By Pravin Trivedi
“What do you want?” she barked over the din of the store, the announcements on the P.A. and a long line of shoppers waiting their turn.
“Excuse me please, may I borrow this shopping cart?” said the little voice.
She had trouble understanding him, and even more trouble understanding the request. She picked up the microphone by the cash register, pushed the button and in a shrill cracked voice said, “Store manager to register 3, emergency…”
Now it was the turn for the shopper to look alarmed. He stuttered, “S.S.Sorry to give you so much trouble. We’ll manage somehow. Thank you”, and tried to move the cart out of the way so that she could attend to the next shopper.
Thinking she was about to lose the cart, she said, “No, wait here for a while.” Then to the assistant shelf stocker in a low voice, “Don’t let them out of your sight. Keep them near here until the manager arrives”
So, they all waited, caricatures in a still life until the manager made an appearance. The customer was uncomfortable and wondered how long it would be. His clothes clearly were not local American. And he had a funny accent. British, mixed with another foreign one that she could not figure out. With him was a woman, maybe his wife, very pretty, carrying an infant maybe a few months old. The couple started talking in a hurried voice, in a tongue unheard of in Agawam, Massachusetts.
She was urging him “to just get out of here and we’ll manage somehow”. He thought differently and was on the verge of arguing with her. The child was playful, wanted to get out of her hold, run around the store, and pick at items that looked bright, flashy, and colorful.
The cashier finished with the next customer and the next… as they managed to squeeze past the waiting trio in the narrow exit aisle of Shop Well giving curious and rude glances.
“Where the ** is the manager?” she muttered as she paged him again.
“What seems to be the trouble?” said the manager as he came bustling down from the other side, obviously irate at having been disturbed from whatever he was doing. The cashier just glanced meaningfully in the direction of the strangers and barked at him “What took you so long?”
“Can I help you?” he said rather too courteously but stiffly to the brown couple, who by now were ready for the earth to give way and be swallowed, if that could be arranged.
“I was asking the kind young lady at the cash register if we may borrow the shopping cart for about half an hour,” stammered the young man. The manager looked them over once and tried to figure out what he had heard and what to make of the request.
“You what??” his voice trailed off.
“I am sorry, please forgive us. We need nothing. We will take care of our groceries. Thank you.”
“You ain’t going nowhere,” he said, “wait here.” He rushed into his office, obviously to get reinforcements.
The wife now was even more scared and pleadingly looked at her husband. In a low foreign voice she seemed to be asking him if they could just go home. Her husband had a vacant and worried look about him. The store manager returned with a security guard. The couple got even more alarmed when they saw an ordinary store guard carrying what looked like a gun on his belt, with his hand on it.
Dismay turned to fear in the couple’s eyes. The little boy was squirming even more. His mother’s embrace around him tightened, and you could see the veins harden on her slim hands and face.
“Come with me,” the manager said. He wanted to move the couple elsewhere, since a small crowd was beginning to gather. “Come to my office.”
Thinking everything was now up to the divine and the store’s authority, the couple followed the manager with cart and baby in tow into the cramped office.
“You want what?” another bark.
“Excuse me sir, but I was asking the young…”
His voice trailed off as the manger interrupted, “Yes, yes, I know what you asked her… I want to know why you want to take our cart.”
“Sorry sir, I do not want to take your cart… what I mean is may I please borrow it for half an hour?”
The guard was now even more curious. “What for?”
“Just to take the groceries home.”
“And where would that be?”
“We live at the Manor Hall apartments.”
“Can’t you take the groceries in your car?”
“We don’t have a car, and that is why…” another sentence trailed off.
“What? You don’t have a car?” The guard and the manager exchanged meaningful glances. “How did you get here?”
Another exchange of meaningful glances, with the guard patting his revolver and a smirk growing on his face. The apartments were about two miles away. They walked that.. hmmm … right.
The manager thought he could extend this game a bit. “Do you have a credit card you can leave with me?”
“No sir, I do not have a credit card, but I can leave my wife and son at the store until I return it.”
“No, no, I don’t want that. Just wait”
Again the manager disappeared with the guard in is his office leaving the couple and the playful child who was still wriggling to get out of the iron embrace
They saw him make a phone call in the inner office and come out in a little while.
“Your story checks out. I called the super at the apartment and he vouches for you. Now tell me why you want the cart? Most people just take them and never return them?”
“We just arrived and this is our first shopping trip. We do not have a car and we were hoping you would let us take your cart. We would push our groceries home. I will return the cart as soon as we unload the groceries”
The wife was nearly in tears. The looks on the manager and the guard’s faces was that of softening incongruence. He finally said, ”No one has ever requested this before. I am sorry to give you such a hassle. Take the cart. You don’t have to return it tonight. It will take you too long to walk all those miles. Bring it back when you can.”
“Thank you, we are ever so grateful. I will bring it back,” the man said, now fighting back some tears in his eyes.
They all watched the couple navigate the child and the cart out of the store to start the slow climb up the hill towards their apartment.
The guard coughed to clear his throat, and shouted, “Welcome to America.”