Dear Mister “No Bag, Thanks”,

Minster No-Bag.jpg
Image by A Letter Per Person. Image Description: A grey silhouette of a man wearing a bucket hat hugging colourful silhouettes of his groceries.

Dear Mister “No Bag, Thanks”,

I noticed the many, many scares on your arms immediately. It was the first thing I noticed: one, because I don’t really look up to make eye contact with customers like I should be so I was already looking down at your shopping items, and two, I’ve seen scars like that multiple times before on multiple people.

I’m so sorry I didn’t say anything to you then. I couldn’t pull my gaze from your arms fast enough and I think you noticed me looking but please don’t think I was judging you. I wasn’t. I was just in shock. Even though I’ve had some training in this area, even though I’ve helped some of my best friends go through depression, I was caught completely off guard.

I so desperately wanted to tell you that you could reach out to me if you ever wanted. I wanted to tell you that I work there at least 5 days a week and if I’m not out front, I’m in the back. I wanted to tell you my name in case you didn’t see my name badge. But I couldn’t because I had never offered support like that to a stranger in person before. I had done it through phone calls and online conversations working at a helpline but never in person. I was so ashamed of my lack of strength, when you were showing yours.

I thought about you for days after that encounter. I hoped you would come back to the store so I knew you were okay. I feared I would never see you again and thought of the worst possible reasons as to why that would be. I felt guilt for not reaching out. I felt weak despite having all the experience and training to be the strong pillar of support. I felt like I failed another human being.

But you came back! I can’t tell you how happy I was. I specifically made a point to make eye contact so if you were creeped out I don’t blame you. I was so happy you were alive, that you were here in front of me! And this time I was able to tell you to “Take care” and “Have a nice day!” I know that those words may seem empty to you, words that may seem like I throw around to every customer as part of my service. Maybe the latter phrase, sure, but I still meant it. And I definitely have never said “Take care” to any other customer before and since. I really, really meant it. I really want you to take care of yourself.

Then I saw you a couple more times and each time I was so relieved and happy. Sometimes you’re in your work uniform. Sometimes you talk to my co-worker because you guys are apparently on familiar terms. And always, you’ll say some variant of “No bag, thanks” because you’re parked right across the street and proceed to hug all your items before going about the rest of your day. It makes me so happy to see you just living your life.

I know that there is a slight chance that those scars weren’t self-inflicted. Maybe it was an accident at a job. But I also know that more likely than not, those scars meant you went through a rough time, and that maybe perhaps you still are. Maybe you are over that dark chapter of your life. Maybe some scars were recent. I’ll never know and that’s okay. Regardless of what the situation is, I just want you to know that I care about you. I care about your wellbeing. And I definitely think about you when I haven’t seen you around for a couple of days.

After a few more exchanges since our first, I’ve made it clear I remember you and I know you remember me. But I’m going to try to make more small talk with you and hopefully turn that into conversation. I suck at conversing with strangers but I’m going to try. I just want you to know that if you ever feel shitty, ever feel tired, ever feel like leaving another scar, there is a person at the store you frequent who cares very deeply about you.

And if a stranger can care about you this much from one seemingly mundane interaction, imagine just how much your close friends and family care about you.

Sincerely,

A Letter Per Person

Dear Grandpa Portobello,

Grandpa Portobello
Image by A Letter Per Person. Image Description: Three upside-down Portobello mushrooms used as fruit bowls containing nectarines, black muscatels, and peaches placed over a background of finely chopped mushrooms.

Dear Grandpa Portobello,

I’ve literally never called you that but that’s the name I’ve assigned you and our funny relationship. It always makes me feel a little happy when you come into the store to buy your nectarines, mushrooms, and all kinds of produce.

Do you remember why we started to remember who the other was? It was when I was processing your Swiss brown mushrooms and because I was relatively new to the job and you didn’t want me to process your groceries wrong, you told me they were Portobello mushrooms. Even when I thought they looked like Swiss brown mushrooms and I asked you which part of the store you got them from by pointing out the Portobello and Swiss brown aisles, you insisted they were Portobello mushrooms. So I processed them as Portobello mushrooms and you pulled out a small, square Ziploc bag from your breast pocket that had your money in to pay.

Then when you paid, you went and complained to the owner of the store that I overcharged you with the Portobello price. So when I asked why you told me those were Portobello mushrooms in front of the owner, you just stayed silent and demanded a refund. I realised you weren’t going to admit anything so I gave you the refund and we all went about our day.

Then the next day you came back and of course we remembered each other! You accidentally almost got me in trouble and you had embarrassed yourself in front of me. This time you only bought your usual nectarines and peaches, and I said something along the lines of “Hello! The Portobello man from yesterday!” and you didn’t reply but you had a sheepish smile.

Since then we talked a lot about the nectarines you buy, how you used to eat a lot of white muscatels when you were a little boy but we only sell black muscatels, and tell me to have a good day. Each time you pull out your Ziploc wallet, I smile because I know you’re going to refuse any help I offer to count out the change.

I really enjoy your company, Grandpa Portobello. You add a light, fun moment to my sometimes very monotone job. What’s the secret ingredient to an enjoyable day at work? It’s customers like you, Grandpa Portobello!

Sincerely,

A Letter Per Person