The woman in front of me in the queue piled her groceries on the checkout counter and walked past the cashier to the end of the counter. The wiry child that had been dutifully trailing her hung back. Standing on tiptoe, the child piled three colourful candy bars on top of the groceries and then scuttled behind the woman.
The cashier looked at the woman, her clothes, her hair. He didn’t start scanning her groceries.
The woman peeled open a plastic bag. When no items appeared on her end of the counter, she looked up and noticed the candy bars.
“Where did these come from?” she said, looking this way and that for the child who, in step with the woman, always remained behind her.
The woman gave up, sighing. From her shoulder bag, she plucked her purse and yanked it open, tipping it forward so that the cashier could see, so that I, so that the whole world might see, that inside her wallet was only a single twenty euro bill, folded twice over. She held it up.
“Will this be enough?” she asked.
The cashier made as if to look at the groceries, do a rough calculation, then thought better of it. Instead, he shrugged.
The woman snapped shut her purse and dropped it in her bag. She laid the bill on the counter, unfolded it, and began to flatten it with her fingers.
“Where should I start?” asked the cashier.
The woman pointed to the candy bars. The cashier scanned one and slid it down the counter. The woman bagged it and turned back to the cashier. Poised, he was waiting for, but not looking at, her.
“And the rest of them,” she said.
Now he looked at her, one of his eyebrows arching. He held up the candy bars, one in each hand. She nodded. He scanned them both and then the packet of rice, the vegetables, the beans, the lunchmeat, and the rest of the groceries. All the while, he kept an eye on the running total.
The counter was empty when he leaned back and said, without fanfare, but with a tinge of satisfaction in his voice, “Nineteen forty-seven.”
The woman hobbled out of the store with some scant change in her pocket, a bag of groceries in each hand, and a beaming child in tow.