I entered the grocery store, my bag on one arm, and headed up to Karen’s office. I felt conspicuous with my new black shoes and yoga pants— the way they contrasted with my non-logo black shirt— but I still felt good. My office job had let me go because of Covid, then Karen had hired me back without even a resume. The thought of belonging somewhere was— well, not empowering— but— well, sturdy-ing.
I jogged up the steps. Karen opened the door and greeted me. I smiled beneath my mask, we chatted, and I updated her information. She gave me a couple shirts and assigned me a locker, then sent me down to Gail’s till. I didn’t need full training again (not that I had ever gotten full training. Full training was supposed to last two weeks; the first time I worked there, after three days, I was left on my own) but I would get a little refresher for two days. That was fine with me. It had been over a year since I had left, so I no longer knew the details of being a cashier.
Gail, an old friend from before with short greying hair, glasses, and a great skill at deadpanning, greeted me and wondered aloud if I really needed this refresher. I proved that I did when I could not remember the code for almost any produce. She showed me the code book in the drawer, and away I went. Avocado was 4046, red bell pepper was 4688, green bell pepper was 4065, gala apple was 4137. Also there were so many questions to ask a customer! How were they doing, did they need any bags, did they have a PC Optimum points card? Not to mention which department I was supposed to call when a carton housed a broken egg? It turned out to be Dairy. Then there were things like the alcohol procedure. They hadn’t sold it when I worked here last. Turns out, I wasn’t supposed to touch it. I had to call a Smart Serve over the speaker (the speaker is still great fun) and let them scan it though and punch in their password and stuff. And there were all these Covid regulations: I knew about wearing the mask and standing behind PlexiGlass, but I wasn’t allowed to touch peoples points cards or gift cards, and I could only use one belt if the lane behind me was open, and I couldn’t put two customers’ stuff onto the same belt.
After an hour, codes started coming to me… codes I hadn’t looked up yet. Eggplant— 4081. Lime— 4048. Zucchini— 4067. Lemon— 4053. Pineapple— 4029. My scanning motions became more fluid, my feet found the belt pedals instinctively, and I remembered how to price match. Gail left me whenever someone called override, and our conversation turned to just that. I no longer had questions. At one, she left, and Debbie came to take her spot. This I found rather ironic: when she started, I had spent a day training her. She stood behind me, and we chatted about the darkening clouds, the rain, the weather warning beeping on people’s phones. She went over to the girls by the self-checkout and came back with the information that if a tornado was spotted, we were supposed to run to the freezers in the back.
During a lull, one of the girls from Grocery and a new boy came to my till to get the price checked on a bag of System Saver. “And welcome back!” she said. That tickled me, right down to my toes. I knew her, but I didn’t know her name: she was just The Girl From Grocery, with dark hair past her shoulders, pretty, and tall. Mary (Funny Mary— there are many Mary’s) ran up and poked me on her way to do an override. Susan waved at me, and the other cashiers smiled and said “Hey!” or some other variation. I went home that day quite happy.
The next day I jogged up the steps to where the list was posted for tills. I wasn’t on there, but Karen came out of her office and assigned me Till 7. Another girl with curly hair defying her ponytail came up right behind me and Karen introduced her: Selene. I believe she started just before I left, but I never knew her name, so I was delighted to meet her. Karen introduced me as “basically an expert”, which I was naturally pretty cool with. Inside, also naturally, I was pumping my fist with pride.
I didn’t ask who was training me, but the sheet said that another girl (I’ve quite forgotten her name) was supposed to come on at 10:00. I shrugged and opened the till, greeting my first customer, and cashiered away. I saw her come down, seven minutes to ten. She looked at me and walked away, probably to check the list again, then came back and stood behind me as I finished ringing through my current customer. I turned around. “Are you my babysitter today?” I asked playfully. I hadn’t seen her before, and she looked a little nervous. “Um, no, I think I’m supposed to take over from you.” I didn’t think so, and informed her of the situation. “I’ve only been here for two months, I don’t think I’m supposed to be training anybody yet,” she said. I didn’t get the chance to explain that it was perfectly normal (I had trained since three months, so she must be really good to do it at two) because she said she’d go ask and make sure. I only seen her a few more times that day, helping out the girls that were cleaning.
Another girl, with gorgeous dark skin and perfect eyebrows and hair that was probably an afro if released from its bun, asked me if I needed more bags. I needed two boxes of them. She brought them over to me. “I’m Megan,” she said while transferring the heavy load. “It’s nice to meet you.” I returned her smile. She must have been pretty new too, I didn’t recognize her.
I got more acquainted with the girl on Till 6 while on break at the same time. Her name was Jess, and she was from Toronto. She and I shared the feeling of being so much older than the evening crown, the school kids. While on that same break, I got a text from Mom that I had forgotten to give back her MasterCard after running errands for her a couple days ago. “Just put it in your pocket,” she said, “And I’ll come to your till and get it from you.” Now, dress code was yoga pants, which annoyingly don’t come with pockets, but the waistband was pretty tight, so I tucked the card there and pulled my shirt down over it, hoping to not look too strange. I was speed-walking back to my till and adjusting my ponytail when I heard a hissed “Keri!” I turned to see Mom there, her cart already piled high. I gave her the card, very covertly, of course.
I seen Mary (MC) helping out with directing the lineups. I couldn’t catch her eye to wave hello, but I did notice that she had dyed her hair a shade of plum; well, not quite plum: a little more red in it. Then she was called to do an override right in front of me, at Jess’ till, and she leaned over mine and said “It’s nice to not have to do all that training again, isn’t it, Keri?” I said it was. She was off. She is very fast, and I like that. It’s very handy in an override. I seen her talking with Brady later, who is one of the higher ups on the back end, like stock and stuff. It’s really cute to see them together, because he’s so tall. She’s not short, but to see them talking so seriously always endows me with the sense of a good power couple.
The lady on the till behind me, 8, turned to me during another lull when we had cleaned everything that needed to be cleaned, and said “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Brenda.” (Or Glenda, possibly. I’m still not quite sure.) She asked about me, and I told her where I’d been and where I’d come from, and she offered me a packet of gum underneath the PlexiGlass door. We laughed over how suspicious it felt to be passing stuff under doors even when the bottom of the door was at our hips. I popped one out and clapped my hand to my mouth— only to find my mask there. She had a customer then, so I laughed to myself over such a mistake when I had thought one day ago that would never get used to wearing a mask. As it turns out, the fabric ones are much more comfortable the the blue paper/felt/whatever/cheap ones.
I had many customers, most of them happy, and no grumpy ones that were vocal. A lot of old people. Tuns out it is quite difficult to get them to hear me through the mask, the PlexiGlass, and the hearing aids. I am going to be excellent when choir starts up again. My enunciation and projection will be simply phenomenal.
I love speed-walking through the store, wearing my No Frills T-shirt, knowing exactly where I am going, and smiling while getting there. It is nice to be getting a pay check again, but it is extra nice to belong.