‘Come on MUM … there’s heaps of cars in the car park. All those people are gonna get the best stuff!’ Cindy rolled the window up of the aging Holden. ‘Why can’t we have a car with those automatic winders,’ she added in that whining tone her brother Tim hated, and usually responded in his uniquely enigmatic manner. This time, he was ‘otherwise-engaged,’ his headphones blasting out Rap music his mum, June, would rather not hear.
June manoeuvred the car into a space, avoiding the eyes of a man driving a late model Nissan. ‘Looks like he might have to drive around for looking,’ she said, a bit guiltily. ‘Come on … let’s get this over and done with. Remember … I only have $150 in the Christmas Club, so only a few treats. Are you joining us, Tim?’
Tim muttered a reply, just quietly enough for June not to hear. She had long since given up trying to interpret his adolescent brooding. The sun was sending the temperature into the mid-twenties, adding a layer of discomfort to her already stressed demeanour. The reality of the meagre $150 and what it could purchase hung heavily on her.
A few minutes later, they were trudging down the veggie aisle, Tim heading towards the snacks around the corner. He didn’t hear June telling him to wait.
‘Oh well … better get the essentials,’ she said, forlornly, lifting a 10kg bag of potatoes into the trolley, which Cindy insisted was her job to propel through the crowded supermarket. June had to return several items to the shelves that Tim had carelessly shoved into the trolley. ‘When will that boy learn that ‘essential’ does not include expensive Turkish dried apricots … or whatever he is getting now?’
Her fears were validated, as they rounded the corner. Tim dumped about twelve different packets of ‘munchies,’ as he liked to call them, into the trolley. June shrugged her shoulders, then faced her daughter, who was less inclined to hold back. “Why does he always get to choose … ‘‘Don’t … just don’t,’ June pleaded, as other shoppers sent various ‘judgments’ her way.
They continued, collecting meat, bread, cleaning products, a small Christmas cake and a bottle of cheap wine. June began to feel anxious. ‘The $150 was beginning to look totally inadequate. As they approached the checkouts, June searched for the shortest line. They waited in line. June started the process of quietly deciding which items were going to ‘return’ to the shelves. She braced herself for the glances, the pitying looks, the unspoken comments.
Tim walked through and waited by the sliding doors, totally unconcerned, while Cindy helped to stack the purchases on to the counter. June watched as the total passed her target. She rummaged around in her purse, finding about $20 in coins. She was forty dollars short.
Her face reddened as she asked the operator to take out items. June returned the larger packets of munchies, the bottle of wine, and asked for the new total. She was still $5 short
June was close to tears. She searched for another item that would lower the total. As she picked up a large bag of frozen veggies, a hand gently reached across from behind.
‘How about you put them all back in. I’ll pay for them.’ His eyes seemed to say … ‘please let me. It’s OK … I’ve been there. I KNOW what it’s like.’
‘But … I don’t know you … why … ‘June burst into tears. There was no doubt that people were looking now … intensely … but without the judgment she feared. ‘I can …n’t … except … your generosity.’
‘You can. Call it, paying forward. If you knew my story you would KNOW. It’s OK.’
June was overwhelmed. For once, Tim showed a side she hadn’t seen for years … well not since he was launched in to the ‘difficult years.’ He came forward and put his arms around his mother. ‘Mum … let him. He’s a good one.’
June watched, as the man paid for ALL her groceries; dumbfounded, unable to respond in words … for a while. ‘How can I repay you?’ Then it hit her. He was the man in the car park … the one she had pushed into the empty car park in front of … the only empty car park! ‘I’m so sorry about my behaviour in the car park.’
‘I wouldn’t be concerned about that,’ he replied. I could see you had a handful. I know what kids are like. He smiled at Tim and Cindy. ‘You two … look after your mum. Show her you care.’
He walked away. As June left the store, she felt every eye on her, some of them moist. Maybe Christmas was going to be a little different this year. People do care … sometimes.