Thursday, July 3, 2014

I first noticed the boy as I stepped around the end of the self-checkout line to bag my groceries.

He was craning his neck over the counter to monitor my progress as I quickly packed up the few things that I had purchased.

Satisfied, he ran back to his mother at the register and attempted to lift the comically large bag of tortilla chips he had been hugging to his chest onto the scanner.

"Wait just a second, sweetie," his mother said, stopping the boy immediately with a gentle hand on the shoulder.

I looked up and exchanged a quick smile of acknowledgement with the woman as I continued to bag my items. The boy ran back down to my end of the conveyor belt, taking note of the lone package of frozen spinach left on the bagging area.

"But...she only needs one more," he said as he shuffled back to the scanner. His mother stooped over and rested her free hand on the back of his head.

"He," she corrected. "That's a man."

The boy looked at me again and, after a quick reappraisal, turned back to his mother, puzzled.

"But he has long hair," he stated with a note of hesitation.

"Yes, sweetheart. Sometimes men have long hair, too."

"Oh..." he said, looking around.

"But why is he the only one?" he inquired, motioning briefly in the direction of the rest of the supermarket.

I stopped pretending to double-check the prices on my receipt and turned to leave with my bags.

"I don't know, dear. There are lots of reasons why men grow their hair out. But let me ask you a more interesting question. Why do you think that everybody else wears their hair short?"

I listened as long as I was able before I fell out of earshot, but I did not hear an answer over the sound of the boy's contemplative silence.

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