Salt, Eggs, and Detergent

by Jerry X., 16

Walking down the street, I felt sick. 

My father’s final words as I’d exited our front door were, “You should learn to be independent!” 

Being ten years old, independence was the last thing on my mind. I wanted only to read books, eat Lucky Charms, and play alien invasion in the backyard with my friends. Heading to the store, an empty brown paper bag in my hand, and 40 dollars in my pocket, I felt that doom was near, like I was walking towards my destruction.  

The shopping list in my pocket, written in my dad’s handwriting, said, “salt, Tide laundry detergent, a carton of brown cage-free eggs, no candy or cookies.” 

The thought of hunting down individual items in different aisles, waiting in line to meet somebody I didn’t know, and then handing them money made me feel like I wanted to throw up. It reminded me of the time my grandfather and I bought some books at a school book fair, but he didn’t have the last 50 cents to pay for them. For several sweaty moments I watched as he fished around in his pocket for dimes and quarters. Meanwhile, we were holding up the line and people were looking at us as if we didn’t belong there. Since that day, I’ve had nightmares about standing in front of a long line, searching for that last non-existent dime.

At the last intersection before the store, I waited for the light to turn green. The empty brown bag felt like it was full of lead, and my shoes felt a size too big for my feet. I hadn’t washed my hair the night before, and I was sure everybody would notice. Somehow, I managed to make it across the jam-packed parking lot and through the groups of shoppers into the store. 

Squeezing my way through the tall double doors, I was greeted with smells of disinfectant and cardboard. Tall aisles stacked with paper towels, canned fruit, soy sauce, and vinegar stood to the left of a sprawling produce section. I felt like a criminal. Adult eyes tracked me like pairs of security cameras as I carried my small basket. “Are you lost, young fellow?” I expected someone to ask at any moment. 

They merely looked at me and then went back to checking the price of onions or examining the label of a bag of chips. 

Somehow, I managed to find my way through the maze of aisles. I picked up a container of Morton’s sea salt, a half-gallon container of detergent, and I found the carton of brown eggs in the dairy section. Maybe being independent wasn’t so bad after all. I only needed to know how to carry a basket, read aisle markings, and search the shelves according to my dad’s list. 

However, as I loaded the last of the goods into my basket and headed towards the checkout counter, my breath quickened and I felt dizzy. I walked into line behind one other shopper placing his items onto the conveyor belt as a middle-aged woman scanned them from behind the checkstand. With each beep of the register, I felt one beep closer to my destruction. Two more shoppers had since moved into line behind me, looking impatient.

“Next,” the lady called. I fumbled as I reached into my basket and placed the salt, detergent, and eggs on the conveyor belt. “Beep! Beep! Beep!”

“Your total is $8.65. Do you have a Safeway card?”

“No,” I squeaked. 

I reached into my pocket for the two $20 bills my dad gave me, but I only felt a few quarters and some pocket lint. 

Where did the money go? I reached into my left pocket. Nothing. Then I checked my jacket pockets and back pockets. Nothing but pocket lint. I was at the book fair again, looking for money that I would never find. My grandpa wasn’t here, only me.

The store became loud, yet I could hear everything. The shoppers around me became blurry. I felt like everybody was staring at me. My arms hung useless by my side. I felt like I didn’t have shoes on. Later on, I realized that chemicals released into my blood traveled up into my brain and triggered electrical impulses. But I didn’t know that then.

“I think you dropped your money on the floor,” the shopper behind me said. Looking down, I saw two crumpled up $20 bills on the linoleum floor. Saved. 

Hands shaking, I reached down and handed one of the bills to the cashier who slid the money into the register.

“Thank you for shopping at Safeway,” she said. “Have a great day.” 

I grabbed my salt, eggs, and detergent, put them into my bag, and walked as fast as I could out the door.

Palo Alto, California