A week later, Tati was at work, manning one of the registers at Malâs Supermarket. Situated in a good sized, graffiti-tagged space on the shoulder of a red brick apartment building a few blocks from Tatiâs house, and bearing a hand painted, and rust tainted sign boasting the establishmentâs name, Malâs was practically the only grocery store that served the community, so the residents had no choice but to deal with Malâs rancid meats, rotting produce, exorbitant prices, and mostly rude personnel.
Having worked at Malâs for close to six years, Tati had grown content with her job. It didnât require much from herâshe usually clocked in at seven a.m., met with the store manager, counted cash for her registerâs drawer, then headed out to her usual station, a special checkout counter behind which drugstore items like deodorant sticks and toothpaste were kept. While there was steady customer traffic throughout the day, the store was never overwhelmingly busy. The level of stress Tati had to contend with at work was ridiculously low.
Another perk of the job was that management did not require the staff to wear uniforms of any kind, not even those logo embroidered aprons or brightly colored polystyrene nametags usually worn by cashiers at major grocery chains. So when she arrived at the store that morning, Tati had on jeans and a fitted pink t-shirt with the Jazmin bathroom tissue logo on it.
Eleven oâclock was the beginning of the lunch rush, and though the store became a bit busier than usual, Tati didnât feel it was too much to handle. Besides, she was getting off in a few hours, at three p.m., and thatâs when the real rush would begin. The store would become swamped with customers coming straight from work, wanting to pick up provisions for the nightâs dinner or the following dayâs cookout. Very few times had Tati been asked to work after her shift was over; those times she had, sheâd witnessed some truly nasty confrontations between her co-workers and the shoppers, with some even exploding into physical violence. That mostly happened on holiday weekends, when everyoneâs emotions were on the cusp of the boiling over.
Thankfully, today was not a holiday Friday.
She picked up the first item that the next customer set on the counter and ran it over the scanner. Its price didnât register on the screen, so Tati tried scanning it again. Still nothing. She picked up her checkout counterâs telephone and said into the receiver, âSimon, I need a price check at register one.â She repeated herself before hanging up the phone and then apologized to the waiting customer. âItâll take just a minute,â Tati said. âSomeoneâs going to see how much this is.â
The people standing in line groaned in annoyance.
Tati shrugged. There was nothing she could do. She scanned the remaining items and when Simon, the assistant manager, arrived, attempting to dislodge a stringy piece of meat caught between his teeth with his tongue, Tati showed him the offending item: a canister of Reduco Diet Nutritional Drink mix.
âBe right back,â Simon said and he disappeared into the store.
Tati shrugged again and looked around. Her registerâs location gave her a particularly good vantage of the storeâs entrance and exit as well as the other three checkout lanes. The first two lanes were busy, so she wasnât surprised when the third laneâs light illuminated to signal it was now open.
âTaking customers on register three,â Tatiâs co-worker Shawanda called out in a loud, guttural Brownsville twang. Her massive, pendulous breasts seemed to reverberate with every movement she made.
Customers hurried over to Shawandaâs lane, most of them Tatiâs. Oh sheâs gonna hate me for this, Tati thought. But two remained in her line: the woman waiting on Simon to return with the price of the can of Reduco Diet Nutritional Drink mix, and Roy Marble.
When Tati finally noticed Roy, he flashed a radiant smile at her.
She smiled back at him.
Tati didnât know Roy Marble personally, but she did know a few things about him. She knew that about two weeks ago he started coming into the store and going back to the deli counter. He ordered the same sandwich each timeâturkey breast on rye with lettuce, tomato, and low-fat Swiss cheeseâand typically paired it with a fruit salad and bottle of Fiji Water. He always, always, stood in her line, no matter how long and slow it was, no matter that the other registers were open and available. And he always paid with cash, except for that one time he used his debit card and she caught a glimpse of his name. Roy Marble. For some reason, Tati liked that name.
Roy was a brother that was in good shape. He had a build like a professional tennis player, nice shoulders, and strong hands. Tati supposed Roy worked in construction in some capacity, as his standard uniform was that of a t-shirt and carpenter jeans stained with signs of labor. This always puzzled her, though, because she couldnât think of any place in the neighborhood that was under construction or renovation.
Simon returned, telling Tati the price of the drink mix. The customer huffed and said, âForget it.â Tati charged the customer for the remainder of the items, and then placed them in two plastic bags before sending the customer on her way.
âShe didnât even buy it,â Roy said as he walked up, indicating the Reduco canister.
âOh,â said Tati. âNo.â She giggled.
As she scanned the turkey-on-rye sandwich she became acutely aware that Roy was staring at her. It made her more than a little nervous.
âCan I ask you something?â
Tati looked up at him. âSure.â
âWhatâs your name?â
Tati touched her chest. âMy name?â
âYouâre the only one Iâm talking to.â Roy gave her a teasing smile.
âWhy would you want to know my name?â Tati asked as she scanned the bottled water.
âIâve wanted to know your name for a while now,â said Roy. âYou donât wear a nametag and itâs never on the receipt.â
She regarded him, curious. There was something warm about him, his voice, his vibe. Sure, he was eye candy before, but now she felt there was more to this Roy Marble and she liked it. âTati,â she said. âTatiana.â
âTatiana,â he said. âI like that. Itâs pretty.â
She thanked him, and then told him his total. He gave her a twenty, and as Tati handed Roy his change and receipt, he said, âI like you, Tatiana, Iâd like to get to know you. Would you like to go out with me?â
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