The man in the grocery store is in love with me.
I can tell by the way that his eyes watch me, and the way he smiles at me from behind the counter. I pull my basket up around the edge of the aisle, glancing briefly at the pop tart magazines.
Mmm… chocolate. I grab one. Impulse buys.
The elderly couple in front of me tinkers with the credit card machine, pushing buttons. Their necks crane and squint a bit, staring at the box. Yes. Pay. No. No, we don’t want any money back. Yes again. Beep!
I catch his eye while I’m in line, and I see him staring at me, his mouth hanging open slightly. When he sees that I see him, his eyes squeeze and his face bursts into a grin. He ducks his head, shyly, and busies himself with packing bags and stacking the groceries as they come down the end of the conveyor belt.
I smile, too, and turn my head back to the cashier. She swipes each item past the barcode reader, tracking and recording my food purchases, automatically smiling at me and asking me about my day. I check in here almost every day, buying my lunch, sometime around noon, a creature of habit. The store is only 2 blocks from my office, and on the busy weeks I rush down here and buy a sandwich for a quick meal. There aren’t too many checkout lines and he’s always here, smiling.
His green store apron is slightly askew, his hands shaking as he picks each item up carefully off the belt to put it in a bag. I reach my hand over the counter to stop him, shaking my head slightly, reminding him again that I brought my bag.
See? I ask — and point to my big purse — I have my bag, I remind him. I don’t need another one. He quickly straightens up and arranges my items again, placing them each on the counter carefully and grinning back up at me once he’s done arranging the items.
He stutters a bit and starts talking to me, a pattern of words I’m used to from seeing him almost every day. His brown eyes open wide and take in every gesture of my being. I face him kindly and listen to his story, thanking him silently with my body for taking the time to tell me his thoughts. Today, he’s urgently and excitedly telling me about my sandwich, which, as he attests to, I will certainly enjoy.
"It’s - it’s - it’s a good, it’s a good- — good - sandwich." He grins.
He has Down Syndrome, I guess, or some other difference, something that makes him seem unusual at first glance. I’m not sure which, nor do I feel the need to name it or identify it. His laughter is playful, childlike, eager. We are just people in a world, together. I am in joy knowing that he is here, able to participate, able to be, able to share his excitement about the world around. Maybe more people should wear smiles as frequently as he does.
Yesterday he saw me in line and his eyebrows burst up in semi-circles of recognition, and he turned around and walked away for a bit. I watched, bemused, wondering what he was up to, until I got distracted by the grocer’s cues to complete my payments. Suddenly he was there, by my side, both hands wrapped around a small flower pot with a long stemmed orchid in it. He extended both arms.
"H-H-Here," he said. "A pretty, a pretty — a pretty —"
"A pretty flower for you."
He blushed and turned shy when he realized what he said.
Thank you, I said.
Thank you so much. I love the flower. Today, maybe I don’t need the flower, but I love the flower. My eyes look at him, longing to understand, to try to feel what he feels and see what he sees and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to know the world as he knows it, if I'll see it with his beauty, with his eyes, with his yearning. My mind flings to things far away from the present, lost in times far gone. And I think, too, if anyone will ever see the world as I see it, or if we’re both just lonely—lost in our own minds, not truly able to share our worlds completely with each other.
But they intersect, these moments, and his brief thoughts, his words, his gifts to me, his interest — they are the meat of it all. They are the reason we do these things. His smile makes me smile, and his words and ideas bridge a small gap between our minds.
Today, I pack my things in my bag and walk away and he waves, shyly. He waves, goodbye! and follows me with his eyes out of the store. I nod and smile, wave goodbye, and then watch him briefly.
His eyes turn around and they pop open, already smiling at the next customer. Each customer is a love, a treat, a friend in waiting. His love is effusive, gentle, patient and ready. If only love were always that easy.
Maybe love is that easy.