“Excuse me, but what’s wrong with you?”
The words came bursting out of me, errant children running ahead of an overstressed mother. I tried to grab them back, but they’d already left my tongue, out to cause trouble in the world.
And although I prayed that maybe the woman in front of me hadn’t heard me speak, I saw her shoulders stiffen – and she slowly turned around to face me.
“What?” she asked, narrowing her eyes until they reminded me of a couple little marbles pressed into the marshmallow of her face.
I should have stopped, should have apologized and told her that I didn’t mean anything. But my eyes dropped down to the litany of items that she’d spilled onto the conveyor belt in front of me, and just couldn’t hold back my ire.
“You heard me – what’s wrong with you?” I demanded again, gesturing at her array of groceries. “Are you illiterate? Can you not read?”
“How dare you-” the woman began, but I overrode her, stabbing with my finger up at the sign hanging above us.
“Because that sign up there,” I forced out, “says that this is the express line, for people with ten items or less. And how many items do you have in front of you?”
At this confrontation, the woman blinked, her mouth opening and closing for a second like a fish, no sound coming out. I kept glaring at her, not backing down. I wasn’t going to give in to my natural goodnatured peacefulness, wasn’t going to let this injustice go unpunished. Not this time.
“Look, I’m in a big hurry,” the woman finally spat out, her eyes still burning at me like a pair of coals in the ashes of a mostly burnt out fire. “I can’t wait in line for all those others-”
“And we’re not?” I countered her. I didn’t dare pull my eyes from her, but I felt the other people behind me grumbling in agreement. “I’m in a hurry! I’m sure that everyone else-” and I finally glanced back at them, and saw other people nodding along with me, “-is also in a hurry! What makes you better than the rest of us, huh?”
Again, the fish-like moving of her mouth without producing any words, as if her brain was skipping like a broken record and unable to find its track. “Well, I’m here, so why don’t you just let me go,” she finally tried, as if she deserved credit for attempting to cheat the rest of us.
I shifted my gaze hopefully to the checkout girl, thinking maybe she’d interject and push this abhorrent woman’s groceries aside. She, however, just stared down at her shoes, clearly unwilling to take a side in this fight.
So it was down to me.
I had already set my items on the conveyor belt behind her, but still held my empty basket. Now, in a sudden rush of angry motion, I grabbed a big handful of her items (boxes of premade food, frozen meals, a bag of candy – this was what the woman needed to buy so desperately?) and dumped them off the conveyor belt, into my empty basket.
“Hey! What the hell is wrong with you?” the woman cried out, but I had already managed to seize another couple handfuls, evacuating her items from the conveyor belt. I dropped them into the now mostly filled basket, and then deposited it down on the floor.
“There,” I snarled, raising my eyes back to stare into her puffy, reddened face. “Now, you’ve just got ten items to buy. If you want to get the rest of these, get out of here – or go back to the end of the line and wait to buy the rest of your stupid food!”
She almost argued back at me. I saw it in her eyes, saw that flare of resentful little hate, the hate of someone who saw this, being called out for cheating, as someone personally attacking her. But she also saw the crowd behind me, knew that they were already turned against her. She had to know that she wouldn’t win this fight.
With a huff, she seized the last few items of hers off of the conveyor belt and stomped off. I was next to check out.
No one clapped for me. The other people in line behind me huffed, moved passively out of the way for the woman as she stormed off, but didn’t do anything else to punish her for her rule-breaking infraction.
Still, I’d won. And as I stepped up to pay for my eight items, I felt the warm glow of satisfaction inside me. That glow, I reflected, was the glow of justice, of doing what was right.
I collected my items and left, not looking back.