Sometimes as writers we observe and make a choice about judging characters, whether in real life or on the page. We take a stand on their attitudes and actions and adopt a position on it. This was one of those moments.
I was at the supermarket checkout buying a box of Ex-Lax, an industrial pack of toilet paper, a packet of Panadol, a tube of Anusol ointment for haemorrhoids, a box of Sudafed, a tub of Vicks Vapo-Rub, a bottle of Eucalyptus oil, a bottle of Aspirin, a packet of Voltarin, a box of Codral Day and Night tablets, a tube of Deep Heat Rub, a tube of Clearasil, a Home Enema Kit, and a box of KP24 for head lice.
You know what the check-out chick said? Guess.
‘Have a nice night.’
Didn’t bat an eye. Did not register one iota what this collection of items meant. Hadn’t a clue what she had just put in my bag.
Or, maybe, just maybe, she was simply following the corporate script she had been trained to say automatically, no matter what, making her an ideal employee from the company point of view.
Or, even better, perhaps she was showing deep compassion by refusing to see me for the sick, sick puppy that I was that night. Instead, she might have been internally racked by sympathy for my situation, yet she knew that to acknowledge even one item on this list would be to open up both of us to a terrible encounter. Because imagine if she did.
‘Ex-Lax, eh? Bit of a plumbing situation downstairs? Mr Brown refusing to leave the building, is he?
‘Um…it’s for me Mum…’
‘Sure it is.’ She turns to the girl on the next check out. ‘Shell, what’s that new constipation thing we got last week. I’ve got a guy here who’s backed up something chronic. Turbo something. Turbo-Poop? That’s it!’ She turns back to the PA mic and her voice booms out over the store. ‘Check-out assistance, a jumbo pack of Turbo-Poop from aisle 7 for this poor bugger down here who looks like he hasn’t done a number 2 since 2002.
Then she’d smile sweetly at me and ask, ‘Is there anything else I can help you with?’
So after she had ignored every embarrassing product I’d bought and wished me a good night, and I was turning all this over in my head, running the gauntlet from her being robotic to compassionate, I decided to err on the side of generosity and not judge her, which is something we should try do with our characters from time to time, and in fact, with our fellow humans in general. I held up the bag and gave it a gentle pat as I looked her in the eye, and said, ‘Thank you. It can only improve from here.’
(first posted as guest post at BestChapLit on 13 August 2013)