Twelve Items or Fewer This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

December 11, 2008
Most Saturday afternoons, I find myself dressed in yellow, standing stationary at my designated express register in the local supermarket. Riveting, no? Most days I stand, scan, and smile because I’m thrilled to be the one who’s laboring away so the crazy cat lady can feed her “babies” luxury food. Most days I love my job, because when I really analyze the situation, although standing, scanning, and smiling is unmistakably considered mindless labor, I do have the pleasure of interacting with a fascinating variety of natives in my little community. However, there are always those off days, to say the least.

She approaches with 37 items, exactly 25 over the limit – and fully aware of it. She is the enemy. In the mocking tone that only a senile woman can have, she says, “Oh hello, dearie. I think I’m a little over the limit, but I just knew you wouldn’t mind!” She flashes her pearly smile that soaks in a glass on her bedside table every night.

“Oh, of course not!” Of course I mind. I always do. 1 … 2 … As I begin to ring up her order, more customers line up behind her. 13 … 14 … 15 … I can see the agitation forming in the faces of those in line, so I work faster. 29 … 30 … 31 … Almost done. I punch in the last produce codes for bananas, asparagus, and a lemon and proudly proclaim the grand total of $63.47. She pays in cash, with exact change, of course, and manages to give me the most obscure combination of 47 cents using almost all pennies and nickels. After I complete the transaction and hand her the receipt, I proceed to bag the items. I’m feeling relatively blessed that there were no defective coupons or refunds to further prolong the order, when the woman says, “Oh, I wanted paper and plastic. And could you pack the bags lightly, dearie? The doctor said I shouldn’t strain myself.”

Let me tell you, it takes every ounce of courtesy and patience in my body to simply say: “Sure thing, ma’am!” After she is completely satisfied, the ultimate pesky customer walks off to purchase a pack of Marlboro Reds and several scratch tickets from James at the service desk, and then she is gone.

Acutely aware that my line is now stretched far beyond normal lengths, I begin to make up for lost time. The next woman is only buying two bagels from the bake shop, some peaches, and a bottle of water, which she evidently opened at some point during the previous transaction.

“I’m really sorry about that wait, ma’am. I apologize for any inconvenience,” I say, as the total sums up to $7.41.

“Oh no, don’t worry about it,” she replies in a way that makes me want to smile. “That wasn’t your fault. Some people are just plain ignorant!” She hands me a $10 bill. As I finish the transaction, she reaches into her bag and pulls out not a handful of pennies, nickels, and dimes, but rather a small piece of chocolate and hands it to me.

“Here. You deserve this more than I do,” she says with a wink and a warm smile. I have no choice but to smile back because at this moment I realize how no kindness goes without recognition, even the smallest act of thoughtfulness.

I will never ask a customer if they have 12 items or fewer, nor will I ever refuse an order, regardless of how many items they have. In most cases, I don’t know who my customers are; I don’t know anything about their incomes, their lives, their struggles – and they don’t know me. All I can do is help them get through the day by showing a smile and parting with a simple “Have a great day!” – hoping that perhaps they appreciate my two cents of kindness just as I appreciated that little piece of chocolate.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 63 comments. Post your own now!

Fia-fia said...
Jan. 20, 2012 at 8:45 pm
This is wonderfully written!! It really makes you think about the kindness and consideration of decent people, and how far that goes. No one really thinks about the people behind the register or desk... and whether or not this was your intention, we really got a view on the pressure. Thank you! :)
otherpoet said...
Jan. 2, 2012 at 10:48 am
So well written :) You expand a little moment that someone else would never think twice about and you filled it will kindness and an open mind. Keep writing!
orabookworm said...
Dec. 29, 2011 at 7:51 am
Not only is this warmly well-written with the right amount of sweetness, humor, and description, but you've given a small peek into the day of a cashier. Very unique. Nd you obviously love your job, although you get people who do literally push the limit. You've written a great story that warms the heart, which is hard to find in these troubling days. Thank you!
ninja17 said...
Dec. 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm
Excellent :) I enjoyed reading this.
sweetness78 said...
Dec. 7, 2011 at 1:59 pm
I absolutely loved this! Its amazing how such simple, everyday events can make for a great article. Fantastic writing style. Keep it up Hon :)
sarahmichelle98 said...
Nov. 15, 2011 at 3:38 pm

loved it, and the last paragraph is excellent


sweetdollsarah said...
Oct. 24, 2011 at 7:44 pm
I love this!! It just shows how one person or act can cause a big difference in everyones lives!
TotheSea said...
Oct. 2, 2011 at 8:48 am
This story was great!  Every little kind act we do affects others in some way.
BlueBubbles95 said...
Sept. 10, 2011 at 9:55 pm
I love the story, even if the lady was old she shouldn't make it that hard.
bubblez819 said...
Sept. 10, 2011 at 10:42 am
I really like this story some people are so nice :)
Laura_Oliver said...
Aug. 19, 2011 at 6:49 pm
It is a great thing to know there are people like you in the world. Great job!
andromeda13 said...
Jul. 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm

i really enjoyed reading this! keep it up


Catiestar said...
Jul. 28, 2011 at 3:37 am
This is great. Right on the money. As I myself am a cashier, it's nice to know someone is nice for the same reasons that I am when I'm at work. Great job :)
Lola_Black said...
Jul. 26, 2011 at 6:58 pm
I like it! Honestly, just reading this makes me feel so freakin' good about myself. I always make a point of being really nice to cashiers or waiters (especially waiters. No need to annoy someone who is handling your food!), since God knows I wouldn't have the patience for those jobs. It's nice to know that it really does make a difference for someone!
Jenn C. replied...
Aug. 19, 2011 at 2:47 pm
haha so true
Steph0804 said...
Jul. 14, 2011 at 11:32 am
But it takes more than just a smile and a, "Have a nice day!" to make others feel happy and appreciated... it's got to MEAN something... I mean, if a classmate says at the end of school, "Hey! See ya tomorrow!" With genuine warmth, I feel really happy. But if a supermarket cashier smiles and says, "Have a nice day!" I only feel good for a few minutes. Why? Because in a couple of seconds, I hear them say the same thing to another customer. I'm not trying to oppose you; I think your writing is gre... (more »)
Pure-Enchanted said...
Jul. 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm
So teens really CAN write decent stories that have a moral. I like how unique but thoughful this story is. Write more!
Iluvmybff said...
Jul. 6, 2011 at 9:29 am
I absolutly LOVE this. I can imagine being on of the people in the line watching this happen. You are a very amazing writer:)
annexgrey This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 6, 2011 at 6:41 am
This is beautiful. Thank you for your little acts of kindess for the people who enter your life, even if only briefly, regardless of whatever irritation you may be feeling. Such little acts of kindness are what make the world and humanity the beautiful things that they can be. 
WildeWriter said...
May 23, 2011 at 4:52 pm
This is a great story! I love your voice and the vocab you used! It made me smile :)
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