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!

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 :)
kkkkanabelkkkk replied...
May 23, 2011 at 5:16 pm
I liked the way you incorporated kindness in your situation. Knowing me, i probably would have been short and a bit testy. Also, they way you wrote this was amazing!!!
ohmakemeover This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 9, 2011 at 4:39 pm
This was a well-written and inspirational piece!  You sound like a great employee.  I'd be glad to shop in your line, teehee.  Nice job!
HollerGirl26 said...
Feb. 24, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Cute :)


Ehwaz11 said...
Feb. 2, 2011 at 2:35 pm

The chocolate reminded me of Remus Lupin :)

Nice story!

SeerKnowsBest replied...
Feb. 24, 2011 at 6:18 pm
i just looked at your profile and you are just like me!!!!!!!!! i love harry potter
laylasstory said...
Feb. 2, 2011 at 1:09 pm
Very simple but very inspiring and meaningful, it really just made me smile and feel happy.
Ocean97 said...
Jan. 12, 2011 at 11:41 am
 It just makes you realize that there are people in the world who respect others. Hope you enjoyed the chocolate!
Medina D. said...
Jan. 12, 2011 at 8:57 am

you turned something simple into an article I'm gonna rate 5 stars!!

btw hearing the cashier perspective from you makes me wanna be friendly to every cashier now. Brighten up their day.

DifferentTeen said...
Jan. 11, 2011 at 2:14 pm
Well, that was incredible. I haven't been on TI in a while, and this is the first article I've read in a long time. It simply reminded me of how many talented writers are out there wasting their lives away at a job that has barely anything to do with writing. It wasn't boring at all and your title got my attention right away, when I started reading I just got deeper and deeper into the story, even though-- as DreamForever has said-- its such a simple story. Great job! Keep writing.
-DreamForever- said...
Nov. 28, 2010 at 5:14 pm
This is a very simple story.  It gives the reader a look into your life, and why you do what you do. It may seem simple, but it has great meaning- no matter how you're feeling, someone may be feeling worse, so always keep a smile on your face and be patient! 
NsyncLanceFan said...
Nov. 6, 2010 at 7:34 pm
t just made my day. sweetness!
sweetcaroline2339 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 15, 2010 at 10:04 pm
very good!! keep writing
BrokenInnocence said...
Oct. 15, 2010 at 5:40 pm
kinda good kinda bad its a kinda
DaydreamBeliever This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Sept. 23, 2010 at 10:52 pm
ha, i actually really liked that. you start of believing it will be kind of boring, but it was actually really, really, good :)
amybug said...
Sept. 23, 2010 at 5:04 pm
I know I have already commented on this before, but I really liked it! Great job! Also I would love if you would check out some of my work and better yet comment on it :D
BrokenInnocence said...
Sept. 23, 2010 at 7:34 am
very well written
Eden H. said...
Sept. 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm
nice, i really like the style in which you wrote it
lyricsandlimericks said...
Aug. 31, 2010 at 5:00 pm
Awesome! I know from experience that you never know what a person is going through and just a sincere smile can go a long way. As can patience, though people can be really frustrating sometimes.
Eleanor A. said...
Aug. 10, 2010 at 3:24 pm
Oh, that was very sweet. Very short and simple, yet packs a strong message. ^-^
Thrush said...
Aug. 10, 2010 at 1:40 pm
Nice message, nice story.
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