“What can I get for you tonight, bud?” That is what I always say to the customers that come to the store early in the morning. It’s about one-thirty and the night is packed with drunken people and midnight workers. For a Sunday morning in the summer, there is a lot of hungry people and a lot of hungry cars.
Working the late shift at a gas station—the only gas station open for twenty-four hours—is relatively peaceful. There are a few “regulars” that frequent the store throughout my long and dark eight hour shift behind the register. It’s a good time to talk them up and gossip about the many inebriated costumers that pass in and out of the doors. There are a lot more people than usual and the traffic at the register is turning from a steady one lane road to a bottle-necked four lane bypass.
When you have to check out that many people, you don’t really get a chance to see them. You only have time to grab the next item and run it under the scanner. “Beep…2.35$” the register calls. “Beep…20.00$ on gas pump one.” The cash register always knows how much they have to pay; which is good for me, because all of the repetitious scanning and money handling makes numbers melt and blur. It’s getting pretty late and my mental faculties are wearing thin on me.
A short while later, there is a reprieve from customer sales and the bottle-necked line severs, leaving me with a moment to clear my head. An older man, covered in flannel, with a dirty black and white beard hanging haphazardly from his leathery face, steps in the door.
“What can I get for you tonight, bud?” I always say that to the customers that come to the store early in the morning.
The old man looks at me; a smile slightly presents itself from behind his scraggly beard, “How about a million dollars and a ticket outta the country?”
I snort out a laugh, “As long as you’re taking me with you.”
The older customer returns the laugh and asks for a pack of cigarettes. We make the trade: I hand him the smokes and he hands me the cash. It’s like a starting gun, because the moment that our transaction is completed, the next wave of late night costumers pours in the door. My mind turns mechanical and I feel like a selling robot, dropping cash in the register and sliding merchandise across the scanner and filing it according to shape and size into a plastic bag.
Another hour or so goes by and again the line of customers begins to dwindle. It’s around ten after three in the morning now. My mind is so hazed and fogged that I can’t wait for the last costumer to buy what she’s coming for and leave. I need a smoke break. I need to get a breath of fresh air. I need to do anything other than stand behind that stupid cash register.
The woman simply asks for a pack of cigarettes and my heart fills with hope that I’ll get a chance to relax. I don’t see any cars outside and no one is walking up to the door. I can finally get that break I’ve been aching for. I expediently make the sale, not even bothering to check her I.D. She looks well over eighteen. In fact, she looks like a completely trashed out crack head. I’m happy to get rid of her.
Finally, I’m alone. I read a message on my phone and look at my nightly check list. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and I barely have the time to take care of any of it. I take a deep breath and sigh. My mind aches just as much as my body and I’ll be happy when this shift is over.
“Open the register and take out all the money! A crackled and stern voice yells from my side.
I look toward the voice, stupefied. I can’t help but think this is a practical joke, but then I see the man attached to the voice, and the gun attached to the man’s hand. I can also see where the barrel of the gun is pointed: This is no longer a joke.
“Hurry up!” He’s screaming at me. “You’re taking too long!” He wants the job done quickly. I can understand his hurry.
“Okay…” It’s the only thing I can think to say. There would be nothing worse than exacerbating this guy’s intense frustration and wind up with a bullet in my head.
He is dressed head-to-toe in black. I can see the black shoes, black denim pants, black hoodie with little silver accent stripes. His face is covered by a black ski-mask but exposes his soft blue eyes and ginger-like skin complexion. His hands are covered with black mechanics gloves. His gun—that seems hungry and eager to taste my brains—is black as death.
I’m fighting against my nerves. My body wants to shut down and my vision narrows. I need to keep my composure and do what is being demanded of me. I can’t die yet, there’s still too much I need to do. What is normally routine and monotonous for me to do is now difficult and so much more laborious.
“Just open the register and grab the cash” I’m thinking to myself. “Just press the right button and do what you’re told.”
“Hurry up!” The man screams again, impatiently.
I press the release button and the drawer slides open violently, in indignation. The cash register doesn’t like what I’m about to do. I don’t like what I’m about to do either, but I can’t think about that right now. I still have a life to preserve.
“Take the drawer out and put it in a bag.” His voice is a little calmer now. “Now put the bag on the counter…”
I walk over as smoothly and calmly as I can keep myself. I don’t want to do anything surprising. I just want to do what I’m told. “Good, it’s almost over.” I try to affirm to myself.
“Now step back!” His voice rises again.
I walk backward, my hands raised from my sides. I’m trying to draw a mental picture of him, but I don’t want to look at his face again. I learned how to distinguish fine details while using my peripheral sight. It’s good to finally have a reason to use it.
The black clad gun man grabs the bag and quickly leaves the store. My mind is still in a haze but I’m calm and know what to do. I call 911 and report the robbery. I know the police will be here soon. My mind is flashing with everything that just happened. I smile. I know I handled it well. At least well enough to keep myself alive. What a memory: What a life.