I was standing in the checkout line, several feet behind the lady in front of me, perusing the candies and mints and chewing gum. If there’d been a Mounds bar on the rack it would have jumped into my hand.
I wasn’t in a hurry — not today. I had wandered the aisles, checking out the seasonal items that had appeared since my last visit. I hadn’t gotten a buggy when I entered the store because I wasn’t planning on buying anything, though I did manage to find one small item for my latest knitting project.
I overheard the clerk talking with the couple in front of me. “Would you like a rewards card?” the clerk asked. “It’s free and it’ll only take a moment.”
“That would be fine,” the woman said. The clerk proceeded to ring up the items, while the woman’s husband ripped open the bag of gummy worms they’d just purchased.
I prepared to wait. Rewards card enrollment always requires more than a moment. The woman was perhaps fifty, attractive, and neatly dressed. I wondered to myself why a classy lady was married to a man with huge colorful tattoos on both upper arms, a ragged tank top, and a cowboy hat. They didn’t seem to go together. Just my musings while I waited in line. . .
With the financial transaction concluded, the woman took her bags and moved toward the exit. The rewards card had obviously been forgotten.
I stepped up to the register since I was next in line. Just then the woman returned to the counter. I stepped back a bit to allow the clerk to hand the receipt to her.
Then the woman glared at me. “Personal space. You know what I mean?” She headed for the door, muttering, “I hate to complain but I need my space.” She stared at me one more glance and left the store.
“I didn’t do anything,” I said to the clerk. “I wasn’t even close to her.”
“You were fine,” the clerk said, doing her best to reassure me that the woman’s upset wasn’t my fault.
“I didn’t step up to the register until after she walked away. I thought she was finished.”
“You didn’t do a thing wrong,” the clerk repeated. “I am so sorry that happened.”
I’ve thought about what I might have said had there been an opportunity. I probably would have said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was crowding you.” Or I might have said, “I thought you were finished so I stepped up to the register. I didn’t realize you were coming back.”
I don’t generally apologize for things beyond my responsibility, but these comments would have been the right thing to say, even though I had done nothing wrong.
Once outside the store, I looked but didn’t see the couple any place. That was a good thing, I think. These days it doesn’t seem safe to talk with strangers in a parking lot, particularly when I had unknowingly offended them.
Lesson: be aware of people’s personal space lest you unknowingly cross their invisible boundary.
Until next Tuesday . . .