Daily doldrums often rear their heads. Customers plod through our aisles, toss their goods and flash their smiles. Some are looking for a better deal; others believe that we could use their cheer. I don’t mind these sorts of folk, they’re fine and to be honest, although clones, they’re friendly and provide me the opportunity to make somewhat of a living. What does irk me some, are those who stampeded to the front, ignoring the signs posted everywhere. If they’d take the time to look, the majority of their questions would be unearthed. But even these kinds are okay once they get there answers replied. I foster a semblance of authority; yet infuse my shell with a demeanor of joviality. It makes them feel like they’re in control; they ask a question, worth aside, and feel alive when I provide them the solution to.
I’m not one of those nine-to-fivers, constantly checking the clock, biding each minute until fingers flip the lights and then the key turns the lock. I’m not the sort you’ll hear complain, not too often anyhow, but even in such a situation, I’ll smile and grit my teeth, politely admitting to my lowly status within this world, but gladly, without hesitating, ask their names and phone numbers, to which a manager will call them soon, hopefully with the resolve they are looking for. I may even suggest I’ll pass the information personally to my boss, ensuring the note doesn’t get lost within the hubbubs of ado.
I have coworkers who complain of the “dead” hours that linger most the morning. They’re not too keen to the idea of busy work, seeing no sense in dusting when it was done but a few hours before. While I tend to agree with their points of view, I’m much older than they are, and am therefore able to understand it’s what’s demanded, and I guess it comes down to how badly one values a dollar. But on the other side of the coin, I can completely understand managements claim, which is that standing around tends to cause dismay, to the customers who are out and about, some of which are out of work, others tired of seeing incompetence. So if a dusting here and there or a vacuum uncoiled causes their lives ease, while also increasing the company’s profitability, then I see that as a win-win situation for more than some big-wigs uptown, it means much to you and me, the men and women who are literally working for their lives.
What is our occupation you might be asking? Well, we operate a small local business, well actually it was small and local at one time, way back when, but now is the largest of it’s type, spread across from here to there and many, many points held up in-between. We make copies, we collate and fax, we bind, laminate, print, and overnight goods to anywhere. While certainly we offer lower costs to ship to any of our other locations, we’ll also ship to wherever you would like your precious cargo to go, at, of course, a little extra in fees.
For fun and games, I guess, or perhaps it’s another avenue of Americans new affliction with social connectedness, some of the workers blindly call or instant message employees at other stores, making jokes and finding out just how similar their worlds are to our own. I however have much better things to do with my time. I’ll dream of a future where I don’t dust and do the customer responsiveness dance all the time. I’ve got dreams and I’ve got visions and I work out the nuances and details within my head, at every opportunity I get, without, of course, interfering with what wins me the daily bread.
During lunch hours the others will travel across the street, to the plaza, where they’ll congregate in one of the many fast food enterprises or shop briefly in the wide variety of “out of the box” instant gratification infused stores. Some days I wish I would just take the trek and relate. But I give in to temptation all too often and with the tiniest of budgets I see no sense, in rubbing salt in my own wounds, to acknowledge all those things I can never responsibly agree to. So I typically will sit there, in the back room, with a paper bag filled with PBJ and a self-filled bottle of water too. I’ll lean back in the plastic chair, pop open whatever science fiction book or magazine I happen to have that day, and read until the buzzer on my watch sounds, as to in five minutes perhaps another customer I’ll have found.
When I first started here, many years ago, there would be 10 or 12 of us on the floor. While at that time it seemed like a lot, we never complained, as it made each job simpler, and we were young back then, so we liked the slower times. Over the years though, many faces have come and many more have gone. I’m the last of that original crew; in fact my manager was born after I’d already finished my first semester of Community College. The strangest thing is how I knew his mother at one time, no, not in that way, but she was a friend of a friend and we all hung out a few times during that era. She was quite the wild one, but never would I leak that information to her son, let alone that he’s my boss. Now there are days when it’s just another and me on duty, quite the difference from those, much more crowded early days. Today was a day like this. I was alone, something I’ve grown accustomed to, as Tina went on her lunch hour. Normally the same old same old routine of every other day would occupy those sixty minutes, usually sixty-five or seventy, as Tina’s often late, which of course I would never relate to that son of a onetime friend of a friend of mine. Today was different though. It will be a day that will live with me the rest of my life.
It was a sunny afternoon. The double doors swung open and a man entered. He had on a pair of jeans and a muscle shirt. I found it strange that I couldn’t make out his face. It was as if he was being censored, like they do on television, when someone doesn’t want to be seen. He stopped over near the packaging area, standing right in front of the gigantic billboard that says “We ship everything to everywhere,” of course there is an asterisk next to the bold printed message, where underneath, in small print, it goes on to list the items that we will not ship, for obvious reasons, legality being the main one.
While this man was preparing his items to ship, I head into the back to refill my Fall of the House of Usher coffee mug. The man seemed to be taking his good old time, which I calculated that he’d still be working by the time I was done with adding the creamer. I also took into account that if someone else would perchance appear while I was in the back, the extremely annoying beepers, for those not accustomed to hearing them a million times a day, would sound, indicating that someone new has either entered or exited the store. Therefore I filled up the cup with the Black Magic blend that Tina had brought in for me. She’ll do that often, which I think is her way of thanking me for the almost daily covering for her on her extended breaks and then there’s that phone of hers, constantly receiving everything from calls to texts and tweets. I never complain though, as I could never afford this gourmet stuff on my own, and it’s ridiculously good.
The alarm never sounded, which I kind of figured would be the case. I was on my way into the main floor, when I noticed the man was up at the counter, to which I quickly quickened the pace of my gait. I placed the cup on the shelf beneath the counter, and apologized for the delay. He didn’t say anything, but I can say his face was in full frame now, and it was interesting how pale he looked, but again, I was a bit flustered by the erroneous decision I made, and was afraid he might say something if I didn’t act as swiftly as I could. I picked up his package and placed it on the scale. The weight read 16 ounces, which is but one pound. Nothing really strange about that either, but our packaging adds an additional four ounces to every shipment, meaning that his package weighed a mere 12 ounces. Again, nothing crazy about the weight, but something in the amount struck a chord in me. I instantly jerked my head at the man, looking for any details I could.
The man was bleeding. I asked him if he was all right. He didn’t, or wouldn’t say, I didn’t know for sure, and couldn’t tell either. But upon pressing him he nodded that he was okay. The blood was flowing rather quickly and I just couldn’t ignore the situation. I told him I was going to call for the ambulance. This prompted his tongue to move. “Please don’t, I’m fine,” he said in an almost desperate wheezing type of voice. I instructed him that he’s bleeding pretty badly and he needs some help. It was at this time I noticed his one arm, seemingly lifeless, dangling at his side. In the hand, which he was doing a pretty good job at hiding at first; I noticed a shining object, partially covered in red. When I realized it was a scalpel I almost fainted from the fear.
The man must have realized I was for a loss. All calmness had left me then and there, I started rambling incoherently and I just know my face too now was pale. Here, at this moment, the man’s other arm, the one with his credit card still in the palm, reached across the counter, placed his fingers upon my shoulder and then said, “Everything will be alright, I’ll be fine, you’ll be fine, and no one will be the wiser of what has taken place, not you, not your coworkers or employers, not anyone,” and he continued, in a monotone, emotionless voice, where the earlier wheezing sensation had no taken leave, “You’ll have done me a humongous favor, you’ll have helped someone, not just me, who needs the item I have to offer them, and this is a hasty matter at best,” and finished by saying, “and again, do not be concerned, not for me, I’ve done nothing illegal or wrong, and neither will have you, and in a few days from now, you’ll have forgotten everything about me.”
After his monologue completed, I remarkably had regained my composure, gained full use of my appendages once again and could feel the blood returning to my cheeks and face. I was still skeptical, as the pool of blood beneath his feet was something I certainly knew would not only stain, but I found it hard to believe that he was ok. Yet, due to my economic situation, and fearing that he would inform my boss of this situation and of my inappropriateness of service, I decided to process his order and simply start a novena for his and all involved here’s safety.
I reached for the package on the scale, and noticed a little dampening of the cardboard. I picked the box up and brought just above my line of sight, examining the package thoroughly. I saw the seepage had begun to leak out through the sides. I felt the nervousness begin its return, yet made a split decision. I picked up a handful of plastic wrap, and stacked the innards of a larger box. It was then, as I placed the smaller, dampened box, into the larger, more protected box, that I heard something strange. I lifted the box back up, this time putting my ear to its side. I could hear a steady rhythmic pitter-patter. At first I thought it was the racing of my own heart, and then the weight, the bloodiness and the situation itself began to form a full picture.
Without a sense of emotion, I placed the box back into the larger one. I sealed it as tight I could, grabbed the man’s credit card and fulfilled the order he so desperately needed me to complete. I handed him the package’s tracking information and explained what could delay the shipments, basically regurgitating the typical company policy to him. Then, completely out of my character, I asked him if he could remove his shirt. He smiled and refused, to which I knew my suspicion was correct.
The man slowly moved toward the exit. He was plodding along in slow motion, at least that’s how he appeared in my eyes. Briefly I glanced back at his package, still sitting on the counter, with delivery instructions firmly adhered to all sides. I then heard the alarm ring and jostled my head back to the man partially upon the double doors. I yelled out for him, to which, to my surprise, he turned back to me. I asked him, almost pleadingly, “How will you survive without…” He cut me off, simply saying, “Because I got soul, and when you got soul, nothing’s immune from possibility.” He smiled at me and left. I so wanted to return the friendly gesture, but physically was unable to.
For the next, who knows how many, minutes I was deep in thought, mulling this surreal scenario, over and over again, when I heard Tina calling to me, “I’m so sorry I’m late, I got caught up in…"