Creative Non-Fiction Short Stories. :) Travel, Oldsters, Love, and Compassion.
Our checkout woman has short, funky blonde hair and she’s been very unhappily scanning groceries for a ceaseless line of customers. I don’t blame her for being grumpy.
I’m with my dear friend Nora, a beautiful, compassionate Hungarian woman with whom I regularly melt into laughter. During my visit, I dispatch her on various translation tasks, such as my present request, “Can you ask her for a little plastic bag since the Túró is getting everywhere?” My favorite dairy product is leaving a spot on the conveyor belt.
The clerk scans and we hustle to sack up my items. I’m collecting envelopes of mulled wine spices and preparing not to understand the total when the clerk will say it aloud. I’ve had no luck in Hungarian, and most of my attempts make Nora say, “Awww,” with kindness before she breaks out in laughter. The last of my selections is equally pathetic–a single apple. While in line, I had pointed out that it was the only produce among my purchases.
I have done something wrong. This is clear. The checkout woman is glaring at my apple as she picks it up. It isn’t computing for me that I forgot to weigh and stick a label on my foray into fresh fruit, as is the custom in this particular market. Even as she sneers, I still don’t understand what I’ve done. I wonder if she sees a flaw in the apple, perhaps a bruise I might have missed.
In a flash, the clerk turns away and chucks my unbought apple, skeeball-style, up the conveyor belt of the empty checkout lane behind her. She turns back to face me and mutters my total.
It feels surreal as I watch my attempt at Golden Delicious rolling away, but I offer my payment as the next customers shuffle closer. I slowly move on, but not before the lady behind me in line gets my attention. She hands me an apple.
I’m holding the fruit, wondering if I’d had some sort of hallucination. Nora asks, “Did they give that to you?” I’m in a daze of hustled grocery stuffing and words I couldn’t understand, so we watch the apple-deliverer her companion paying for their properly-labeled produce. They also stood in the line to get what they needed, just a few things for such a long wait, and yet it seems they have given me an apple from their own purchases.
It takes me forever to realize what has happened. I’m so accustomed to traveling alone and watching everything around me, but in the store I had been wrapped up with my friend. With her I could be shy, overwhelmed, and not very observant. Even now, the kindness of the apple-deliverer makes me want to cry. She saw me through my distraction. She confirmed that it was their random apple of kindness, and I felt relieved that I could have Nora there to translate this gratitude. While I stood next to Nora nodding, grinning, and trying my mispronounced Hungarian “thank you,” I hope we managed to convey our delight at their watchful, thoughtful generosity.