Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Checkout (06/09/11)
TITLE: Running errands
By Folakemi Emem-Akpan
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Rubbing the last traces of sleep away from my eyes, I turned the groaning car’s wheel into the brightly lit parking lot. It seemed the car was as groggy and as reluctant as I was. For more than twenty minutes, the two of us had wandered around our sleepy town, looking for a store that was still opened. Even in my half asleep-half dead state, I remembered to pray that the one I found would have unshelled peas in stock.
If I was half the caring man I was supposed to be, I would have seen this coming. I’d arrived home at seven pm, made supper while Marie surfed channels in the living room. For a full minute, she glared at the plate of spaghetti and lean beef and then pushed it away.
“Don’t we have ice cream?” She asked.
I couldn’t stop looking at her enormous belly. The thing heaved and fell as she spoke, jiggled when she moved sideways. I couldn’t believe that I’d be a father in less than a month.
I rummaged the freezer, found a tub of ice cream and presented it to her. After a spoonful, she’d pushed it away too.
“Mike, what about that basmati rice my mother brought last week?”
Marie had never been a picky eater, but pregnancy, I’m told, does wacky things to women’s appetites.
The search for basmati rice was unproductive and Marie trudged up to bed. Lowering myself into the warm depression from where she’d just stood, I heaved a sigh of relief. I tried not to complain but it was exhausting catering to the very many food cravings of a pregnant woman.
My feet throbbed with a soft ache but that was not enough to prevent me from sleeping. I was dreaming of dark eyed babies when Marie shook my awake.
“Please, please. I want peas. Unshelled ones.”
The first thing I looked at was the clock. It was almost midnight. I looked back at my wife’s face, hoping to see that she was joking.
She was not.
“Just drive around a bit. I’m sure you’ll get if you really tried.”
And so here I was, praying for the miracle of unshelled peas.
The clerk at the checkout counter seemed half asleep himself. He kept swatting at imaginary flies in front of his face and I could not help but chuckle to myself.
The store was fairly small, and it did not take long to find the food section. Almost as quiet as a grave, the place seemed to be deserted. But not quite. In the diary section, a man compared several types of cheese and shook his head. He was tall and slim, with tousled hair as if he’d just gotten out of bed.
I watched him place the choices he’d made back, pick them up again.
“’Xcuse me?” he said as he approached me. “Do you know which of these is goat cheese and which is Cheddar?”
I wasn’t an expert in cheese. “No. But why don’t you show the guy at the checkout counter?”
As he walked away from me, I couldn’t help but notice that while he wore a good jacket, he also had on pajamas bottoms. <i>What on earth would a man be doing at an almost closed store in the middle of the night, in his PJs, asking a stranger if he knew the difference between two cheeses</i>
I shook my head and returned to my errand. There on an upper shelf were several jars of peanuts. I selected two jars of the unshelled variety – salted and unsalted, just in case.
At the checkout, the clerk was now awake, and had steered the pajamaed man in the right direction in his cheese choice. He was packaging the purchase while the PJed man looked on.
Curiosity finally got the better of me. Inching closer to the man, I realized that he was almost asleep on his feet.
“Sorry to ask, but I am kind of wondering what you are doing here in the middle of the night.”
He looked me over, then smiled. It transformed his face. “I could ask you the same thing.”
I couldn’t help my own smile as I stared at my purchases on the checkout counter. “For my wife.”
“Well, these are for my wife too. Pregnancy cravings, you know. Woke me and said she wanted goat cheese.”
Laughter bubbled out of my mouth uncontrollably.
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