Me, Chad Brown, 25 years of age, third son of a good family, respectable, well dressed, Head of Sales in a multi-national clothing store, should be credited with some intelligence not standing in a dingy cubby hole waiting for a dressing down. However, the fact remained … I had done a really stupid thing.
The checkout girl's badge was obscured by the jacket she’d slipped over her blue striped uniform so I couldn’t read her name. I know it was wrong to lean across the conveyor belt and yank the collar to one side, but I just had to know her name. I could have asked, I guess, but common sense had taken a vacation. She was the most unattractive girl I’d ever seen. Admittedly she had a good figure, and her golden-brown hair was lovely, but her face was blotchy and wrinkled with skin more suited to an old crone, a crooked but pointed nose, and protruding eyes like dark orbs planted there by some unforgiving god. She had no lips to speak of, just red lined slits representing a mouth. The word sour came to mind yet I sensed that her appearance belied her true nature. But there was something about her… and I acted without thinking.
It wasn’t as if I wanted anything more than to be sociable; with the limited time available at a check-out it was stupid to think otherwise. The aim was to be friendly, the tug on her collar merely a novel but idiotic way of saying ‘Hi’. Looking back I can see how foolish it was to think she would ride the action as a friendly gesture. Dad always said I had a lot to learn about women but I didn’t imagine touching a girl’s collar was a no-no thing to do.
You’d have thought I was attacking her, the speed with which she pressed the alarm button and the swiftness of security men in coming to her aid. I found myself roughly seized, not by the still running men but by the girl herself. She’d sprinted to my side of the checkout like an angry lion. I heard somewhere that cashiers were no better than automatons but this one would have done well in the 100 metres, once the pistol shot was heard she’d be up and running and swiftly taking the lead.
As I told the security guy, I don’t normally grab strange women, especially one like Bev. Yes, I learned her name from him; in full it was Beverley Lydia Summons. Now, don’t you think that’s an appropriate name considering the circumstances and the charge I inevitably faced? At first I thought the guy was kidding, or that he’d mispronounced. I queried it, suggesting it might be Simmonds, but he curtly replied that he should know since he had access to the names of all employees. It was no skin off my nose so I let it go. I had other things to worry about, like getting the hell out of that cramped cabin with my pride intact.
As it turned out there was no charge to face. The pokerfaced guard said I hadn’t actually touched the girl, only yanked her collar, and as I’d yanked her collar in front of a queue of shoppers and apparently without malice he reckoned my action was more spur of the minute than an intention to cause bodily harm. To be honest I didn’t think security heavies had such profound wisdom. So, I was released with a caution: Don’t ever let me see you do anything like that again being the actual words once the expletives were removed.
Leaving the guard’s room I felt obliged to return to the store to apologise to Bev although I didn’t relish hearing what she would say to me. From the look of her she was bruiser enough to give out a mouthful and my delicate ears weren’t used to hearing an outpouring from an already riled woman. Still, one thing I’m not is a coward. Pocketing my pride I went back to face the jostling crowd.
Bev Summons was no longer at the till where I was served and there was no sign of the goods I’d been about to buy either. Under the circumstances it seemed wiser not to make enquiries but I had been hoping to apologise. It’s not something I relish doing ordinarily but the security guy had impressed upon me that sometimes it pays to admit one’s guilt and to grovel a bit. At the time I considered his remark to be rubbish although it did penetrate my brain, hence the decision to follow through.
I was about to leave the store when I saw her by the sweet counter, crouched down talking to a very young girl, one arm round the child’s waist, the other mopping away her tears. Obviously a child who had lost a parent. I had a mental flashback to when I was a lost child, or thought I was. Only with me it had been in a cinema. I’d gone to the toilets, feeling all grown up, but then I couldn’t find my dad in the dark. I nearly brought the house down, unlike this youngster who was quietly sobbing on Bev’s overall. Funny how memory is triggered by someone else’s distress.
As I approached Bev looked up at me and smiled. And, do you know, her face completely changed. She looked, no, not radiant, more sort of gently compassionate. I reached into my pocket for some coins, threw them onto the counter and asked for sweets. Any sort, I said, for the little girl.
The mother was quickly found, of course, and the child sobbed even more when they were reunited. They went off, the youngster still clutching her sweets and making those hiccup noises that come after a tearful session. I turned back to Bev, struck by the transformation. We didn’t speak, she just put a hand on my arm, smiled, and went back to work, leaving me to go home and ponder on how wrong I had been to think of her as sour and unattractive. In those brief few moments I had seen beauty shine from within. It made me feel humble and very ashamed.
Next time I shall speak to her as a civilized man should. I want to know more about her. I want to find out why I can’t get her out of my mind. I want to see her smile again. At me.