I Learned About Compassion Through Retail and Hand Sanitizer
“Hey, how’s it going?” I asked the elder woman as she settled her soon-to-be purchase on the counter. She stared at me, stared back at her phone, & gave me no response. Not even a hello?
“Did you find everything okay today?”
She stared at me. Again. This time with her eyebrows raised. No response. Again. Okay, no conversation needed. That’s fine with me. Not like I actually wanted to know how she was & if she actually found everything okay today anyway.
As I was folding her clothes to get ready to put in the shopping bag, a girl about my age cut the line.
“Excuse me are you the only one that works here?”
Not the first time I’ve gotten that before. “Oh, um, no.” I was trying to bag up the woman’s clothes while talking to this girl. “I can help you. What’s up?”
“Can I get this in a large? And where are your fitting rooms?”
“I can hand you over to someone who will gladly get you that in a large quicker than I can right now. And the fitting rooms are—”
“Hey. How about you finish ringing me up before you help her?” The woman finally said something.
“I was just asking her a question.” The girl snapped back.
Fuck. How do I respond to all of that? Um. “Ma’am, I’m just about fini—”
“Well, good. Cause I’m in a hurry.”
I looked at the woman & this time, the woman wouldn’t even look at me. It’s like I wasn’t even present to her because her presence was obviously the only thing she assumed that mattered.
The girl was still waiting for her large blazer & for me to tell her where the fitting room was. But I had to finish ringing this woman up & get her away from me asap. “Your total is—”
“Just put it on my card already. Please.” The woman tossed her card across the counter.
“Ma’am, if you could please swipe your card on the machine right there.” Fuck. I knew I was done for at this point.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” She swiped it, gave her signature, & before I could even print out her receipt, she snatched her shopping bag which I was about to hand over to her, & stormed off.
I was completely startled & the whole line was looking at me. The girl was still there, at the front of the line that she didn’t even fall in line for, waiting.
“I’m terribly sorry about that. Thank you for being patient. I’m having someone get you the blazer right now & the fitting room is up the stairs & to the le—”
“You know what, it’s okay. Thanks anyway.” I didn’t know how whether or not to take that as sarcasm but as startled as I was, I did.
“Man, you poor thing.” The lady who was next in line & witnessed the whole thing said as she walked up to my register.
“It’s okay. It happens.” And as I said that, I uncontrollably choked up & swallowed my tears. Because I remembered the first time I said that with the lady who yelled at me to giftwrap her purchase when we don’t even carry gift wrap, the second time my manager yelled at me for being on the phone with an already-angry customer for too long while I was still on the phone with that customer, the 100th time I said that with the twelve year old who brought back fifteen different returns from ten different receipts & ripped all the tags off & forgot mommy & daddy’s credit card but insisted I give the money back to her in cash, & the 34208348th time I said that with the obnoxious prick who thought it would be funny if he loudly asked about my opinion towards how the leather in our products causes cancer.
“I think it’s time to go on your thirty,” my manager said after I finished that transaction.
“I think so too.” I ran upstairs, put on my sunglasses before any tears could creep out, rubbed on five pumps of hand sanitizer lotion like I always do after handling flithy people & their filthy money, took my Subway sandwich out of my locker, & walked outside for some fresh air.
I sat on a bench & tried eating my sandwich but I just couldn’t. I just wanted to punch a whole in a wall. When did I all of a sudden decide that it was okay to get comfortable in an uncomfortable environment such as an hourly, underpaid job with rude & complicated people when all I want to do is write for Vogue. Before I could even process my thoughts of this career-limbo I realized I am now facing, I had five minutes left on my lunch. I got up to throw away my semi-half-eaten sandwich & saw a homeless lady sitting on the bench across from me, just wrapped in a dirty blanket & watching everyone walk by.
I stepped away from the trash can & started walking towards her. “Excuse me.”
She looked up at me. “Hello.”
“Would you like the rest of my sandwich?” I held it in front of her. “I just got it a couple of hours ago so it’s still good.”
She started laughing. “I would.” She took off the Subway wrapper. “I really would.” And then I saw tears of joy streaming down her face as she continued laughing. She stopped, looked at me, & grabbed my hand. “God bless you. God bless you.”
I gripped her hand tighter, “No, God bless you. You take care.” I smiled & walked back to work.
As I clocked back in to work, I realized I didn’t even rub my five pumps of hand sanitizer after holding that homeless lady’s hand. And I thought to myself that although that homeless lady may not have had the cleanest hands, she had the purest heart. And while there are people like me, wondering how I’m ever going to write for Vogue one day, there are people like her, wondering when, where, & how she’s going to get her next meal, who still manage to think that people like me deserve God’s blessing.
So now, every time I rub my five pumps of hand sanitizer after dealing with a stingy customer, I think of that homeless lady & remember that there are still nice people out there in the world.