The Customer

by Margareth Fry from Richmond, BC

This story begins when I started working at Safeway grocery store in Richmond BC. I worked in the deli there, for many years, and over those years I became friends with a sandy haired, fast moving customer. 

He always arrived on Saturday morning with a list an arm long. He moved quickly and was in and out of the store before you knew it; whistling classical music and going his merry way. 

With my name tag, he knew my name, but I never got to know his. 

Over the years we started chatting and he would stop at my deli counter just a bit longer each week. I learned that he worked for CP Air and had a family of five that lived just around the corner. Our over the counter chit-chat became a ritual, and we had some good laughs, he ca1led me his “baloney-salami Saturday psychiatrist”.
I can't remember how the idea of a picnic came about, but somehow it did. Every week we would make plans – pretend dates – to meet at places like Garry Point Park. The deal was I would bring the baloney and he the homemade wine. It was all in jest, of course, but it was fun. And each Saturday morning we would talk about why we had each “forgotten” to show up.  

Sometimes his wife would come with him to the store, and she and I would have a good laugh about her husband and me never making it to our picnic “date”.  

Years went by and every week we played this game. Once I told him that I could not sell him a BBQ chicken, as I felt he wouldn’t be responsible enough to look after a dead bird. He agreed. 

We both must have been about the same age - around 55 - so I noticed, with concern, when his step became much slower, he had lost weight and he rarely whistled anymore. 

I wanted to ask him – but I knew that would not be right, as he was a customer. Slowly his wife started to shop more often and I felt a cloud hanging over both of them. One day she came in and she was crying. After serving her at the deli I asked my manager if I could take my break. I walked with the man’s wife out to the parking lot. She told me that my “never to have a picnic friend” was dying in Richmond Hospital of cancer. We hugged and cried.  

Then she looked up at me and said “You guys never made it to the picnic.” 

I asked her if I could make up a picnic basked for the three of us and bring it to the hospital that night. She agreed. I packed soda crackers, yogurt and banana, as she let me know that was the only thing he could swallow. 

From her husband’s chit-chat, I knew her favourite sandwich was Italian salami with Swiss cheese on a Kaiser bun. We had wine for the ladies, candles and a red and white checkered tablecloth. 

The nurse was kind enough to close the room divider curtains as we had a window looking out on the park. We laughed and cried together as they told me about their children, and their life struggles. 

After 25 years we were finally getting to know each other. We finally got our long overdue picnic.

Our time together was short, as my customer grew tired quickly. His sandy hair was gone and the fast moving body was now almost lifeless. We said our goodbyes. I knew I would never see him again. 

He fought hard to make it but a few weeks later he could fight no longer. 

I made the sandwich trays for his funeral with fond memories of the times we spent over the counter. It did not matter that I did not know his name; we knew each other as people and that’s what was important.