A Role For Which I Did Not Audition

I should have just stuck to the list. I only had to pick up a scotch-bonnet pepper and milk. We weren't completely out of milk, but our 12-year-old daughter tends to drink it like it's going out of style, so we like to be well-stocked.

I should never shop when I'm hungry. I always get cravings for things I should not eat. I have a major weakness for potato chips. Sour cream and onion, in particular. Ruffles, specifically.

I didn't need them, shouldn't be eating something that's so high in unwanted calories, so high in fat. I haven't ridden my bike since the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour, having learned that cycling with a fractured wrist, no matter how minor, is not a good idea. When I rode to Kingston, I had a bag of Ruffles Sour Cream and Onion chips packed in my suitcase, waiting for me. Having burned a few thousand calories, I had no qualms about scarfing that bag by myself.

Yesterday, I didn't need chips. I really didn't need to walk down the chip aisle at Loblaws, but I was hungry.

I needed to be strong, show willpower. I'll only buy a bag if it's on sale, I told myself. Sure, I had told myself the same thing on many occasions, only to cave in to my hunger and cravings, and buy the bag, no matter the cost.

I turned down the chip aisle, not recognizing its new configuration. Months ago, the store had undergone a major renovation: new colour scheme, department sections relocated, lighting made dimmer, aisles rearranged. My family and I stopped shopping here during the renovation disruptions and got used to shopping at Sobey's and Farm Boy, and even though the upgrades were completed months ago, we rarely returned. I didn't care for the new look and felt like I was shopping in an up-scale store, fearful that the cost of the new look would be reflected in the prices of goods.

I had to go there because neither Farm Boy nor Sobey's carried scotch-bonnet peppers, and I needed one. And so, here I was, my shopping bag in hand, weighted down with four litres of one-percent milk and a tiny, bright-red pepper, and a craving for junk food.

There was only one other shopper in the aisle: a nice-looking blond, in her early to mid thirties, pushing a full cart with her young son of about two. She, too, was looking for snacks.

The chips were now on my right, where I expected them to be on the left-hand side of the aisle, and almost at the far end. I started scanning up and down the shelves as I worked my way to the end, checking prices, looking for sale tags. I didn't recognize some bags, as President's Choice had once again changed their packaging. Had they also changed their flavours, I wondered, remembering that the last time I tried one of their flavours of chips, I didn't like it.

Down the aisle, closer to the woman and her child.

Potato chips are insanely expensive. I remember when I was a kid, living in the town houses off Bowhill Avenue, behind the K-Mart Plaza. At the Dominion grocery store, I could buy a small bag of chips for a dime. I have memories of buying chips at the same counter where my dad bought his cigarettes. For some reason, that memory always has me buying the limited-release of Hostess grape-flavoured chips. What ever happened to them?

Today, it's $1.49 for that size of bag, but the larger bags are around the $4 mark. A good deal is two bags for $5. I was looking for that price as I scanned the shelves, paying no heed to the woman and the murmuring of her toddler.

"Oh, no, don't say that. That's not nice," I heard, the woman obviously talking to her son but looking at me.

I turned my head to face her when I noticed that she was facing me as she spoke. Our eyes met, but because I wasn't paying attention to her or her son, I only smiled, gave a slight nod, and then continued on my search. Those Ruffles were somewhere, and I was going to find them, hopefully, on sale.

More murmuring. "No, don't say that," the woman said to her son, "he's allowed..." and then I tuned her out. I found the Ruffles and was searching for the sour cream and onion bags.

"Say... ...to the man. Say... ."

I was now standing less than two metres from the woman and her son. I looked at the boy and smiled, and then continued my search, but I now felt like I was being pulled into a conversation to which I was oblivious. I don't know how the conversation started, I don't know what the boy said, to which the woman was objecting, and I didn't know what she was trying to get her son to repeat.

It was as though I was in a play, had missed my cue, and had forgotten my lines.

The woman was looking at me, a look on her face somewhere between embarrassment and encouragement, looking for me to engage, to say my part.

I had no idea what to say, had no context, didn't know my lines. I smiled again, looked past her, to where the sour cream and onion chips were displayed.

Not on sale.

You don't need them, I told myself. You need to get back on your bike. You have what you came in for. Go home.

Exit, stage left.

As I got to the end of the aisle, before I turned the corner and made my way to the checkout, armed only with a bag of milk and a scotch-bonnet pepper, I finally heard the woman, talking to her son, loud and clear: "It's okay, honey, you weren't the only one being rude." 

I wanted to stop, to turn around, to ask her if she thought I was being rude. I wanted to correct her, to tell her that I was minding my own business, that I hadn't heard the interaction with her son. I didn't know I was being drawn into a conversation, that I was expected to get them to back up and start their lines again.

Clearly, I had missed my mark as well as my cue.

But I kept moving, pretending that I didn't hear her accusation. I wanted to get away from the drama.

Without my chips, it was already enough tragedy.

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