiting for its turn. With unpracticed hands, the clerk seizes the basket and begins to remove the soup ingredients one by one. A small onion, and a few stalks of celery, one pound of bacon, and a package of split peas. It is the split peas that are to blame. Not quite clearing the edge of the basket, a several inch gash opens up on the side of the package, releasing a torrent of green that cascades onto the conveyor belt and floor. The clerk gasps, and there is an audible groan from the line of shoppers who are painfully aware that the beer in their carts is getting warmer by the minute.
Clumsily, the clerk is trying to gather the peas and put them back into the wounded package. Clearly he is wishing to put this incident behind him and finish up a shift that seems to have no end in sight. She, all the while, stares open mouthed as the scenario unfolds, unable to say a word. Until, unbelievably, the clerk places the partially filled bag of sullied split peas into the waiting brown paper sack.
She finds her voice and stammers-
Wait a minute!
All eyes are on her. She can feel them. Angry eyes. Impatient eyes. Eyes that like the sight of ice cold beer. Her face is hot, but she asks anyway.
I don’t want to be a bother, but may I please have a new bag?
The poor novice clerk. His face assumes an expression of sheer panic, as though he is facing an impending mutiny.
Split peas…anyone know what aisle the split peas are on?
He addresses everyone, and no one in particular. She can offer him no assistance, either. The layout of the store is already a blur.
As though taking part in a frenzied scavenger hunt, a dozen or so pairs of feet abandon their carts and scatter in every direction.
She is suddenly tired, and embarrassed beyond words, but she can’t resist thinking how amusing it would be if only she had the nerve.
Would somebody grab me some cold beer too!