“Hey, wait! Could the other three of you kindly step outside please? Only one of you at a time is allowed in the store. You know that. The rest of you will just have to wait outside.” At first, I didn’t even realize that the woman was addressing herself to me and my three companions.
I soon became conscious that her words were directed towards us when a short, pear-shaped man, presumably another employee of the store, grabbed my shoulder with his hand and, while pointing grimly to the door, stated bluntly, “wait outside. You heard the woman.”
Once outside and still not fully cognizant of what was happening, I looked at two of the boys with whom I had come, Jimmy and Pat, and asked what had happened.
“Nothing,” replied Jimmy coolly. “The lady in there never lets more than one of us in the store at a time. To her, we’re just Pikies. She thinks were going to steal something. With just one of us in there, she can keep a closer eye on us.”
“How long has this been going on,” I asked, feeling the blood rush to my face as each word came out of my mouth. “Since as long as we can remember,” interjected Pat. “She has never even caught us stealing or nothing.”
After each of the three boys had gone into the store, paid for his candy bar or soda and came out, I prepared to enter. A part of me wanted to leave right then and not go in at all. I went in, however, and immediately felt the woman’s gaze fall upon me like a ton of bricks.
After grabbing my soft drink from the refrigerator and making my way to the register, my eyes met squarely with those of the woman who had greeted us upon entering into the store.
“Is there anything else you would like?” she asked, peering out the window at the three boys I had come with as if they were preparing to spray paint the outside walls of her store with graffiti. “Yes,” I replied, “I’ll have a Guardian, please.”
The moment the last word had left my lips, the woman’s countenance changed immediately. Not only did her eyes soften and her thinly pressed lips relax, but the tone of her voice switched from accusatory to obliging.
“Well, um…I,” stammered the woman, grasping for what to say. It was obvious that my Indiana accent had thrown her for a loop. As she gazed at me incredulously, the numerous wrinkles on her forehead displaying her inward struggle, I could only wait until she uttered her next words.
“You’ll have to forgive me. I just assumed that you were one of them,” she said, spitting out the last word as if it was a sharp piece of glass cutting the inside of her mouth. “You can never be too careful with those Pikey children, you know.”
There was a lot I wanted to say at that moment. A myriad of images swept through my brain in an instant, colliding with the emotions of anger, pity and contempt that I felt at both the woman’s actions and words.
Whether it was the timing of the encounter or the fact that I felt my words would have mattered little, I grabbed my change from the woman’s outstretched hand and left the store shaking my head.
Walking back to Dale Farm from the store while listening to John, the third Traveler teenager with whom I had come, go into great detail about what he would buy if he earned David Beckham’s salary, I couldn’t help but notice that not one of the boys had even mentioned what had just taken place at the store.
As I have come to understand, events as the one which transpired in the store are so common that Travelers view them as banal occurrences in the course of their everyday lives.
Walking around in a Traveler’s shoes for over a month now, I can’t help but feel that my feet hurt more than they ever have in my entire life.
Posted By Zach Scott
Posted Jun 25th, 2007