The young man at the counter in Jamila’s store drives me crazy. He stands at the register like a statue, staring out the window as if he’s in a dream. He never sees the customers who come to cash out after finishing their shopping. Jamila always has to shout at him — “Eddy! Customer! Customer!”
And then he turns his head slowly from the window, his dark brown curls falling in his eyes, his face still in whatever fantasy has captivated him. He looks at the customer, looks at the cart and slowly-slowly comes awake and begins to ring up the sale.
But even then he sometimes gets it wrong, sometimes stays asleep. Once, I had a cart full of vegetables, and he took them one at a time, held them up to his face then dropped them, each one, into the trash bin at his feet. Jamila went nuts. “Eddy! Snap out of it! Where’s your head?!”
I don’t understand how he keeps his job, why she doesn’t fire him. It’s nuts that she would have him working her register. I’ve always wanted to ask her, but I don’t. Maybe the kid’s her son, or a nephew, or some strange charity case she can’t turn away. Whatever. He’s a real inconvenience.
Still, I go back to the store, don’t change my pattern. Yes, it’s close to my house, but I’ll admit that I’m also fascinated by this strange boy, this Eddy.
Once I saw him outside the shop. I was walking with my neighbor. We’d taken her boys to the playground and were on our way to get tea and hot chocolate. I was talking about something that was maybe important, but I lost my thought from one second to the next, pulled away from our conversation, from the windy street, by beautiful music. Somewhere close, someone was playing something sweet and delicate, some kind of tune I’d never hear before.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“You don’t hear that music? Where’s it coming from?”
We followed the sound and found the boy from the shop. He was alone at a piano in the center of some kind of gallery or coworking space, playing. He was alone, eyes closed, his hands seeming to drift rather than actually move to particular keys.
“Yeah, it’s nice. Let’s go.” My friend was clearly not impressed.
“I want to stay. You go. I’ll catch you up.”
She frowned then turned and left.
I stayed. There was no reason for me to stay, but neither was there a reason for him to be able to make the sound he was making. I felt as if he was deep in his dream state, playing from his unconscious. And the music called me, as if through it, I could open the door to whatever he saw when he stood dreaming at the shop counter.
I stood. Listened. Waited for the door to open.