You can learn a lot about people when you go the grocery store. Well, perhaps that’s not right. Seeing them shop doesn’t tell you a thing about their life, not really, except for their attitude in a grocery-store, surrounded by ads, products, sales and other people. But I like to invent lives for them, as I pretend not to watch them.
There’s the man who’s losing his patience with his two young sons. There isn’t a woman around, and I assume that this man has already started his spring vacation from the office but his wife is still working. That’s why he needs to take the boys, who are on their vacations too, shopping with him. The man is large, tall and broad with a beer-stomach hanging over his belt, and his two boys look to be between eight and ten years old. Both have straight brown hair, not cut shortly but allowed to grow around their ears, and round faces, rosy with the fun of shopping. They run between carts, duck under baskets and then run back to their dad, shouting suggestions. He snaps at them, but it does nothing to dampen their enthusiasm.
There are two women standing together at the cheap, bad quality clothing section. The clothes aren’t folded very well, and the shelves look a mess. Still, one of the women is holding up a shirt to the other one, and they seem to be deciding whether or not it’s worth it. I can almost hear their conversation, even though I have earphones on: Should I? No, I shouldn’t, right? Sure you should, look how cheap it is! But do you really think it’ll look good on me? Yeah, I do, but who cares – look how cheap it is!
At the checkout line, there’s a young man with curly brown hair and fuzz on his cheeks. He’s waiting patiently in line, which isn’t surprising, because he’s too occupied with a loud conversation he’s having with his cellphone. He smiles a lot and laughs, and I like to think he’s talking to a buddy, laughing about the antics they’re looking forward to experiencing during the coming weekend. He’s also looking around a lot, keeps turning around from his cart to gaze at the aisles. I think he might have met someone here a week ago, at around this hour, and that’s why he’s here again this week at the same time. He’s looking for her, this woman he laughed and chatted with and didn’t have the guts to ask out on a date last time.
In front of me, in my line, there are two women – they have to be mother and daughter, but they couldn’t look more different. The one who’s leaning on the cart is short, tiny, and ancient. Her hair has that bluish tinge to it and is thinning, and her hands look like a map, veins representing mountains or streams and the liver spots representing dwellings. Her daughter is middle-aged, probably around fifty or so, and is tall and skinny. Her face is lined, too, but from care or hurt rather than from age. She has sad eyes, even as she acts with great speed: taking things out of the cart, moving it to the other side of the register, starting to bag the items and putting them back in the cart, and paying her bill. She speaks familiarly to her mother, and even though her actions point to an efficiency and brisk character, there’s a subtle tinge of tragedy about her. Maybe a death of a loved one – husband, or maybe even a child.
And then, finally, it’s my turn at the register, and I mimic the sad woman’s efficiency, trying to get my things out of the way as fast as possible so I can get back home and out of the heat of this sunny March day.