The total was $250, more than my own family’s weekly grocery budget.
Walmart Neighborhood Market carries El Jimador reposado tequila for $15.97 a bottle, which is $4 cheaper than my local liquor store, which is why I went there on the night of July 7th. As I approached, I saw a mother and child sitting on the concrete by the entrance, tucked against a pallet piled with 40-pound bags of salt pellets. Or rather, they saw me.
“Please, groceries,” said the woman. She wore a headscarf and spoke with an accent. Her daughter looked to be around 13. Not cash; groceries. They are strangers in a strange land. They need food. “Yes.” Mom whipped a cart into motion and began gathering potatoes and onions from the produce section.
I strolled to the liquor aisle, pressed the call button, and waited for an employee to come unlock my booze and carry it to the register. (A small price to pay for $4 off.) I waited some more. The daughter appeared at the aisle’s end and motioned for me to join them. I abandoned my alcoholic vigil in time to see Mom heft two slabs of baby-back ribs on top of what she had already procured. I thought, I guess they’re not Muslims, or at least not Halal.
Then I chided myself for thinking that. I looked into the cart and was surprised to see prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella sticks. Not exactly sustenance material. I chided myself again.
Mom darted off for cleaning supplies. “Okay, enough,” I said. “Chocolate, a little, for her,” she pleaded, indicating her daughter and holding her thumb and forefinger close together. “Okay, a little.” I found myself pushing the heavy cart toward the checkout; Mom reappeared with a case of Snapple.
I watched in alarm as packs of ribeye steaks slid over the scanner. The total was $250, more than my own family’s weekly grocery budget. There were two ways for me to be righteous in that moment. One was suggested to me later by my wife. “Look at them, say, ‘You should be ashamed of yourselves,’ and walk away.” The other was suggested to me much earlier by Jesus Christ. “If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you.”
I chose neither. I just paid, wincingly and miserably, to avoid the acute embarrassment of confrontation. I said yes, didn’t I?
As the daughter took control of the lumbering cart, Mom looked up at me from lowered eyes, placed her palms together, and nodded. “Bless you, bless you.”
“Listen,” I said. “If you’re going to do this in the future, you should tell people what you intend to buy. You’re eating better than I do here.” Ribeyes!
She continued nodding even as she put distance between us. “Yes, bless you. Bless you.” She turned and hustled her daughter through the doors. I slunk back to the liquor aisle to wait anew for my tequila and texted my wife about the upcoming credit card bill.
“Very expensive tequila,” she replied.