The check-out lane extended into the cereal aisle, illuminated overhead by a harsh florescent light. A couple pushed a cart filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and paper towels forward and took their place at the end of the line. They inched forward at a pace only tolerable by those with an unlimited amount of life. Unfortunately, it did not appear that any of the patrons in line had recently tasted of the sweet waters from the fountain of youth.
The couple spoke in low voices, discussing meal planning and their weekly budget. At the register, a man with a silver pinky ring and basketball shoes dropped an armload of goods onto the conveyer belt. A can of peas rolled backwards as the cashier picked up a bundle of green bananas and swiped them across the scanner. She wore a massive Afro picked out in every direction; her hair was loud and proud.
A woman in baggy jeans and a cat sweatshirt was next in line. She dropped a bag of cat food onto the belt and unzipped a purple fanny pack from around her waist and started to dig around, while muttering something about coupons.
Behind the couple, a thick woman with mascara heavy eyelashes rolled up with a cart full of breakfast foods: bacon, eggs, muffins, croissants, Poptarts, cereal and milk. A chubby girl with her hair pulled into sections by colorful barrettes sat in the front of the cart, while an even chubbier boy stood at the end of it. She was a distracted driver; the woman focused on a cell phone letting her cart find the way. Meanwhile, the kids chattered back and forth in their own language, like birds on a wire.
The boy looked around and rested his hands on his protruding stomach like a wise old man. He was tall and nearly as wide as the cart. Rolls held his head up, and gathered at his wrists and elbows. The extra weight prematurely aged him as much as his surrounding environment, punishing and unfair to someone so young.
An elderly woman in large, round glasses and neatly bobbed grey hair, who looked like an elementary school teacher in a not-so-distant, pre-retirement life joined the line with her cart and stood behind the family. She saw the boy looking so worldly, so bold and bright in that moment, she couldn’t stop herself from striking up a conversation.
“Oh, hello there, you’re a big boy. I bet you’re in…” the woman paused thoughtfully considering his age, “third grade,” she said triumphantly.
“Yup,” the boy agreed, nodding his head.
“K, you stop it. You know you a kindergartener,” his mother said.
Without looking up from her phone, she took a few steps forward with her cart, not seeing her son’s crestfallen face and or his apologetic shrug towards the elderly woman. The boy knew shame in that moment and pushed it down, deep into himself where it would stay with so many other hurts long after he became a man.
The older woman looked at the boy through her thick lenses with love and appreciation. She sought out his sad eyes and winked, bringing a quick smile to his face.
This is how people eat.