“Young lady– obviously, you don’t know who I am. I’m Mrs. Manzanilla from Refaccionaría Manzanilla,” my mother announced in Spanish in a voice too loud for my liking. I wanted to run and hide. The way she said that, and the dignified way she looked when she said that made the poor cashier take a nose-dive into the deepest recesses of her brain.
I saw it in the way the cashier tipped her head.
She wanted to try to understand what this lady in front of her was talking about. As far as the young girl was concerned, there was only one Refaccionaría Manzanilla in the whole of Macondo and this lady was not that Mrs. Manzanilla. She knew.
She knew for a fact that Mrs. Manzanilla had never set foot into a Save Big Store; that instead, she sent her housekeeper into the store twice a week to drop off a grocery list. And that the necessary items then got delivered to the mansion. And besides, Mrs. Manzanilla’s daughter and she were thick-as-thieves. She knew exactly what that Mrs. looked like.
“I’m sorry Mrs. Manzanilla, but I’m just following the protocol of a report from our security personnel. They’ve instructed me to ask you to step aside and to request that you voluntarily return the items that they saw you stash into your two bags.”
“And I say, you are wrong! I have no need to do such an outrageous thing as stealing from a place like this. I demand to see the manager.” The girl makes a phone call.
It was a busy Thursday evening and people were stocking up on items in anticipation of the long holiday weekend. The buzz of the cash machines, the intricate bustle of the happy shoppers and the upbeat tempo of the music in the store, drown the embarrassing tone of the commotion going on in front of me. But in my insides, I felt a volcano erupting. I wanted to run away. I didn’t want to be around to see my mother get escorted to the police station.
On my back, I carried an overstuffed rucksack that was ripping at the seams. My mother carried a small Boston bag with wheels — just as conspicuous looking as mine.
“Oh I understand,” my mother volunteered, “you see our overstuffed bags and think the worst… well I never! …” she slams her fist on the counter. “We came here with our luggage because we’ve just arrived from a short trip. We stopped in to pick up a few necessities. And you immediately assume that what you see us carrying in these bags are items stolen from your shelves. Well you are wrong…wrong, I tell you!”
Any minute now, any minute now the earth will rumble and swallow me up whole, I think. That will be better than this. I start to sweat cold.
The people in line at the cashier where we stand get directed to a different line. They look at us with scorn for disrupting the rhythm of their shopping experience. But that is all they do. To them, we are nobodies. No one bothers to know more, but to me, of all the inconsistencies that I have seen and come to understand since turning nine, this has got to be the worst.
And people will talk, a nagging voice announces inside my head. They don’t seem interested in the heated discussion going on right now, but someone will remember.
I start to pray…
They escort us to a room in the back; the office, and they ask us to wait. My mother gives me a side glance and the zip-it-up sign to keep my mouth shut. No need to tell me, Mom, I think, even if I wanted to, words have left my thoughts moments ago. All I have now is prayers. And those won’t buy me a pardon…
Inside, we see a row of monitors apparently displaying every aisle in the store.
We are dead, I think, then I hold my breath. Just then I notice that the monitors show a lot of static on the screen. I exhale. But the exertion of exhaling, or perhaps it was the part about holding my breath, makes me feel light-headed. I lean on the wall and close my eyes.
I hear the voices of men talking and above theirs, I hear my mother’s unwavering voice. I do not know for how long this goes on; I remain fixed on my prayers.
“Come on child, let’s get out of here.” Mother takes my hand and together with my uncle, the owner of Refaccionaría Manzanilla, we walk out of Save Big. He calls us a taxi. He hugs my mother and pats me on the head. Mother and I sit in silence in the taxi until we arrive on the front steps of our house. I drop my rucksack and make a dash for the chicken coop. I remain inside until my mother calls me in for supper.
“Besides, it’s time for the chickens to roost,” she says. And then I begin to cry.