I was already frustrated before I made it to the front of the line and realized there was no bag boy. The store was crowded and it had taken longer than I anticipated. My family was waiting for me in the car, impatiently, I was sure. So I was relieved to hear the kind hello as I searched for my discount card.
When I looked up, she had already gotten to work sorting through the groceries that were working their way down the conveyor belt, but she made a point to glance up and nod politely to me. Her mouth spread to a smile, taking the attention away from the deep wrinkles around it.
The shiny tag on her smock read “My name is Margaret.”
She worked steadily, awkwardly mixing cold items with dry goods and fresh fruits with cans, filling the bags a bit too full, and stacking them haphazardly in the shopping cart.
Twice she turned away to blow her runny nose, as discreetly as is possible in a busy store. “I think I’m allergic,” she said, making a sweeping motion toward the potted lilies on display at the end of all the check-out lanes. “It quits as soon as I leave here. I take a pill, but it doesn’t help,” she added.
I nodded my understanding. “I’ve been having some trouble with allergies too.”
I felt like I should help her, but something about her high cheekbones and straight posture told me that would be a mistake.
I couldn’t help but wonder, was this a job she wanted, or was she here because she had to be? Maybe she’d been widowed, and needed to get away from her empty house. Maybe she just wanted to have someplace to go and a schedule to keep. Maybe hard times had caught up with her and she didn’t have a choice.
Was there someone at home waiting for her to get off work? Did she have children nearby? Grandchildren? She was old enough to be my grandmother. Why was Margaret working night shift at a supermarket on Good Friday?
She placed the last bag, full of cans, into the cart on top of the others. “You didn’t have any bread, right? No, no you didn’t. Whew! It would’ve been squished if you did.” She smiled again. “You have a nice day.”
“I hope your allergies clear up,” I said.
She gave me a quick thank-you nod, and turned toward the next customer’s groceries, which were already coming her way.
I pushed my cart to the car, and fielded the expected complaints from my husband and kids for taking too long, but I paid them little mind. We were going to go home together and color eggs, and hide eggs, and have a big family dinner on Easter Sunday. I was looking forward to it.
I’ve thought about Margaret several times and wondered if she was looking forward to something like that, too. I sure hope she was.
This week I’m linking up with the great crowd over at Yeah Write!