Places to Be

I entered quickly, through sliding doors that parted like a shining sea. The aisles were well-stocked with food, aggressively proclaiming freshness and appeal. For a moment I was stranded, adrift among the stands, which formed a maze winding to the end of the store.

But it was only a moment.

Some shoppers were consulting lists or studying competing brands intently. Others darted from row to row, accumulating piles of produce; others still were probing vegetables and fruits, in pursuit of that elusive unblemished product.

I hurried through the store, collecting the few items on my list. There were people wedged into every corner, intent on their individual mission. Sometimes my swift pace almost led me into collision: there was another person- faceless, nameless- heading in the opposite direction. Neither of us saw each other. We merely swerved; I pulled the basket I was holding closer to my chest. Then they were gone and I focused again on my list.

I continued this way until I had checked off each item and emptied my basket onto the conveyor belt. The cashier smiled at my groceries, vacantly. “Hi, how are you?” I smiled at her, because it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps such a gesture could hold meaning.

“I’m good, thanks.” I smiled and she scanned my groceries. The smile appeared to make no difference whatsoever, but then, perhaps we have to notice something, to really see it, for it to have an impact.

I left the grocery store that day after stowing my two bags inside my backpack, and swinging the straps around my shoulders.

“Be careful out there.”

I almost jumped upon hearing this voice behind me. It belonged to a man: middle-aged, slightly unkempt without being disheveled, wearing a neon yellow jacket. He explained himself: “Be careful out there. It’s still raining pretty hard.”

I thanked him. I smiled, because it seemed the right thing to do. To my surprise, he noticed. He smiled too.

“Do you like this weather?” he asked.

I laughed a little. “Not particularly.”

“Not particularly, huh?” He chuckled.

“No.” I laughed and smiled again and then I left. I didn’t look back, but I imagined he was standing there still, watching for rain and the danger it threatened. Outside at the bus stop, the rain was dampening the pavement and misting my vision. I watched the traffic lights change colour. They glowed yellow and then red, and green, and the colour washed in a line along the street, almost to where I was standing. It was beautiful, somehow, and oddly compelling. I felt I could watch them change for a long time.

After all the hurry, I had nowhere to be.

Yes, the rain was almost beautiful, though it was cold and soaking through the bottom of my pants. I glanced behind me through the window into the bright aliveness of the grocery store and all its goings-on. Many things are beautiful, perhaps, if you have the time to look.