Our eyes met briefly as he lifted the small cardboard box filled with a couple of TV dinners and some cat food, but it was enough for me to see far more than perhaps a lot of people do.
He’d noticed my solitary purchase sitting on the conveyor belt minutes earlier. “Dinner?” he asked, glancing at my lone block of chocolate. “Absolutely,” I laughed.
He’d attracted my curiosity as I approached the line-up. I hadn’t seen an armed officer for a while and the gun on his right hip stood out. I wondered if he was on a break or about to finish his shift and head home. Do police officers take their guns home with them these days? It seems unlikely. Wouldn’t they be locked up safely at the station somewhere?
These thoughts wandered through my head before and after he jokingly questioned my purchasing choice. There was something about him that intrigued me. He seemed awkward while waiting in line, disconnected somehow but also hyper-aware of his surroundings. He wore long black trousers and a blue business shirt. He was overdressed on a Sunday when compared to everyone else. Yet, he had the look of someone who could fade into the background easily. Nondescript. I guess that’s a good quality to have in his line of work – to not be seen.
His purchases marked him as a single shift worker with a cat. Or perhaps a married shift worker with a cat. I didn’t catch sight of a wedding ring but I know many officers don’t wear one – it’s to prevent giving away personal information when they’re working. This seems reasonable when you consider the kinds of people they have to deal with day in, day out.
It also explained that look before he left. It was the look of a man who had seen too much and was left with a repair bill that was rather exorbitant. I considered what the woman who is with him or would be with him in the future would need to navigate. A man like that would be tough sometimes. Closed. Damaged. There was trauma in those eyes. How do you cope with seeing so much pain and ugliness in the world? How do you avoid that seeping insidiously into other parts of your life? Perhaps it occurs without you being conscious of it. It just becomes part of you, something you carry around and never quite release.
Was it his energy that made him so interesting to me? My gaze had returned to him repeatedly. I could also feel his awareness of me the entire time we stood in line. Did he sense me watching him and that’s why he looked up as he gathered his purchases? Or did he simply want to appreciate me one more time before he left?
I don’t know. But he had the eyes of a man who had seen too much. And the soul of a man who had felt love too little.
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