Unknown cashier, Westside Market
I stood admiring this little lady, whose nationality I couldn't discern. Her hair was a deep black, thinning on top. Though her designer jacket was three sizes too big, her cane hung sportily over one arm. I watched, smiling, as she chose one good chocolate bar and then replaced it with another. It was clearly work for her to get dressed and to the store; she seemed unable to lift her head to look around. Osteoporosis? I didn't know.
When her turn came, she opened her black patent leather purse to pay. I could see that it was empty inside but for a single dollar bill. Confused, she struggled to unzip an inner pocket of the bag. She pulled out a passport and a plastic card, and handed the latter to the cashier. "I'm sorry, ma'am," the cashier said with surprising gentleness, "This is your Metrocard. Do you have another card?"
The old woman rummaged through her empty purse with growing agitation. Then she reached into the left pocket of her jacket and pulled out some papers. No cash. No credit card. The bill for her frozen cheese blintzes and chocolate bar was $8.17.
"Take your time ma'am," the cashier said calmly, "There's no rush." I nodded in appreciation, realizing that -- had I not been on the same wavelength -- the cashier's words would have signaled that in this line, at least, we respect the elderly.
After a few minutes a manager walked by and the cashier called her over. "This woman is having a hard time locating her credit card," she said in a friendly and matter-of-fact way, "Perhaps you could help her?" And the manager, God bless her, stepped up to the task with the same humane attitude. She suggested looking in the right coat pocket. And it turned out there was a five dollar bill in there. But no credit card.
The manager shrugged at the cashier, "Just ring it up at $6.00, okay?"
The cashier said, "That's not necessary. I'll cover the difference." Without condescension she took the $6 from the woman, who by now didn't understand what was happening except that it was okay. Then the cashier said, with practical wisdom, "You can stand over here and get your things together and your bag set the way you like it, so you feel safe before you leave."
As soon as I thought the old woman wouldn't hear, I offered to pay the $2.17. But the cashier had already pulled out her own bag to find the money. "You made my day," I told her. She shrugged and smiled in her matter-of-fact way, and I knew it made no difference to her how I felt. She'd done the right thing, and she didn't need my approval.