That was today's prompt from Sunday Scribblings. Take a notebook and actively observe another person; then record what you see.
It sounded like fun, but I didn't have time. We had a family birthday party, and as always, I was unprepared. Guests arriving at 1:30 and there I was rolling into the grocery store at 1:22.
Fortunately, as I said, it was family. People who will go in and get themselves a beer or a cup of tea. People who don't mind if the house is in a bit of disarray. People who know my bad habits. But still. Did I always have to do this?
So no, there would be no Sunday Scribbling for me. I had neither a notebook, nor a spare moment to people watch.
I raced through the supermarket in track shoes, tossing a few items that might constitute a meal--or might not--into the cart.
I saw no one and nothing. No, wait. I saw Pat--my favorite supermarket lady.
I immediately got into her line. Since the weather was very fine, I asked Pat when she was getting out of work. Would she have time to enjoy the day?
"Not till six," Pat said, uncharacteristically grumpy. "And I'm already tired."
I muttered something about the holiday weekend. The store being busy.
"That's not it," Pat said. She stopped in the middle of packing my groceries and gave me a long, serious look. (Maybe Pat was planning to write about me for Sunday scribblings? I waited for her to take out her notebook and pencil, but the cashier had other things on her mind.)
"It's my family," she said. "They just expect so much from me. They won't even replace a roll of toilet paper when it runs out. Just go upstairs and use the other bathroom."
"Oh yeah, mine do that, too," I said, figuring the least I could do was concur. "Is it too much trouble to take the hair out of the drain after a shower?"
Pat smiled, obviously enjoying my complaints. "You have a nice day now," she said, handing me my receipt.
"You too, hon."
I glanced up at the clock. 1:35. I'd been fast. In fact, for the amount of stuff in my cart, I'd probably broken a couple of supermarket records. But I was still late. And fifteen minutes from home. Damn.
I put down my head, intending to charge for the car when I came face to face with the woman I was meant to see.
She was with a man, but I didn't notice him much. He wasn't the one I needed to look at.
The woman was breakably thin, but there was no sign she was going to break any time soon. I put her age at about forty. Her stringy hair was streaked a harsh gold; and her face was what my mother used to call hard, but she had astonishing green eyes.
While her man hung back, she moved efficiently to the trash can outside the supermarket and began to hunt for cans. When she found one, she tossed it to him, and he stuffed it into a back pack. Obviously, they did this often, and had gotten it down to a smooth operation.
They seemed oblivious to the shoppers who were weaving their way around them, and to me--watching a little too nakedly.
Her jeans had that slick look jeans gets when they haven't been washed in a while, but her eyes were lined with dark pencil. Obviously, however difficult her life was, she had made an effort to look nice.
I wondered what they were hoping to buy with the money. Alcohol? Drugs?
I wondered at their presence among the busy shoppers who were pushing laden carts toward their SUVs .
Then the woman looked briefly back at me, and I realized that however her life looked to me from the outside, it felt different to her. Her face seemed to say, whatever you think you know about me, you're wrong.
I pushed my cart away thinking of how impenetrable the world sometimes is, even when you look really closely. In fact, sometimes the only respectful attitude toward other people is admitting how little you know of their hearts. And how often your assumptions are wrong.
I got home at just about two. Everyone else was pulling in at the same time.
"We knew you'd be late," my son Josh said.
Then we all went inside and had a party.