I place my receipt in the receipt-checker’s outstretched left palm at the store exit. She grips my shopping cart firmly with her right hand and starts tallying the lines on the paper slip to the many boxes and packages I’ve purchased.
Frown lines appear on her smooth, white forehead. She looks at me, head to toe, before counting the items again. I wish I’d worn cleaner shoes and combed my hair into a tidy ponytail — I’ve come straight after mowing the lawn because the store closes early on Sundays.
Her shapely left eyebrow arches up toward her hairline. Any higher and it would fall off her face.
People behind me sigh audibly because I, an unkempt, brown woman, am holding up the queue. I’m sure there must be eye rolling too, but I don’t look back.
The skin on the checker’s face stretches taut like a tuned snare drum membrane. She pokes through my items and then, without a word, reaches her left arm to the intercom hooked on the wall behind her. Her right hand is still on the cart, her eyes fastened on me.
I don’t like the hatred she’s emanates and can’t comprehend the reason for it. This is 2018. I hear tales of targeted hatred but choose to dismiss them.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“Pardon me,” she says, her lips opening just enough to let the words out.
“Is some/thing wrong?” I ask again slowly, stressing and stretching each syllable as the immigration officials do at ports of entry.
“This duffel bag hasn’t been scanned. I’m calling the customer service,” she glares at me and points the index finger to the rectangular carton lying beneath the apples, strawberries, walnuts, prunes, milk and frozen pizzas in the trolley.
I know her pink-nailed finger is, in fact, pointed at me—my origin, my skin and hair color, my accent.
“It can’t be. Did they miss it at the register?” I ask. She ignores my question.
I’ve purchased this bag for my upcoming travel to India; the old ones have their handles or zippers broken because of the rough handling at airports. Why did they not scan it?
Impatient groans and tsks from behind. Some cussing and whispering too. I imagine the people behind me would be damning my race and this wretched day.
My head is hung low, almost meeting my sternum. I am the woman of color caught shoplifting. I’ll be forwarded on instant chat groups; I’ll be paraded on repeat across television screens in all homes.My knees feel weak.
“Someone will come and help you,” she says after hanging up the phone, hands me back my receipt, and motions me to step aside. She waves to the next person in line but I can’t move. My grass-dirty shoes are mortared to the cemented floor, my head is dizzy, and my mouth dry.
I start reading the slip with translucent eyes. And there−I see it. I check again to make sure my mind isn’t creating visions for me.
1900800 WHIDBEY DUFL $34.99
My trembling index finger points the black print to the checker. She rolls her eyes but moves closer. I can smell the mint on her breath. Our fingers — hers white and mine brown — are now millimeters apart on the slip of paper.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she says. The surface tension on her face releases a little.
It’s my turn to arch an eyebrow, to stare at her without blinking. Her blue eyes soften.
“I was just doing …,” she starts.
I wave my hand in dismissal and resist the urge to thrust the middle finger in her face.
I rush to my car. Once inside, I rest my forehead on the steering wheel and scream, “WHYYYY?” until I can’t.
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American. She is a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee; her work has been published online in The Ellipsis zine, Lunch Ticket, Star82 Review, Spelk, and also in print, most recently in Chicken Soup for the Soul series. She can be reached at twitter @PunyFingers.