A couple of days ago, while I was browsing in one of my favorite stores, I noticed a man with uncombed white hair shopping in the home decor section. Looking to be in his mid-60s, he was dressed in such frumpy looking ill-fitted clothes–quilted fabric Bermuda shorts with a fussily-printed baggy shirt–that it was impossible not to notice him. He was squatting and looking at different types of containers. I paused then, noticing that the one he was looking at was exactly like one I’d purchased on Monday at 40% off at a different store.
As he made his decision and stood up clutching one in his hand, it occurred to me the price I’d bought it for might be a better price, so I casually inquired, “what was the price on that box?” not out of nosiness but thinking I might save him a few dollars. A frown crossed his face momentarily and he started to walk off saying, “I don’t know. Why don’t you get down there and look for yourself?”
I frequently make casual but friendly remarks to people when I’m out shopping. Most of the time they’re friendly back, and I like to imagine that both of us have enjoyed those few moments connecting to anothers, even though we’re strangers. His remark pierced me like an arrow. I couldn’t resist adding with just a little consternation in my own voice, I was just thinking I might save you a few dollars. He paused then to turn towards me.
“Where?” he said. Then, apparently in a hurry and no need to care about saving money, he turned abruptly and said a few words I couldn’t quite make out. The last words did register, however, loud and clear.
“My cat died!” he had said, glancing down at the chest. Then he was gone.
His cat died? I was confused. What did that have to do with the price of tea in China? I wondered, and throughout the day that scene and those words, my cat died, kept repeating themselves to me. I tried but couldn’t quite forgive him and forget until it finally hit me what he was buying that chest for, and why he hadn’t bothered to look at the price first as I’d assumed he had. Who among us worries at a such critical time, like a pet’s death, what something costs. Especially when it’s a coffin in which to bury a beloved friend?