This morning began with the familiar sleepiness of every other Monday; lethargy from Sunday all around me like a soft quilt of beers and hangovers stitched together Thursday through Saturday. I walked from my shoebox apartment in my usual cadence, lyric poetry incessantly flowing from my earbuds in a litany of beauty. The sun shone through leafy green above me like an endless kaleidoscope, birds made free their wings, squirrels danced neurotic in shade patches before flights of fear to tree havens.
A book had gotten into my heart, despite all previously laid defenses; embedded itself like a parasite that controlled my every waking thought and left me melancholy and alone. Surrounded by my morning routine and I felt so small and abandoned; bewildered by my loneliness.
I stopped at the 7-11 on the way to the bus, thinking a banana would make me feel better about the book, about my iota of chance in the universe. The fluorescent lights reflected off the floor and made me wish for the kaleidoscoping of green outdoors. I grabbed the greenest of bananas; not ripe, but not unripe either. I was alone in the fluorescent glow of convenience, aside from a weary looking clerk making her way to the front of the store.
As she walked up I barely noticed her, lost in a book that sat stoically at my back—but it may as well have been leaden on my heart. As if by some happy accident a chip rack decided to collapse at the exact moment the clerk was walking by. She tumbled in an avalanche of sodium and cholesterol to the fluorescent reflected floor. I saw her for the first time, the book finally jumped off of my heart and into my backpack where it belonged.
“Are you okay?” I put the banana on the counter and hurried to her side, walking through previous barriers and pretenses like a warm knife through butter.
She winced, held her ankle. She felt comfortable showing her pain to a stranger. I grabbed her hand and helped her to her feet. She stood there so small and tired under the lights and held her back, her face contorted in pain. I felt a sense of camaraderie, a connection.
At that moment I did not care if I missed my bus, was late for work. I only cared about her and what a shit morning that would be.
We became wordless allies. I held the chip rack upright while she reached for the shelves and tried to hook them back into place. At first our attempts fumbled and failed. But then we started to work together, no words exchanged, just two souls trying to keep it all together. We finally got the rack intact and once again bracketed to the wall. I helped her pick up and arrange the chips.
And then the moment was over and lost. We awkwardly looked at each other. My hands felt idle and useless. She slowly limped back behind the counter. I walked back to my side of that barrier and to my green banana lying on the counter. She rang me up silently. I paid just a quietly. As I was walking away she quietly whispered, “Thank you,” and smiled a forlorn smile. I waved shyly and said, “No problem.” It felt good to be outside again, away from that fluorescent glow.
And all I could think about is how funny it is how little we think of other people. How I would not have even thought of her for more than a fraction of a second if those chips had not fallen and she had not twisted her ankle. How alone I felt in those moments leading up to the incident and the silent human connectivity that happened but for a few minutes over some fallen bags of chips.
The book slowly crawled out of my backpack like a monkey, started creeping over my shoulder one staggering step at a time, and finally rested with all of its weight on my heart again. I walked slowly to the bus under the weight of it, and silently thanked that sad clerk for the small reprieve of restlessness.