1. She was usually late to these meetings, but today, the stars had aligned and both buses had been on time. She walked through the big metal doors into a room lined with windows. Ugly brown metal chairs were in rows across the floor. Everything about this room was cold and tinny. It smelled like many years of floor polish, wet coats and coffee. The coffee pot was the only thing warm and dependable at that moment. As she took her first sip, the warm coffee-scented steam floated up onto her face and slowly relaxed the tensed muscles in her eyebrows and jaws. It was hard to believe she had held her face like that for…who knows how long? Breathing in and looking at the other people milling around the chairs, she saw Millie.
Millie didn’t notice her right away. She was talking with a few people who had just come in. She had a smile on her face but her eyes were wary. She looked over and saw her, Carmen, with a cup of coffee and three umbrellas. It was time to begin.
2. Grabbing the peanuts from the shelf, the cashier ran back up to her register. The line had grown by about three people and she was sweating. She added the jar of peanuts to the order and totaled. The lady was looking in her purse, shaking it up and down looking for something.
“Your total is $12.45.”
“Yes, I know, I can’t find my glasses.” The woman was starting to panic.
“Well, um, I think they are hanging from that chain around your neck?” the cashier pointed out.
“Oh! Huh. They sure are. I guess that’s why I did that.” The woman laughed. “How much do I owe?”
“Twelve dollars and forty-five cents.”
“Right, let me get out my checkbook. Do you have a pen?”
An audible groan came from the perpetually growing line. The woman wrote out the check, talking herself through it. As she carefully tore the check from the book, she got a confused look on her face.
“Sweetie, did I get peanuts? Can you look on your screen there? If I forget those, my George will really be upset.”
“Yes ma’am, I went and got them for you.” The cashier took the check from the woman as nicely as she could. She knew she should check the woman’s ID but she just couldn’t bear to ask. She was the only register open for another 20 minutes when Geri would come in. Oh God, let Geri be on time, please don’t let her be late again.
“Thank you ma’am, would you like help out with that?”
“Oh no, I might be a bit slow,” She looked behind her at the line of crossed arms and irritated scowls. “but I’m strong enough to carry this on my own!” Again the woman laughed and took hold of the handles of her bag. She walked slowly out the automatic doors.
As she started ringing through the next customer, she looked up and saw the old woman’s checkbook still sitting on the little platform used for writing.
“Sir, I’m really sorry but she left her checkbook, I’ll be right back.” The cashier ran out to the parking lot to see the woman getting into a beat up old Chevy Malibu.
“Ma’am! Ma’am? You left this!” The cashier waved the little well-worn black leather checkbook toward the woman.
“Oh my goodness! Thank you so much! I would have been in so much trouble!” The cashier noticed that woman’s skin was warm and soft as she reached for her checkbook. Their hands touched for just a second.
“It’s okay, just be careful and have a good day.”
“You too sweetie, you too!”
As she headed back into the store, the people in line were still scowling and crossing their arms across their baskets of fruits and pizza, six-packs of soda and dish soap. What was the rush really? If we’re lucky, we’re going to end up like that woman, just needing a little bit of help sometimes. She thought.