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The Knights of Old MAG
While some are born heroes, he was not.
The knights of old braved cunning dragons and mysterious green giants.
He braved the snaggle-toothed cashier who worked Tuesday mornings in the grocery store down the street.
If life had been a fairy tale, he would have chosen to be the knight, the fearless warrior who galloped through the pages of his books. The gallant hero who, alone, clad in shimmering armor, defeats the evil sorcerer and saves the kingdom. But he was never meant for shimmering armor, never meant for magnificent conquests or the pages of glory. He was merely a footnote, a timid page or sword-polisher – a coward.
But even cowards must go grocery shopping.
Though he had never faced a cunning dragon or a mysterious green giant, he knew how it felt. He had experienced the insuppressible shivering, the paralyzing fear. He knew because that was how he felt when he peered down an aisle and caught sight of another pair of feet, or when he stepped before the counter and faced the sneering snaggle-toothed cashier.
To him, grocery shopping was a quest – a challenge that arose each week. He did not often venture beyond the mildewed walls of his one-room apartment, but spent his days gazing at the sidewalk below through his grimy window on the fifth floor. Through that window, the winding sidewalk seemed less threatening, the looming apartment building across the street seemed less imposing, the strangers below less strange. Only on Tuesday mornings did he face the world beyond the window.
Aisle four: canned soup and microwave dinners. His toes clenched in his worn sneakers as he surveyed the bright labels and bold, striking words, desperate to find the tomato soup before someone else wandered into the aisle.
There, the last can of tomato soup! Triumphantly he grasped the smooth, rounded container and placed it in his shopping cart, then turned to examine a display of mushroom soup.
A hand slithered into his cart. He whirled around, only to catch a glimpse of a huddled figure bustling away, clutching his can of tomato soup. Perhaps a knight would have charged with his lance. He simply turned away.
At last, he had gathered all the items scribbled on his crinkled napkin, except the tomato soup. He waited beside the racks of lollipops and multicolored mechanical pencils, heart thumping. The moment had arrived when he would face the dragon: the snaggle-toothed cashier. The woman in tweed before him gathered her bags, and then he stepped forward.
The cashier leered. “Hello.”
He could feel the ooze of fear creep into him slowly, insidiously. The world seemed to be cloaked in menace. He hated himself for his cowardice. Why could others venture into the world without fear? Why could others stand up for themselves without hesitation, uncertainty, or dread?
And then a line from his favorite tale, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” crept into his mind ….
“But Gawain glanced to one side on the gisarme as it came gliding down to slay him there in the glade, and shrank a little with the shoulders from the sharp iron.”
Perhaps everyone dealt with their fears in their own ways. Some cringed behind mildewed walls, peering fearfully at the world through a grimy window. Some bullied others, desperate to conceal their own weaknesses. And some stepped beyond their walls, faced their fears, and triumphed.
“That will be $5.25.”
He took out a ten. The cashier plopped $4 into his outstretched hand.
He took a deep breath. “That's 75 cents short,” he said.
The knights of old braved cunning dragons and mysterious green giants. He braved the snaggle-toothed cashier who worked Tuesday mornings in the grocery store down the street.
Even cowards have their moments of glory.