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On a beautiful August day as the robins mingled with the cardinals in the back yard singing songs of enticement, my brother called me. “Phil,” he said, “I need you to go to Subzimandi and by groceries for us. The women are making Naan and curry tonight.” My brother had just married an Indian woman whose mother also lived with us after her husband’s death.

Without hesitation I agreed. I loved the soft, fluffy, warm taste of the Naan bread as you dipped it in the spicy and poignant curry sauce. The juxtaposition of taste is like an explosion of taste. Suddenly I realized that I was low on gasoline in my car. Frank, my brother, handed me a TD bank gift card with seventy dollars on it.

After a brisk five-minute drive, I had arrived at the cheapest gas station within my route. It was $2.68 a gallon, the good old days. As the 5 foot 9 inch, dark skinned, man with a turban around his head approached my passenger side window, I turned down Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to make my voice audible. “Regular twenty dollars credit!” I called to him.

After about ten minutes of driving under the spell of Beethoven’s orchestral genius, I had arrived at my destination, Subzimandi. As I ambled into the store, I received a flurry of glares from the numerous Indians in the store, but I simply ignored it, and said to myself, “I guess they’ve never seen such a good looking African before.” After a quick glance I found the baskets, and snatched one from the ever-shrinking stack. Walking down the isles I was bombarded with numerous smells and colorful images of plants and spices.
Unfortunately for me I had refused to write down the names spellings for the spices and vegetables that I had been sent for and relied purely on my mental list. Every item was a struggle to find, as I asked numerous Indians where to find goods such as murmura, mango powder, and even green peppers.

However, almost everyone refused to help me. I was a fish lost in the vast ocean of Subzimandi. Forty-five minutes later and twenty-three items of groceries later, I had finished my shopping. Waiting in line, I could feel the heat of the stares. I just wanted to pay and get out. Finally, it was my turn to pay, I organized my items on the conveyer belt and watched as the clerk rang them up using the basic Microsoft excel program to add up totals and multiplicities. She was lightning fast. “27.70,” she said.

I whipped out my TD bank gift card and swiped it with full confidence that there was more than enough money on the card. Contrary to my belief, in large red letters flashed on the screen that read, “Card Declined.” I looked at the barely five foot tall, gray haired, Indian lady with the large protruding nose and said, “Hold on this must be a mistake ill try it again.”

I swiped it five more times, but the message would not go away; “Card Declined.” Suddenly, the cashier turned around to equally height-deprived cashier in lane 3 and said some words of which I could not translate. They both chuckled. Embarrassed and humiliated I began to perspire; sweat beads formed on my forehead and as a response to my situation.

Then a ray of hope pierced the dark cloud above my head. A young woman behind me tapped my shoulder and asked, “Would you like me to translate for you?” Relived I replied, “Yes please. Could you ask her to hold my groceries while I sort things out with my card company?” She acknowledged and translated to the cashier. She pulled my groceries to the side with a scowl on her face. Off to the side I called TD bank as anger and frustration boiled in my stomach.

First, I had to deal with the aggravating TD computer voice, which is obviously unnecessary because if someone is calling it’s definitely to complain to a person, but that is a whole other story. Finally, I received a person to talk to, Margaret. Her soft, young, voice had the ability to quell my anger. “How may I help you today?” she inquired.

“Hi my name is Philip and I’m at a grocery store and my card is being declined,” I explained, “Now, I know there is definitely enough money on this card because I spent twenty dollars on a gas out of seventy so there should be fifty dollars left, and the groceries are only $27.70. So please explain to me what is going on.”

“Ok sir now what’s going on is that TD bank puts a freeze on any gift card account that spends money on gasoline because the gas companies don’t take it out until about 5 business days later,” she explained.

“So your telling me that because I spent twenty dollars for gas, you guys froze my whole account to insure that I don’t use up the rest of the card anywhere else?” I fired back.

After a sleight pause Margaret answered back, “Yeah, I know it’s bad but it’s our policy sir.”

“Well that is the worst idea I have ever heard. Instead of freezing the whole account why not just freeze the amount the person spent on gas that day so they still have money to spend? You know what thanks for your time I appreciate it.”

“Your welcome sir have a nice day,” Replied Margaret and we both hung up.

Finally, I called my brother, who then drove all the way to Subzimandi and paid in cash for the groceries. Somehow, instead of being angry, he took this in a jovial matter, which made me realize that life itself is funny.

But at the time I was crushed. My pride was gone. I was pumped for dinner. I’m the one who usually handles the groceries, and it usually stop-shop-and go, but this time there was an awkward pause, not something I’m used to – and the way she looked at me as if I was poor. Did I need to tell the cashier that it was the bank’s fault? She probably didn’t care anyway. It is just another day at the shop.

Although my brother told me not to worry about it, it poked and irked me. I never wanted to return to that store, but I did not let that happen. I will face humiliation for Naan and Chicken Curry. I returned to that store numerous times, and since I have become friends with numerous people there, like Bajii and Sanjeev.

What I learned from this experience is that events in life don’t shape who you are as a person, but the way you decide to handle those experiences.





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