the Composition
for Honours Class,
Howard University,

  Authors & Artists


Faces & Voices 4
Faces & Voices 5

Pandora's Secret
Phyllisia Gant
Indianapolis, Indiana - Legal Communications

        I pulled my car in the full parking lot at the grocery store. We circled the lot slowly for a few times before we found a space, towards the rear, to park. I took a long deep breath. I could already tell that this was going to be a lengthy afternoon. My husband, Adam, still grumbling about missing the game, got out of our black Volvo and just stood outside the car. Niles, our usually precocious now suddenly annoying four- year old daughter, was literally bouncing in her car seat, swaying the whole car. I unfastened her small safety belt before opening my door to help her out of the car. She darted out as soon as I unlocked her door. She was quick, but I was quicker. I grabbed her hand and looked directly into her large brown eyes.
        “This is not a place to play Ni-Ni,” I told her sternly. She nodded and held tight to my hand. I signaled to Adam and we walked to the entrance of Atlas, our grocery store.
        We reached the door of the Supermarket at the same time as a striking elderly woman and, in deference to her gray hair and seeming frailty I stood aside that she might enter ahead of me. She chose a shopping cart and moved slowly along the cosmetics aisle, the cart’s wheels squeakily protesting the need for a little oil. My husband selected a cart and we placed Niles in the front seat. I was really hoping that this would be a quick trip to the market for just a few goods to make it through the week before we went to Venice on vacation. Adam had this determined look on his face that seemed to tell me that he wasn’t going to make this any easier for me. Who really cares about the Lakers versus the Bulls? I thought. I stuck my tongue out at him and we pushed on.
        The woman I had just seen at the door was ahead of us. There was something vaguely familiar about her and, as I followed at a short distance I wondered if, when or where I might have encountered her before. The face was handsome, in spite of a network of fine lines around the eyes and mouth, and she carried herself with a lissome grace startlingly at variance with the threadbare coat, which hung loosely to her cracked, misshapen shoes. Niles begged to be released from the cage- like shopping cart. I lifted her out and stood her on the floor, but before I could remind her to behave she ran away. I looked at Adam. He held out his hand. Rock, paper, scissors. I won; He had to go chase her down. This was how we dealt with everything now. Rock, paper, scissors. It was truly distressing to watch how low two Howard educated surgeons had sunk. We used to argue about who would do what regarding the baby’s needs. Now we simply flipped a coin, computed figures in our head, or played rock, paper, scissors. It saved our seven- year marriage. I smiled at him as he turned away to go retrieve our child.
        I turned my attention back to the aisle and noticed that the woman had moved further ahead of me. I wondered from where did I recognize her. Was she a singer from yesteryear? An actress? A dancer? I watched her and wondered and then I saw it. The flash of hand to shelf and pocket, the movement so flawless that for a moment I doubted what I had seen. She looked around unhurriedly, moved on a few paces, then, there it was again, the smooth quick flow of hand to shelf to pocket. I rolled my eyes. Why weren’t things simple for me? Why can’t I just go to the market, purchase a few items, and not have to find my child or witness a minor theft? Just then my husband returned with Niles in tow.
        “Adam, that woman’s stealing,” I mouthed to him.
        “Beg your pardon,” he raised his eyebrows, asking me to repeat myself.
        “She’s stealing,” I whispered to him.
        “What,” he said, still not understanding my message.
        “Mommy said that woman is STEALING, daddy,” Niles screeched at the top of her lungs attracting the attention of everyone around us, including two security guards. The burly men came up to the woman and asked her to empty the contents of her coat. The woman looked thoroughly confused and distressed. Although her head was still high and her back still erect, she started crying and mumbling and everyone, from the butchers in the meat department to the cashiers in the front, was staring at her. Children were giggling, mothers were shaking their heads at her and tsk tsking her as if she were a child. One thing I hate is moral superiority. As the store manager arrived to lead her away and call the police I spoke up.
        “I’ll pay for whatever she took,” I stated in a confident clear voice.
        “This store does not tolerate shoplifters, ma’am,” he added the last part when he saw the coolness of my gaze.
        “You caught her. There is no need to make an example out of this woman,” I said. I could tell that he didn’t care about anything I had to say, but he was feigning courtesy out of concern for the other customers watching this skirmish.
        “Look, there’s no harm done and we can pay for whatever, please let’s not involve the police,” my husband declared, backing me up. I looked around to the other women in the store for support. We were alone on this one.
        “Fine, but from now on, all of you are banned from this Supermarket,” the manager proclaimed. Just then Niles reached up to touch a bottle of nail polish on a ledge. The whole shelf fell down making a toxic mess of polish and paint everywhere. I don’t think I could have been more embarrassed. The brawny security guards escorted the four of us out of the store, but not before they paraded us in front of all the checkers so that they could identify us if we tried to enter the premises again. The woman, still regal, sauntered away, but not before thanking us profusely after my husband gave her a few dollars.
        “Bye, bye,” Niles waved to the woman.
        “Who was that?” my husband and I asked in unison.
        “You know, the woman that made that mural at that black history museum,” she answered. Now I knew where I had recognized the woman. She was an extremely talented artist, long forgotten. I turned around to see which way she went, but she had already disappeared.
        “I never liked their produce anyway,” I informed my husband. “I guess we’ll be eating out next week.” He held out his hand to determine who would pick up dinner on Monday.

© 2002 Howard University
(First Published in limited print edition, An Anthology of Verse, Prose & Art, by the Composition for Honours Class, Howard University, Spring 2002. Professor E.R. Braithwaite)
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