Even the regulars aren’t always safe.
Most of them, I have their faces memorized. It just kind of happens after two years of working in the same place. I don’t know half their names, but at a glance I can tell you if they’re nice or not, what kind of cigarettes they smoke–a whole catalog of scattered, inane, yet strangely intimate details.
I recognize the woman next in line: middle-aged, straight-faced, over-tanned, mousy hair in a ponytail. Almost always on the phone during checkout. A regular, but not one of the cool ones you can joke around with and tease, the ones who make your day bearable, who actually say hello back and don’t take it out on you if you just sold your last pack of Marlboro Lights or ran out of Coke on accident. The ones who say they’ll come back next time instead of yelling or asking can they see a manager.
She steps up and throws her stuff on the counter. I give her the bare minimum, a quick, “hi” that I hope doesn’t sound too unenthusiastic, and start scanning her stuff. Best get this over with as quickly as possible.
She glances up with doey brown eyes that look totally out of place with her disposition. “I need gas.” The overplucked arches always make her look vaguely surprised, but I know she isn’t.
“Okay, what pump?”
She mumbles something about a white car, and man, I hate it when people don’t know their own pump number. Glancing over her head at the pumps since she can’t be bothered to do it herself, I see a white sports car parked on 9.
“Alright, Pump 9?” I say aloud, to confirm. She doesn’t object, so I put her ten dollars on there and punch in her fountain drink. Transaction ended, she bustles away.
Minutes later, I look up and happen to spot her crossing the parking lot, making a beeline for the store. Uh-oh, I think. Glancing at my screen, I see the ten dollars is still sitting there un-pumped and steel myself for reentry.
She yanks the door open and glares at me. “Um, my gas?!” she says, with attitude.
“You’re on Pump 9, right?” I ask, calmly double-checking like I always do when this happens.
“No,” she says, exasperated, “I’m behind the white car.” Oh, so THAT’S what she mumbled before. Got it. Also… that’s still not a number. I need a number!
“Okay, so you’re on Pump 11?”
“Bee-hiiiiiiind the white car,” she says again, over-enunciating as if I’m stupid.
“Yeah,” I deadpan. “Pump 11?”
She storms off, shaking her head as if her indignation is truly righteous. I transfer the ten dollars and she pumps it, speeding off to whatever life it is that keeps her perpetually busy and rushed and, presumably, makes her so darned rude.
I haven’t touched a single sip of caffeine (energy drinks are a cashier’s vice), but as usually happens after a stressful encounter, my heart starts racing, thumping frantically in my chest. Strange that it does this after but not during. My face burns and my arms prickle, breaking out in goosebumps as sickening waves of anger and helplessness wash over me. This, this is what makes me want to walk right out those double doors and never look back. This is the feeling which has driven me more than once to the inside of a bathroom stall.
I force deep breaths, reminding myself it’s just anxiety and it’ll pass. But you’ll just have to help her again next time. She’s a regular; she’ll be back. And what if she’s even ruder now? What if she treats you even worse as revenge? What if she starts yelling, or cussing, or, or–
I’m standing at the register, but also, I’ve fled to the bathroom, crying. I push past the door, where the sign’s supposed to say “WOMEN” but says “ANXIETY” instead, and lock myself inside a stall. I might dry my eyes and emerge eventually, but I’ll be back; it’s really only a matter of time. You see, I’m a regular here.