You are the last. He is the first. His basket had seemed mercifully empty: dried mangoes, some almond milk, a couple boxes of frozen samosas…Little did you know the depth of his pockets, the intricacy of the apparently endless stream of coupons housed within them. The man is now casually shuffling through a stack of Lotto tickets and old receipts, pausing occasionally to tell the cashier about the home-brew kombucha kit he’s been experimenting with.
The minutes drag on, and you look at the salad in your hand, watching the leaves brown before your very eyes. You experience an almost visceral feeling of disappointment as your lunch hour dwindles, and you begin to make certain realizations. You will not get to nap in your car. You will get heartburn from eating too quickly. You will stand patiently in this line until the skin falls from your bones, and the last words you ever hear will be, “Yeah, that’s where I bought my vintage typewriter.”
The other shoppers start glancing around, hoping, no doubt, that a benevolent light will fall upon them from register two. They imagine the voice of the new cashier as he tells them that they—yes, they!—can step on over, the relief as he begins to scan each of their items.
They know as well as you do that this is a fool’s dream.
An elderly man two people ahead attempts to lower himself onto a chocolate pretzel display; he has grown weary. An exhausted young mom is re-reading the back of a cereal box to her three-year-old daughter, who has, by now, committed most of it to memory.
At long last, the hipster produces the elusive “one last coupon,” which he waves around triumphantly before handing it to the cashier. Relief washes over you as you check your watch—twenty minutes is enough time to eat a salad, no problem! The old man pushes himself back up. The mom looks up from her box. You can all see it—the end! The door! The world outside.
The cashier unfolds the slip of paper. “I’m sorry,” she says quietly, “but this coupon is expired.”