Yesterday as I left the supermarket, a middle aged woman in a floral print blouse and nondescript black pants blocked me on my way to my car. She looked a little beat up but, speaking as a person who often looks a little beat up herself , I didn’t want to judge her. At the same time, I thought it was pretty annoying the way she stepped right in front of me and stopped my progress. Up until that point, I had been clipping right along, making very good time leaving that market. I hate that market. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
But before I could begin to offer her any of the surly snarly attitude for which I am internationally beloved, she got my attention. “Do you know what pellagra is?” she asked me.
Now there was a word I hadn’t heard in casual conversation in a while. Instantly I was impressed and interested. Apparently, I thought to myself, she is raising money to fight pellagra, a disease that has kind of fallen in to the reliquary with scurvy and rickets. Good for her, I was now thinking, wondering when she was going to lead me over to a card table. If I’m going to be corralled in to making a donation, I had concluded at this point, I’m glad its to fight pellagra. I mean, why should all my funds only be going to more contemporary and fashionable diseases like cancer, AIDS and MS when pellagra goes over looked and unaddressed. It deserves my attention.
So I answered her. “Yes, I’ve heard of it.” I said, ” Isn’t it a disease caused by a vitamin deficiency? Actually, I think maybe my uncle had it.”
I threw that uncle thing in to make the conversation a little more personally relevant . That way when she hit me up for funds, I’d have a better reason to be generous.
““No,” she said, ” It causes people to disappear. And then the birds get bigger.”
“Oh. Right. Right.” I said, now understanding why she wasn’t carrying a clipboard or a cannister or offering me any pamphets” I guess that isn’t what my uncle had after all. Okay. Well, good. Thank you.” Then I pushed past her and made a beeline to my car.
And as I drove away, and revisited all the details of our exchange, the thing that I couldn’t get over is that I THANKED HER.