“NEXT IN LINE, PLEASE!” an exasperated voice somewhere up ahead of Stan called. “Come on, let’s go. There are a lot of people waiting.”
Stan thanked the elderly woman for the bread one more time, then stepped into the narrow lane in front of the cash register, while his benefactor waited in the line next to him. There were no scanners functioning at the checkouts, no calculators, computers, or working cash registers, so every transaction had to be calculated on paper.
Purchases were cash only, and change could be made only to the nearest dollar or whatever coins were available. Anyone who balked at the inconvenience could leave empty-handed. Armed security guards patrolled the front of the grocery store, though no doubt, in the darkness and the confusion, some impatient customers simply walked out the open doors undetected, without paying for their treasures.
At the register opposite Stan, a belligerent fellow was giving the clerk a hard time. “This is ridiculous,” the man shouted. “Where’s all the food? And why can’t you people get some light in here?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” the young man at the register tried to pacify the disgruntled customer.
“And why can’t we use our credit cards?” the obnoxious fellow wanted to know. “The credit bureaus have all our financial information in their computers nowadays. If they’re so smart, they should have a way they could read our bank account numbers without us having to carry cash or those cards. God knows there are muggers everywhere these days. I’ll tell you what we really need,” the man said to anybody who was listening. “We need a leader. I’ve been saying it all along. We need a worldwide leader, someone who can deal with all these problems, not those wimps we have. The world is falling apart; there’s chaos everywhere. We need somebody who has some answers. My family is hungry. I have money in the bank, but I can’t get to it. Somebody needs to get us back on the road to peace and prosperity!”
Stan noticed that the man’s outburst had captured the attention of the people in line. Frustrated at standing in the darkness for so long to check out what little provisions they could obtain at the grocery store, many of the listeners were glad for any diversion. Others listened intently and even nodded their heads in agreement with the oaf doing the talking. That only served to encourage him more.
“I’m tired of hearing about all these wars, too. We can’t even defend our own shores anymore. What are we going to do? We need somebody who can bring some security into this situation. I’ve heard that there’s some guy over there in the middle east who has some answers, and I think it’s high time we listen to him. So what if he has a few strange ideas? If he can get us out of this mess, I’d follow him anywhere!”
The maniacal bellowing had nearly mesmerized Stan. When he turned to see what sort of impact the rantings were having on the elderly woman who had given him her bread, he was surprised to see that she was gone. That’s interesting, he thought. She was farther behind in her line than he was. I wonder how she got through the checkout so quickly?