by David McLaughlan
We all like to get the shortest queue in the supermarket. After all, nobody likes waiting.
The checkout I headed for had one old man beside it. He had a basket with two items in it. Great! I should be through in seconds.
I heard the checkout operator ask the old man how his wife was. I gathered she had been, or still was, in hospital.
“Ohhhh,” there was a tremor in his voice and a little shake to his shoulders. “It’s worse than they thought.” More, quiet conversation followed, then I heard him say, “And now I can’t find the talc she asked for. It’s her favourite kind.” Now there was no doubt — this smartly dressed, older gent was shaking with sobs.
I doubted if he had ever shopped much before. He looked of the generation that concentrated on providing the money so wives could such things. And now, here he was, in this huge barn of a supermarket, on a mission to buy, of all things, talcum powder. And not just any talcum powder, but her special kind.
I had an awful image of a loving husband charged with doing one last kindness for his sweetheart, and not being able to, letting her down at the very end!
The checkout operator looked around, then scurried out from behind her till. She apologized to me, took the old fellow by the arm and walked him through the toiletries section.
I could have gone to another checkout, but it had become important to me to know what happened next. Well, she found that special talc, cashed up his purchases and sent him off with a prayer for his wife.
Then she turned to me. “Oh, I am so sorry for keeping you waiting. If they knew I had done that I would get fired. They tell us never to leave the till unattended, but… I’m so sorry.”
I insisted I didn’t mind, adding, “It was an honour.” She looked puzzled, but pleased. I really was honored simply to be a part of this, even if my part was only to stand and wait.
On the way out I asked for her supervisor. I told the supervisor how impressed I had been with the woman and that she deserved a commendation or a pay rise. I saw her recently while checking out, and she was still smiling.
Her job description should have prevented her from helping but she stepped beyond that. In doing so she took a desperate situation and turned it into one more act of love between two weary travelers making their way to the end of this life.