I was at a bodega last week picking up exactly $4.26-worth of bananas and milk. I opened my pocketbook, and there it was. Nothing.
Not exactly nothing, but sure not enough. I had a dollar bill and a handful of coins. I could feel my face flush as I asked if the bodega took credit cards. I already knew the answer: Nope.
"I'll be right back," I told the man behind the counter. I've become friendly with him after two years of weekly banana purchases.
I turned, leaving my food on the counter. He motioned me back, telling me to take my groceries and just drop off the money the next day.
As much as I rave about the wonders of Kroger and Meijer, would a cashier there do that for me? Yeah, right. Even still, I rushed the block-and-a-half home, grabbed a crisp $5 bill from Paul and ran back. When I insisted that he keep the change, he was just as adamant that I take the coins.
I was embarrassed by the entire episode, but it did leave me with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. You see, last fall I didn't see this man at the bodega for about two months. When he returned, I asked him where he'd been all that time. Visiting family in Yemen, he said. A few weeks later was the attempted Christmas Day bombing and a renewed focus on his country.
When Paul took on the banana responsibilities for a week or two in January, I was vaguely afraid that my Yemeni acquaintance would think I had shunned his bodega because of this. I doubt he lost much business; most of his customers seem to be from the Middle East.
I hope I would never judge a whole country's citizens based on a few errant individuals. God knows America has plenty of its own, and I would hate to be typecast based on some of the loons in our prison system. Still, the episode made me think about how it's so easy to fit people into a box-- especially when we don't know them. How would I feel about people from Yemen if I didn't know this man?
It also made me think about how I maybe should check my purse before I try to buy something. Just a thought.