In his last moment, no one had cried for him. It wasn’t a surprise, nobody knew him. Although the inhabitants of the city, where he spent the last 27 years of his life, knew his name, it remained the same. He was a name associated with a face. When he dragged himself into the shop for the first time in many years, he greeted the cashier on entering.
It was a small shop, typical of a suburb. The most basic in stock, but nothing fancy that stood out. For many years he had not entered the shop himself, but when hunger plagues, even the most threatened animal gives up its hiding place.
So, when he greeted the cashier like every day after and she asked him like every day after, how he was, he said well, like every day. The cashier, her name was Margaret, worked in the shop for 36 years. She saw a lot of people coming and going through the front door. Most of them were friends with her. She joked with them when she sat at the local bar in the evening after work. She chatted with them when she bought flowers in the spring for the two-room apartment where she was already living before she scanned food.
Margaret never complained, even if she spent the nights alone. Of course, she often thought of why she had never actually managed to find a suitable man, but just as quickly she let the thought go again.
Young Margaret had been a pretty, dynamic lone fighter, loved by many men whom she now only called friends, and was envied by all the other women who eventually married these men.
Young Margaret never thought of what her life might look like later. Yes, young Margaret lived for the moment, but when it passed, old Margaret was left with only a glimpse into the past, because as a young woman she avoided it so much. The tension of the old days had evaporated, and her life had dissolved into a porridge of activities that were always the same, just different colors.
When the man first came into the store, she didn’t look at him anymore than usual. She didn’t know him, she knew that from a quick glance. A traveler in transit, she had thought. When he then placed his shopping basket on the conveyor belt of the cash register, she was annoyed by him for a moment. She wasn’t his servant. Why couldn’t he empty out the stupid basket himself, she thought. But then she noticed what the basket looked like. She had seen the pattern before.
The man wrinkled his nose, she apologized to him briefly and started to take the things out of the basket and pull them over the scanner.
Again, she noticed a resemblance. The goods, the man bought – this milk, these grave candles, these disgusting but cheap cereals, she now knew exactly who he had to be. Every second evening a boy came into the shop, often buying the same things, and she hadn’t seen him for three days. There it was *clicking* in her head and she understood that the boy had to be sick and his father, whom the boy sometimes mentioned, had to step in for him today.
While the man was packing his things away and after Margaret told him the price, she asked him: “Your boy, is everything okay with him?
The man didn’t answer her. He looked at her, gave her the money exactly to the cent, took his full-basket and just left. Margaret looked after him and when I met her after my father’s death, she told me that, when he didn’t stop coming back, she thought I had died.
“No cake for sure? Homemade with raspberries from the shop”.
In my gesture of rejection, the coffee slopped over. A black drop landed on the dining room table. Margaret looked at him and then moved silently into the kitchen. Until she disappeared behind the door, I looked after her. Then I leaned back on the sofa.
The living room was bright, it felt friendly, like a home. Many pictures hung on the walls. One thing caught my eye. A young Margaret stood smiling in front of the Eiffel Tower.
“I’m sorry about your father.”
She came into the room with a kitchen roll and wiped the coffee stain off the table.
“I’m sure it was a shock to you when I called.”
I didn’t say anything. I reached into my pocket and pulled out an envelope.
“Here you go” I stretched out the envelope to her “It was nice of you to try to get a hold of me”
“What am I supposed to do with it? I don’t want your money.”
“You’re an old woman who didn’t really know either me or my father. One day you call me from the blue sky and tell me that my father is dying and wants to see me. You can’t just find me in the phone book… so why, if not for the money?”
“I thought I’d help you and your father put things behind”
“Is your life so boring that you had nothing better to do than interfere in mine?” I said in a calm tone. She didn’t react hastily. She took a second.
“My mother and I quarreled a lot when I was a teenager… your father reminded me of her.”
Margaret’s gaze turned to one of the photos. It was a much older one than the others. Bleached and white creases on the corners. The woman on it was Margaret’s mother. I was captivated by her beauty, which far surpassed that of the young Margaret.
“I don’t know what world you grew up in, but sometimes people do good to do good.” When she said it, she looked at me again. Her green eyes were slightly watery. I felt guilty.
“I’m sorry I showed you… so little respect”
“It can’t be easy to lose a father”
“I just lost a man I didn’t know. I didn’t want to see him, and I blame you for me being here even though I knew I shouldn’t”
I got up.
“I’ll go. Thank you again”.
She shook her head. “Stay a little longer. Let’s talk then”
“No, thanks, I’ve got a lot to do.”
I put on my shoes and while she brought the cups into the kitchen, I pushed the envelope into the top drawer of the next closet. I waited for Margaret and we said goodbye.
– First Chapter: The Romans Would Have Eaten Fries
PART OF: TOXIC 24/7
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