I went to Publix today to get a sub for lunch. The store I normally visit is across town, and this one is a bit different. Their Deli isn’t as fast or well-staffed. Many people seem interested in getting food there, but even with call-ahead online ordering, a wait is to be had. But the subs are good, and I am hungry. Usually, I wait until I get off work to eat, but today, no, I need food.
Three women are ahead of me, and they are together. One is doing the talking and ordering, and one is taking care of the third woman, who is clearly disturbed. The disturbed woman is young, maybe middle twenties, and the woman trying to keep her on an even keel is much older. Disturbed woman moans, but not loudly, cries, and wants to leave. DW likes to be hugged, and isn’t violent or loud, but I step back, and give them all some space.
“Why did they bring her in here?” a man behind me whispered to either me or the woman behind him.
“I think they’re hungry,” I tell him, and he glares.
“They could have left her in the car, you know, with one of the women, and the other could have come in,” he says with a tone of voice that this is a problem he has just solved and we should thank him for it.
“Maybe they’re trying to socialize her. Maybe she wanted to come inside,” I suggest.
“Who gives a rodent’s donkey what she wants?” the man says, and a woman behind him says something I can’t hear, but he doesn’t like it.
“What do you think is wrong with her?” he asks me.
“She’s living in a society that doesn’t value people who cannot be productive, so there’s a minimum amount of resources available to her, or her family, and this is what we get,” I tell him.
“They ought to keep her locked up,” he says, and the woman behind him says something to him that I can hear, but cannot repeat in this place.
“You a millionaire?” I ask.
“You independently wealthy?”
“If something happens to you, and you’re incapacitated, you’re more likely to wind up a ward of the state, and depending on how well you function, you might get to go to Publix for lunch one day,” I say, and a woman behind the counter waves me forward.
“I rather be dead.”
“Thanks for proving my point, enjoy your lunch,” it’s time to end this.
The woman making my sub looks at me, looks at the guy behind me, but says nothing. Clearly Disturbed Woman and the two with her, get their food and go. The guy behind me moves up.
“Why do ya’ll let people like that in here?” he asks the woman preparing his food, but the woman just smiles and asks him to repeat his order.
The woman making my sub stops, glares, and I sense trouble.
“Could I get spicy mustard?” I ask and she turns and looks at me.
“Thank you,” I tell her, and smile, she smiles back and exhales.
“Thank you,” she says, “spicy mustard it is.”
I function better than Clearly Disturbed does, but in the long run, lower than average. I get by. I think about what to say and do before I go out in public. I smile a lot. I tip well. I make an effort to be friendly.
I can do it. She cannot.
That doesn’t make me a better person than she is.
Mike writes regularly at his site: The Hickory Head Hermit.
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