The world blinks and is gone. For a second of total darkness, it is as if nothing has ever existed for me before this moment.
I blink back, and the convenience store world slowly emerges: newborn lights, rows of cans stacked on convenience store shelves and a steel counter in front of me, all strange but somehow familiar. One blur steps forward, grows color, shape, and becomes a man in front of me.
The words come out of me without thought. “I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
He slams a six-pack of our cheapest beer on the counter between us.
“Very funny, asshole. You’re here to overcharge me. Same as yesterday.”
“Three dollars and thirty-four cents,” I say. Don’t know how I know this, but there it is.
Pointing, he says, “You’re supposed to use that.”
Where he’s pointing, a gray blur resolves itself into a cash register with the Quick Stop logo on it. At my back is a white, wooden lifeguard’s chair. It seems odd. Why would anyone want to sit there?
He leans across the counter, spitting in my face now. “Three goddamned dollars and thirty-four goddamn cents. You say you don’t know why you’re here, and I say I don’t know why I let you and your boss charge me so much for the essentials of life.” He is a big man, rough, dirty; used to getting in other people’s faces. “Much money as I’ve spent in here, this damned well ought to be free.”
Maybe this is my purpose here. “Take it, bro.” I smile, proud to add a momentary exchange of sunlight to the semi-darkness of the convenience store cave. I give him generosity; he will give me thanks. We will go on with our day brightened by a positive moment with a stranger who is now a friend. “With blessings.”
The store is in perpetual twilight, but the customer and I stand like two glowing beings under the counter light. I smile bigger. My kindness seems to perfect the charming image, and I’m sure this is why I’m here.
His stare turns to contempt. “Rip your boss off, boy? No goddamned loyalty anymore.” He reaches across me and takes a handful of Slim Jims. “Taking these, too.” At the door, he turns back and spits on the floor. “Goddamned foreigners.”
The doorbell tinkles like it must have when he came in. Maybe that’s what triggered my memory loss. Maybe not. I look around and the inside of the store snaps into clarity. Missing light bulbs, dark patches, dirty floors, and shelves of bright-colored products. I know the price of everything.
It’s all clear now, except why I’m here. Maybe I am a foreigner. But something’s going on here.