I was at a Target store this past weekend buying art supplies with my daughter. We found what we needed in a record 5 minutes, we did not wander around and instead proceeded to the checkout lines (that is a rare thing for us when in Target). We meant to dash in and out of the store so we looked for the shortest checkout line. We ended up spending 20 minutes in a queue of only 5 people. But those 20 minutes proved to be valuable in just observing what money means to different people in their respective lives.
If you are looking for a climax or a moral to this story, there is none. It is a mere sequence of observations. This isn’t even an opinion piece.
We stood at the end of that five people queue. From where we stood, we could see the four people before us and their purchases stacked on the checkout stand.
The lady at the beginning of the line was paying via food stamps. I believe some of the stamps were giving an error, not getting accepted and thus the store manager had to be paged in. It took the store manager about 5 minutes to arrive. My daughter and I looked at the other lines and decided to stay put in the same line.
A woman before us grew impatient and walked towards another line. As she walked out, she murmured in a pretty audible tone, “Why would you come to Target if you were on food stamps?”
All heads turned towards her. “Someday it could be you,” said someone in the queue. She couldn’t care to listen. The store manager arrived by then. We had one less person in front of us now.
The food stamps went in.
“Is this also yours?” asked the person at the check stand showing a small jar of Nutella.
“But there are no more stamps left.”
“Oh! Don’t worry. I have a coupon and I will pay for it.”
“Two dollars and 59 cents.”
The lady held out the coupon and then cautiously began counting the change in her hand. Another person in the queue left and walked towards the Starbucks located within the store.
“I need a Latte,” he said. He showed no annoyance unlike the previous lady. He clearly looked caffeine deprived and it appeared he could no longer resist a steamy frothy drink with two extra pumps in it. A drink he could comfortably afford or may be not. Who knows?
The cashier took a few extra seconds to count and validate the quarters, dimes and nickels.
“My little boy loves Nutella on his bread. I save for it, you know,” said the lady most apologetically to me and the lady before me.
A conversation triggered.
“Absolutely, my children love it too.”
“We should let them have one favorite thing of their own.”
“Yeah, we got to keep them happy.”
“Things change in life quickly. It’s difficult for little children to understand always.”
“Yes, it can happen to any one of us. We understand that”
“I am sorry, you both had to wait so long.”
“Don’t be sorry. Hope your boy enjoys his Nutella.”
“Yes, hope he enjoys the Nutella. And you are doing a great job Mom!”
We said goodbyes. It was soon my turn and I noticed my daughter had a small notebook in her hand. She loves picking up stationary from the dollar section in the store. She returned it back to me saying she did not need it. I did not insist either. We paid for the art supplies and got out of the store.
As we drove home, a question emerged from the back seat.
“Can we ever become poor Mom? Does it happen for real?”
“Yes, we can. It does happen to people for real. That is why we save. That is also why I tell you we have to be thankful for what we have.”
“I save Mom. I saved today. I returned the notebook back because I did not need it.”
“Yes, you did.”
Sometimes life’s greatest lessons are in the little moments of life. Sometimes they are even in the check stand line of a departmental store.
Story By : Piya Mukherjee Kalra