September 6th, 11:13 A.M.—Hurricane Irma is moving closer. And it looks like the storm is getting angrier every few hours.
Here in the Panhandle you can see people gathered around TV’s and cellphone weather videos everywhere you go.
Walmart is a nuthouse. They are out of bottled water, milk, bleach, toilet paper, bread, and according to one official, they’re running dangerously low on ketchup.
People wander through the store with tight faces. There is a man wearing a homemade T-shirt that reads: “Irma Sucks.”
In the peanut-butter aisle, I see a child who follows his mother’s cart. The woman is stocking her buggy with essentials.
The kid holds a cellphone, volume turned up. I hear the tinny voice of a weather report.
The little boy says, “Mom, are we gonna be okay?”
Mom turns to him. She gives him a warm look. It’s the same sweet look mothers have been giving children since the invention of the diaper.
It’s a look that says: “Everything—no matter how afraid you are—is going to be alright.”
It’s the same look my mama gave me when a swarm of red ants crawled up my legs and bit the Holy Spirit out of me. I had an allergic reaction, trouble breathing.
“Mama,” I said. “Will I pull through?”
She gave me that look, and here I am.
I also see an old woman. She is frail, she walks bent over. She’s searching for bottled water on barren shelves.
A female employee notices her. She asks what the woman needs.
“Where am I gonna find water?” the old woman asks. “What am I gonna do?”
The employee gives the elderly woman that look—the same one I was just telling you about.
“Let’s see what we can do,” the employee says.
She flags a man in a yellow vest, he walks toward them. He types on his cellphone.
“My wife texted,” he says. “She said Winn Dixie still has plenty’a bottled water.”
“Really?” the elderly woman says. “How sweet of you. Thank you.”
He grins. There’s that look again.
In the checkout line: an old man in a motorized wheelchair. His wife is pushing a buggy of groceries. He wears a cap with a battleship on it. A tube runs from his nose to an oxygen tank.
“Are you worried about the storm?” the cashier asks his wife.
“Not really, are you?” the older woman says.
“Actually, I’m REALLY scared,” the cashier goes on. “My kids are too. We were so freaked out last night we stayed up late, watching the news. I don’t know what to do.”
The man in the wheelchair starts moving. He is animated. He’s trying to turn his head, and it seems like it takes all his strength to do it.
He finally says, “D-d-don’t be scared, sweetie.”
He digs into his shirt pocket—it takes him a lot of effort, but he is determined. With a shaky arm, he places a Tootsie Roll into the girl’s palm.
“What’s this?” she says.
“It’s good luck,” he says.
He forces a smile. He is old, tired, weak, and riding in a wheelchair. But his two blue eyes are the strongest pair you’ve ever seen.
Especially when he gives her that look.