My Life Outside of Walmart
It started in one of the Walmart checkout lines.
After picking out what we planned to purchase, my friend Helen had gone straight for the first checkout line she could find. At first I joined her. There were only two people in front of us. However, with just one glance I could see the man in front of us had way more than the number of items this “express” lane was limited to.
Just two lanes down there was a smaller line comprised of one woman and two Hispanic males.
I walked over to that lane, but the obstinate Helen decided she didn’t want to walk the ten feet it took to get to the new lane. When I got into the new lane, one of the men in front of me turned and smiled. I smiled back, and thought nothing of it.
“Helen!” I shouted, not really considering if this would embarrass my friend or not… although in hindsight it probably did. “This line has less items! Get over here!”
She walked over, and as she did the man who had smiled earlier decided to start up a conversation with me. It was then I noticed something off about his smile. It wasn’t a psycho serial killer smile, but it was definitely more than just a neighborly small talk smile.
This man looked to be in his lower forties and had his shiny black hair slicked back. He didn’t step closer to me when he talked. He just stayed by the checkout counter, so there was a good distance between us.
“I saw you looking at something…” he said, and continued speaking. However, after that first phrase I couldn’t really understand what he was saying. His accent was very thick.
“I’m sorry, what?”
I guess speaking gave him permission to take a couple steps closer. I’m still not entirely sure what he said, but it was something along the lines of, “I saw you looking at something earlier. If you have any questions you can always ask me.”
This didn’t make much sense, so I just did a nod, smile and laugh number.
Feeling totally awkward, I turned my back to him and looked at Helen. She was completely oblivious to the exchange. Her hands and eyes were busy digging through the huge pile of movies in Walmart’s five-dollar movie bin.
“Find anything good?” I asked, hoping the man behind me got the message that I wasn’t interested in talking to him.
“Well there’s this,” she said, looking up at me. Clutched in her right hand was Anastasia. “Think I should get it?”
“It is a good movie,” I replied. I’ll be truthful, I don’t remember if she got it or not. My gut tells me she did, but I could be making that up.
When I turned back to the line, just to see if it had moved along, the smiling man’s friend was now getting checked out. The smiling man was still… well… smiling at me.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
Do I give him my name? I feel like giving my name to strangers is a no no… but, it couldn’t hurt to give him my nickname, right?
“Maddi,” I said.
“What?” he said.
“Maddi,” I said.
“What?” he said.
“Maddi,” I said.
“Maurice?” he said.
He nodded his appreciation for my name.
If he wanted to think my name was Maurice then all power to him. As kind as I wanted to be, there were only so many times and ways I could articulate my name to him. If we’d actually had some kind of real conversation and if I hadn’t been getting strange vibes from him I might have taken the time to clear up the misunderstanding. But right now he was just some guy in the checkout line of Walmart. I probably wouldn’t be seeing him again.
“My name is Victor,” he said, pronouncing the end of his name like “tore.”
He nodded. “Victor Manuel. But you may call me Victor. Or you may call me Manuel.”
It was definitely an interesting introduction. I could only return his nod and say, “oh.”
Thankfully it was his turn to check out, and soon he was leaving and it was my turn to place my items on the counter.
“Good bye,” Victor Manuel said with a wave.
“Bye,” I said, giving my best polite smile.
Once I was sure he was gone I explained what had just happened to Helen. We were still talking about it once we had gathered our bags and were heading for the entrance.
“Bye ladies.” A voice came from next to us, and I turned. Victor Manuel and his friend were standing and talking next to the restrooms.
“Bye,” I said, smiling once more.
Once at my car, we piled our wares into my trunk. Helen took the cart and walked it over to the cart return. As I shut the trunk door, I noticed Victor Manuel and his friend walking past us. We made eye contact so I waved.
“Have a nice night!” I said as cheerfully as possible. Hopefully this would be our last encounter and Helen and I could go grab some dinner.
This didn’t seem like it was the case though, as soon as the words left my mouth Victor Manuel began to walk toward my car.
I jumped into my driver’s seat as quickly as I could. Helen opened the passenger side door.
"Get in, get in,” I said frantically, and as soon as her door was shut I locked the doors.
Victor Manuel did not seem to get that I was fleeing his presence. A stranger approaching a girl in a dark parking lot? I had no clue what to expect, but I’d heard enough horror stories that I was ready to floor it out of there if anything even pretended to happen.
He walked over to my window. I planned on just opening my window a crack so we could talk, but of course my stupid Toyota had other plans.
Toyota has so kindly made it so when you just tap the driver’s side window button the window automatically rolls completely down. This is wonderful when you’re driving on the road, and you don’t want to take your hands off the steering wheel for very long. This is not so wonderful when a strange man is approaching your car.
“Hi,” I said, doing my best not to appear alarmed that my clever window plan had failed.
“I came to give you my number,” he said.
I took the tiny folded white paper out of his hand out of reflex.
“Thank you,” I said. I really hadn’t been sure what to say, but that’s what came out.
“You’re so nice,” he added.
“OK. Thanks. Have a nice night,” I said. Then my window rolled up and Victor Manuel left my life for the last time.
Helen immediately burst out laughing. I had to laugh too. The situation felt absurd.
It wasn’t until later, when we arrived at Subway, our dinner destination, that I opened the piece of paper.
It read, “Manuel,” in curly script with a phone number underneath his name and the words, “call me.”
“My life,” I said.
Helen looked at me curiously.
“When I imagined a guy giving me a number for the first time I expected I’d be out at a restaurant. It would be evening, and the lights would be dimmed to create ‘atmosphere’. I’d just be there with a bunch of my girl friends. The cute and funny waiter and I would hit it off, cracking jokes every time he came to refill our water, deliver our dishes, and bring us a couple of extra napkins. Then at the end of the dinner, when he came back with the checks and our credit cards, he would tell us to have a good night, setting my card in front of me last. Once I opened the little folder to take my card out I’d notice a note on the receipt, including the number of the cute waiter.
“But no. The first time I got a number was in a Walmart parking lot from a strange man in his forties who I couldn’t even fully communicate with. This is my life.”