Monday, January 14, 2008

Supermarket Encounters

One evening recently I was standing in the supermarket checkout queue waiting for my turn to be served. I was fourth in line and trying to keep my head down a little, as I had seen a former classmate from the AIF, “K” and I didn’t feel like talking to her at that moment. You know when you’re out and about and your busy and or tired and just want to get on and do what your trying to do, but you see someone you know, maybe an old co-worker or a friend of a friend and you know you probably should just take the time to say hello for a moment…it’d probably only take a minute or two, but for whatever reason you really don’t feel like it, so you do the whole no-look or look away and concentrating on something else. Your avoiding potential eye lines… maybe they won’t see me and then we can just mutually go about our business… In this case, I was tired and I just wanted to get home and make some dinner, but there’s more you see, because towards the end of the AIF course K stopped showing up to the classes. Everyone wondered where she’d got to, because the course was quite intensive and demanding and she’d already made it most of the way through when she started being absent. In the final fortnight of the course, another one of my classmates “Adonis”, on his way into the building, had seen K being dropped of by her boyfriend. It was like a scene from a movie. He heard her boyfriend say ‘Have a good class’ and then watched as she walked towards the course building, only to turn away and head in the opposite direction when her boyfriend had driven away. Adonis tried to wave her over, but she just gave him a cheeky smile and turned heel and headed somewhere else. “Have a good class!” So this was a further layer of complexity that I now sort to avoid, as it was clearly her boyfriend doing some shopping with her, and I figured she might just as likely wish to avoid a conversation with me that might go potentially something like “Hi Denny”, “Hi K, how are you?” “Did you end up passing your certificates?” “Yes, what happened to you? I didn’t see you in the last couple of weeks of the course…” etc etc… So it was an overly complex social scenario that lead me to my position four people back in the checkout queue trying not to look anywhere near my left where three aisles across K and her boyfriend were going through a remarkably slow checkout process. I now became aware of two men at the head of my queue chatting away in a friendly and cheerful manner. I recognized one of them from my childhood neighborhood. A good guy called Ben. So here I go again, in a situation where I probably should say hello, but I don’t really feel up to it, and I’m trying to keep a low profile already….maybe its just the existing state of mind making me feel like this, but I decide to keep my head down anyway and pretend to not notice him…he might not recognize me anyway. I feel really bad about this one. Much worse than avoiding K. I mean I hardly know her, but this guy was a real character from my childhood. He married his neigbourhood sweetheart “V” another nice character from that era and I could clearly see him clutching a beautiful little blond girl of about 4 or 5 who I presumed was there daughter. So I’m keeping my head down, trying not to be seen…by anyone… and fighting the rising sense of guilt that I’m feeling about Ben…sheesh den you know how it is…I don’t want to be rude, but its inconvenient…the supermarket is really busy and I’m tired and hungry and its getting late…yaddayaddayadda but its all BS really and I’m losing because the voice for the affirmative is drilling me and I know I should just let him see me and see if he recognizes or acknowledges me and greet him warmly if he does and ignore the fact that all these strangers standing around will be listing in as we wax the lyrical about how long its been “Its been over 15 years…you look great…you too…” But I don’t. Head down, don’t look left, don’t look forward…minding the business of one’s toes. Ben finishes his conversation and his checkout. He bids farewell to the other chap he’s been chatting with and bustles out of the supermarket. Well at least that’s one all round awkward situation resolved. Just as I’ve thought this a woman from the adjacent aisle leans over and taps the woman in front of me on the shoulder. “Excuse me is that your bank card on the ground there” She asks as she points down near our feet. The woman in front of me picks it up and says “nope, it’s not my card” She turns to me and asks if it’s mine. I already know its Ben’s before I’ve even looked. I say “Does it say Ben on it?” We both read the name Benjamin on it. She assumes its mine and hands it to me. I explain that it was that guy who’d left a minute ago. We look out of the supermarket, and up the mall I spot Ben leaving via the far exit and disappearing around the corner. I chuckle at the situation. I’m the only one who knows what he looks like…I’ve got his bank card….I excuse myself from the queue and run after him. I catch sight of him crossing the carpark. “Ben!” I say it as if it hadn’t been nearly 20 years since we’d last spoke. The fog of weirdness descends, but he turns and seems to recognize me immediately. He’s nonchalant and smiles warmly perhaps searching for my name as the years melt away. “You dropped your card in the supermarket” I say as I hand it to him. He takes it and we shake hands. I’m filled with a genuine nostalgic sense of warmth. I’m a fool sometimes…I can’t believe I considered not acknowledging him or saying hello…awkward and inconvenient or not. It is now a genuinely happy moment. He introduces me to his young daughter bundled up in his arms with the groceries. I recognize V in her facial features immediately and I tell him so. He seems pleased about this and tells me about his other child who apparently looks like him. I tell him I’d love to catch up for a beer. I hope we do. A warm late summer’s evening glow, the distinctly clean and fragrant west coast evening air and idiot-me saved from myself, and Benjamin casualling across the carpark having not lost his bank card in the supermarket…Benjamin who we used to call ‘Ronnie’ because he lived in The White House… What a great little situation made of beautiful little things.

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