Eric made his way into the store. It was usually quiet at this time. He had been here so many times this past week that there were no surprises. There was the cashier sitting with his head nodding off as the sun set behind him. Another disinterested customer stood against the fridge picking out milk. Eric frowned at him. Since when did milk shopping require so much thought?
He heard commotion to his left and saw the store owner’s car. Swearing under his breath he moved silently to the aisle where canned food was. The same place he went to everyday.
“How many days can I eat canned food for?” He asked himself.
“Be thankful”, he heard someone’s voice in his ear.
The man standing next to him smiled.
“Hey”, Eric said.
“Hey”, the man smiled, “Go ahead!”
“What do you mean?” Eric frowned.
“Well!” The man said, his eyes never leaving Eric’s face, “Get a can of food like you do everyday”.
Fear gripped him! Someone knew?
He felt beads of sweat wet his forehead. There was a ringing in his ears and his hands were suddenly cold. So somewhat had been watching him all these days?
“I don’t get a can of food from here”, Eric said, more stoutly than he felt. “I’m just looking”.
The man smiled his sinister smile. Eric turned to leave. He felt caught and humiliated.
But why am I leaving? Eric asked himself. I shouldn’t leave. I haven’t done anything wrong…… today.
He boldly turned around and continued to look through tuna cans.
“Are you looking for this?” The man handed him a chicken soup can.
How does he know? Eric stared at the can until disbelief. How does he know?
“I don’t like chicken soup”, he said finally. “I’m gonna get some tuna”.
“Sure”, the man said easily, “It’s good to switch it up sometimes”.
As Eric went through the items on the shelves, the man’s eerie presence didn’t leave him. He smiled at Eric and even sometimes tried to again engage him in a conversation.
Finally it got too much.
I can deal with hunger, Eric reasoned with himself, but not with this feeling that he thinks I’m stealing. Because I’m not. At least not today.
He turned abruptly and left. The man’s smile followed him for miles.
The customer looking for milk finally found it. He went up to the counter. He handed a twenty to the cashier.
“Who’s that guy? He scared me. I thought he was talking to me but realized he was just talking to himself”.
The cashier pulled a face.
“Comes everyday”, he croaked, “Doesn’t buy anything. Just rummages around and leaves. Always talking to himself. I kept an eye on him cuz I thought he’d steal. But doesn’t steal either. Looks like a loony, if you ask me”.