by Teo Yu Sheng
“Hey, I’m ready to go now. Are you ready?” I asked.
“No, I need to help with the checking out,” he said at the other end of the phone call. “I think I’ll be the last to check out today, cos we need to wait till everyone else is done. Find me at the counter.”
“Ok,” I said, and made my way to the counter. I had little trouble spotting him amongst the long line of people queuing to check out; he was sitting at a bench a distance away from the counter. I put my bags down beside him, sat down, and rested my head against the table.
Five minutes later, I popped my head up and looked around the check out counter. The line was even longer than before, and the people behind the counter were frenzied, shouting instructions at the line of people who were perhaps too fatigued to realise that they needed to remove the clips from their passes. There was a particularly short guy behind the counter, partially blocked by the guy next to him, and partially blocked by the baggages of the people in the queue. He was struggling to get the people to realise that there were, in fact, two check out stations.
I turned to my side and saw that he was still sitting at the bench, looking at the long line of people.
“Can we go now?” I asked him.
“No, I need to stay.”
“Why do you need to stay?”
“I need to see if they need help,” he said.
I looked at him in disbelief. They – those people behind the counter – obviously needed help. They were practically swarmed. And yet there he was, standing by, “in case they needed help”. He, too, shot me a look – a disapproving one, as though telling me off for asking him to abandon his friends when they needed his help.
I reached a few conclusions quickly. One – that my own problems were pulling me down, to the extent that I couldn’t be bothered to even continue the conversation. Two – that he either had a distorted idea of “someone in need of help”, or an even more distorted idea of “helping out”.
The queue subsided before either of us decided to do anything.
Cover illustration and design by me.