Uh Huh

Posted on Tuesday 16 October 2007

“He don’t like her going out, you know, like she’s single,” said the uniformed security guard as she leaned her elbow on the glass counter top of the jewelry case.

“Uh huh. I know. And I told her that, too,” said the sales clerk standing behind the glass counter top of the jewelry case that held numerous garish gold strands of braided metal in varying lengths and widths.

“He says her girlfriends are single, not her. Why she has to go out all the time with them? You know?” said the security guard, absently rubbing the chrome edge of the glass counter top.

“Uh huh. That’s right,” said the sales clerk, examining her sculpted nails, wondering which one had the rough edge that kept snagging her sweater.

I only wanted to half listen, at most, to this exchange as I searched for cheap gold earrings and a necklace. A black dress I had recently bought on one of my shopping frenzies had a hint of gold thread in it, and all I own is silver jewelry. Gold-like something that wouldn’t turn my skin green when I wore it–and cheap–that’s all I was here for. Then I was treating myself to lunch at a coffee shop-type spot around the corner. Shopping for hardly real gold jewelry was an errand; grabbing lunch in an old-style, simple eatery was the prize for completing the errand.

But these two women were bored, obviously had mutual friends, and just plain didn’t notice or care that their sole customer–me–was loitering at the counter, too. It was impossible to half listen to them, however, because they had to almost shout to hear themselves above the whir of a giant fan that oscillated back and forth in the corner of the cramped store. Thus, they had my full, reluctant attention.

“Uh huh, so she says she don’t care,” said the security guard, brushing lint from the sleeve of her navy blue uniform.

“She better,” said the sales clerk, finally locating and picking at the offending nail.

“Uh huh,” said the security guard. “‘Cause if she don’t…”

“Uh huh. You know what I’m saying,” said the sales clerk.

As this conversation continued, a teenager walked into the store, her sweatshirt hood pulled tight around her head. She immediately started fingering the stretchy sparkling bracelets displayed in a tangled heap on a side counter. And when the guard didn’t look in her direction, I watched her pocket a handful, think better of it, and put them back. Maybe she didn’t like the style.

“Uh huh. When you got a man…” the security guard’s voice trailed off.

I spied a pair of not-horrible-looking earrings behind a locked plastic case, and waited for the sales clerk to look in my direction to show them to me.

“Uh huh. That’s what I’m saying,” repeated the sales clerk.

The teenager moved on to another display rack, held up a pair of earrings to her ears and shoved two other pairs into her open bag. I leaned over the glass counter and cleared my throat. Hellooo? Anybody here? “Excuse me,” I started to say.

But just as the security guard stood up straight, and just as the sales clerk finally noticed me, the jewelry store door opened again. This time, a tiny, elderly woman entered, her stained raincoat half buttoned, her greasy gray hair matted down from the blue and orange scarf she pushed down around her shoulders. A plastic black purse hung empty and useless on her forearm. Her sallow complexion was marked with scratches; but her eyes were bright, attentive.

“What you doin’ now, pushing that big ol’ heavy door!” the security guard shouted at her across store, startling the older woman.

“I waited outside, but you didn’t see me,” the woman scolded the security guard.

“You’re early, that’s why!” laughed the security guard.

The sales clerk turned to wave hello to the woman. Fine, I thought, I can wait another minute or twenty to see the earrings.

“My bus came early, so here I am,” said the woman, grateful that the security guard had come over to hold open the heavy front door for her. Okay, that was nice of the guard to get the door, I grudgingly thought.

“Well, now that you’re here, I have that present for you,” smiled the security guard.

A what?

“Oh, you do? Really? A present?” asked the older woman, at once embarrassed and incredibly thrilled.

“I told you I had a present for you, yesterday. You just forgot.”

Seriously? Even the hooded teenager paused and looked up at the security guard.

The security guard moved aside a floor-display rack, pulled out a heretofore hidden storage container, yanked off the lid, and pulled out a plastic grocery store bag knotted closed at the top.

“You want me to open it for you?” asked the security guard.

“Please!” exclaimed the older woman.

The teenager and I exchanged a quick glance.

The security guard carefully plucked apart the knotted handles of the grocery bag, as if untying the most elaborate of bows. The older woman watched, her eyes shining with curiosity and delight.

The security guard reached into the now-open bag, pausing for just a second as she smiled a knowing smile at the older woman.

“You ready?” she laughed.

“Yes!” cried the older woman.

Yes, the teenager and I silently agreed, our attention now solely focused on the guard, the older woman, and the bag.

Gently and very carefully, the security guard pulled out a stuffed white bunny clasping a basket filled with red-foil-wrapped chocolate hearts, a bright red tag still attached to it. Clearly, it was a Valentine’s Day gift that had languished well beyond the sale shelf. Maybe the guard had bought it six months ago for 50 percent off, planning to hold onto it until next year. Maybe she had bought it for mere pennies last week. Or, maybe this was the gift she’d chosen all along for the older woman.

The security guard smiled. The teenager and I stared. The sales clerk clapped her hands.

The older woman stood silent, speechless for a moment.

“He’s mine?” she asked, when she spoke again.

“I told you, yes! Is he yours…who else is he gonna belong to?” said the security guard, not at all angry even though she tried to sound annoyed.

“Oh my,” said the older woman, reaching for the white bunny.

“Can you carry him okay?” asked the security guard.

“We can hold him here for you while you have lunch,” offered the sales clerk.

“No, I’ll carry him with me,” said the older woman. “I don’t want to take my eyes off of him.”

“What you havin’ for lunch today?” asked the security guard as she placed the bunny back in the bag and carefully placed the bag in the older woman’s hands.

“Chicken, I think,” replied the older woman, gratefully accepting the security guard’s help to walk out through the front door she’d just entered.

“I think it’s on special today, the chicken,” said the security guard. “Be careful now.”

“Oh I will. I’m carrying my gift,” said the older woman.

“Bye now,” said the sales clerk.

Then it was just us: the teenager, me, the security guard, and the sales clerk.

“Can I help you?” the sales clerk asked me.

Don’t even think about it, the security guard glared at the teenager.

Uh huh.

10 Comments for 'Uh Huh'

  1.  
    October 16, 2007 | 9:31 am
     

    I love these brief windows of other lives – so much background missing and all implications are likely to be wrong. Beautifully captured, RG 🙂

  2.  
    Jennifer
    October 16, 2007 | 9:46 am
     

    This was one of those mornings when I felt like the world was a bleak, unhappy, doomed sort of place. You just reminded me it’s also pretty wonderful. Thanks, RG. 🙂

  3.  
    October 16, 2007 | 11:28 am
     

    Tears in my eyes. (the standard it seems for reading one of your lovely tales)

    So sweet – AND a reminder to stop and observe a little more than I do.

  4.  
    maureen
    October 16, 2007 | 2:08 pm
     

    What a great pick me up!! Thank You for sharing that with us

  5.  
    Lethe
    October 18, 2007 | 9:45 am
     

    This was especially relevant to me as I work in a jewellery store (in Australia). Your security systems are totally different to ours.

    A great post, as usual. Thank you for making my day that little bit better.

  6.  
    October 18, 2007 | 11:18 pm
     

    you captured that moment so well! i felt as if i was right next to you, sugar. thank you for letting me tag along.

  7.  
    October 20, 2007 | 11:57 am
     

    I saw it going one way and then you took it another way. Impressive! And it warmed me heart!..:)

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