Be Careful What You Wish For

October 6, 2010
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It was a boring day at my neighbourhood grocery store. I had been working there every week for about a year now, and I hated it. It was full of people who seemed to think that you would love your job, no matter what. I always tolerated everyone, because this job was my only way of getting spending money, and money to save for university next year. Otherwise I would have quit on the spot. There were a lot of things I didn’t like about my job; my managers, the long hours, when people would come up to me when I had no one at my cash and say “Oh look at you, all alone, just waiting for someone with groceries to come!” I always thought to myself: “Yes, I’m all alone, but that certainly doesn’t mean I’d rather be scanning your groceries.” But the worst part of it all was the boredom. When it’s eleven p.m. and you were closing the store, and there is nothing to do but wait, the boredom is excruciating. Sometimes I’d daydream, but I could never stay focused on one thing for too long. I would always wish for something exciting to happen, anything really. I even found myself wishing for a robbery, anything that would stop me from going crazy.
Nowadays I try to be more careful of what I wish for.
It was 10:30 that Tuesday night, and I was closing the store. Yet again. My friends waved goodbye to me when they punched out on the punch clock, and headed out the door. Now all that was left was me, a woman from Customer Service who would be in the store long after I was gone, the night shift crew, whose job it was to re-stock the shelves all night until opening the next morning, and a few remaining customers.
I found myself doodling on my receipt paper, and folding up forgotten receipts and cutting them into snowflakes. We were never allowed to read, or even drink water. Cell phones were forbidden, but that didn’t stop me from pulling mine out every couple of minutes and checking the time.
Customers trickled in and out of the store; each one passing through my register. To amuse myself between “do you have any bags?” and “have a nice night!” I would look at what they were buying and try to figure out what kind of a person they were. Tattooed girl with the nose piercing was straight vegetarian, and only bought vegetables. Diaper-buying man with baby formula was obviously a dedicated dad. Woman still in her business suit, buying microwaveable lasagne for one was a workaholic. And then there was a normal looking man who I couldn’t place. His groceries all looked out of order, and I noticed he threw them onto the moving belt, instead of placing them one by one. I frowned. Throwing your stuff around would not be good if I was the one who had to bag it. I decided to avoid the subject of my bagging the groceries, and was fed up with my night already. The last thing that I needed was more work to do while dealing with another unsatisfied customer. I rang him through, and then when he gave me his money I opened the till. He said “give me the money.” I laughed and told him that he was receiving $42. 35 in change and I’d just be a minute. He answered, with his hands shoved in his pockets, “that’s not what I mean.”
And pulled out a gun. Well, not so much pulled it out as to push back his jacket to reveal his pocket cut out, and a gun peeking through the inside. I froze, paralyzed, my hands hovering above the cash register. A penny dropped out of my hands, and hit the floor, and that’s when I sprang to life.
For some reason the first thing I thought of was that I had to get him to take the gun out of his pocket. My manager was crazy about checking the security cameras, and I knew that from the high angle they were placed, it was unlikely that the cameras would catch the gun. I didn’t want to get fired for giving him money unless there was going to be film evidence of my life being threatened. I don’t know why I thought of that, but I did. The second thing I thought of was that I would have to be there when they looked through the film, because I didn’t want them to see me checking my phone. It would be so like the managers of my store to fire me for phone-usage, even though I got held up fifteen minutes later.
I snapped back to reality. Glancing around, I saw that there were three people in line behind this gun-welding man, two women with big carts of groceries, a man with just a candy bar. I didn’t want to risk them getting in the way of this man with a gun, because I didn’t know if he was really dangerous or not. Then I looked back and saw the gun two inches away from my face. I guess he was dangerous enough.
“Okay, okay, what do you want?” I stammered. “Everything! Now!” The people in line had noticed now. A woman with the full cart turned on her heel and ran for the aisles. “Stop where you are!” The man screamed. She stopped, and returned to the line with her hands on her head. The man made everyone take out their phones and give them to him. He didn’t seem to consider me as someone who would have their phone, probably because he figured I wouldn’t have it while I was working.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Laurel, the woman from Customer Service, who would help me close the store, come out from one of the aisles. She saw the gun, saw me, and backed behind the shelves. I could tell she ran to the back room, a place behind the brightly lit aisles and freezers; it was dark, cold, and where we kept all the groceries not out on the shelves. I felt bad for her because I knew there wouldn’t be a phone back there, and she didn’t have hers, so there was no way she could call for help.
I gave the man all the money I had in the till, which was $2,398. Once he was finished stuffing it into his jacket, he ordered me at gunpoint to go to the cash register behind us. We opened that cash, and he took all the money from there. With so little people in the store, it was unlikely anyone had found a way to call for help. I wanted to communicate with one of the frozen customers, to tell them that my phone was right there, that if they were smart enough to find it they could easily call for help. I stared wide eyed at them, looking at the desk and then back to them, the desk, and back to them. Unfortunately they didn’t get the message, and stared back at me.
I thought of ways I could get the man to stop pointing the gun at my face. The trays that held all the cash and coins in little compartments were pretty heavy. Maybe I could use one of those to smash over his head.
A clattering sound interrupted us, and the man and I were taken by surprise when we saw a cart from one of the customers fall on top of her. She screamed, and all of her groceries toppled over her. At the same time the man with the candy bar seemed to be inching towards the cash register. He reached for the phone while the man with the gun went over to pull the cart off the woman. Of course, I had totally forgotten about the phone that each cash register has at its desk. They’re used to call the different departments if we have trouble with a product, but I wasn’t sure if it would call 911. I hoped desperately that it did.
“HEY!” The man welding the gun screamed, “What are you doing?” He made a move from the woman towards the man, who had managed to pick up the receiver and dial 911. He raised his gun as if about to shoot. I jumped over the register with the cash tray in my hand. It had one side completely encased with metal, and I smashed it as hard as I could into his head. He was taken by surprise, and when he fell to the floor, unconscious, the gun went off into the air.
I’d never heard a gun go off before. I didn’t really have a good idea of what it would sound like, because I had heard different sounds of gunfire in older movies and newer movies. But it was loud, I can tell you that. In a huge room with high ceilings, things echo. That noise bounced off the wall for what seemed like ten minutes. During that time I pushed the man who tried to dial for help out of the way. I picked up the phone to check if it had dialled 911: it hadn’t. The man on the ground seemed unconscious, but it looked like he would come too soon. I grabbed my phone from under the desk, and called for help. I was stumbling over my words, and shaking like a leaf. I told them to get here as soon as possible, and then I hung up, which I know never to do. Emergency response called me back, and in frustration I picked up and hung up again. I didn’t need to be questioned more, especially when I’ve got an unconscious, dangerous man at my feet and three petrified people who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Laurel!” I cried. “It’s safe, come quickly!” She peeked out from around the corner of a display, and saw the man, unmoving, on the ground. She scuttled over, and I managed to convince her to help me move him. Laurel and the man with the candy bar picked the gun man up and put him on the moving belts that were attached to the cash register. I ran over to the display that we were having on duct tape, and grabbed three rolls. Laurel, myself and the man each ripped one open while the two women who were in the line-up sat on the floor, looking for their cell phones.
We managed to tie the man up tightly with the duct tape, and when we heard the sirens of police cars he seemed to open his eyes. When he realised he couldn’t move his eyes widened, and he started to scream, although it was muffled under the duct tape we put over his mouth.
The police barged in through the sliding doors, and when they saw what we’d done, one of them let out a laugh. Two officers picked up the man by his bound hands and feet and carried him out the door. I was glad to have him out of my sight. The policemen interviewed each of us, and everyone directed them to me as the one who rendered the man defenceless. The policemen picked the gun up off the floor, which none of us had thought to use when I knocked the man out. We had just left it there, which I think now was not a smart idea because we could have used it to our advantage.
The night crew appeared out of nowhere. They said that they were smoking outside before their shift started, and when they heard the gunshot they figured something had just tipped over and made a long noise. They were astounded when we told them what had really happened.
I looked at my watch. 11:15, my dad was due to pick me up right now. It seemed as though many hours had gone by since the man came up to my cash register, although it had only been 45 minutes. I looked towards the door, and saw my dad come running in, looking distraught. He had obviously seen the police cars, and when he saw me he seemed to breathe a sigh of relief that I wasn’t in handcuffs or anything.
My dad helped me with the rest of the police men’s questions, and then he asked if he could take me home. They said that they had no other questions, and I was good to go. When I got home I sat down and thought long and hard about what I wanted to do. I wash shaken, and didn’t want to go back to work, especially since I had another shift tomorrow. I decided to see where things took me.
The next day things were abuzz at work, and my manager came up to me and in front of the whole store thanked me for protecting everyone from that deranged man, and for saving the store thousands of dollars. I smiled to myself, glad that I finally got some recognition from my boss, even if it were in such extreme circumstances, and secretly decided not to quit. Maybe my job wasn’t so bad after all.

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