Montgomery, Alabama—it was late afternoon, the grocery store was busy. It was a big weekend, hurried customers played demolition derby with shopping carts.
I saw two young men shopping together. Their basket was overflowing with bachelor food. Microwave dinners, hotdogs, potato chips, Michelob Ultra, spray cheese.
The youngest man was wearing cargo shorts. His right leg was disfigured. Below the knee, his leg was mostly shinbone without any visible muscle, covered in scars.
I followed the men around the supermarket because I am a writer, and writers are odd people.
When they reached the self-checkout lane, I was a few customers behind them in line.
An old man approached the men. They had a brief conversation. I tried to listen to their words but their voices were too quiet.
The only thing I heard the elderly man say was: “Where were you stationed?”
“Afghanistan,” the young man answered. Also, I heard the words, “ambush,” “explosion,” and “physical therapy.”
When the young
men finished scanning items, I will never forget what happened next. The old man removed his wallet and swiped his credit card.
The young men tried to stop him, but they were too slow. The man replaced his wallet, then winked at them and said, “You snooze, you lose, fellas.”
I can still see that old man when I close my eyes. Some things stick with you, I guess.
Just like the time I saw an elderly woman in Franklin, Tennessee. Her car wouldn’t start. Three men from inside the gas station rushed to help her.
They were large men with long beards, dirty clothes, and work boots. They crawled over her car until they figured out the problem beneath the hood.
“It’s her serpentine belt!” one man finally shouted.
That was all it took. They leapt into their truck and left. After a few…