Photo credit: tokechan.deviantart.com
(A short story written by Christian Tanner)
My love for Wal-Mart bares the resemblance of how I love a splinter. It’s an unbreakable love. The kind of love that sneaks up behind you and stabs you in the back while you’re eating your favorite meal and drinking an iced tea. More lemon please.
“Zach, did you clean the spill on isle 4?”
“Damn it. I forgot. I’ll get it now, but then I’m going on break because I was supposed to go an hour ago.”
Dakota, my manager at the time, her eyes trailed high and then low. You know, that annoying passive-aggressive eye roll. But I can’t blame her, we’re all pretty guilty of the eye roll every now and then.
She demanded, “Fine. Just clean up isle 4.”
My head grew drowsy while I shrugged my shoulders and thought, fuck that bitch. Really, she’s wasn’t very chill, but I was as nice as I could be to her. She reminded me of the old lady from the Gilmore Girls. That was the only way I could be satisfied while painfully working with such a –
well, you know where I’m going with this.
I went to my closet, the janitor’s closet, and grabbed the aged basic plastic broom stick and I also grabbed the mop that used to be white. After a while, the mop appeared like a crispy taco shell. The crusty mop looked like a weapon in a horror film, I swear to God, it was disgusting.
On my way to clean up the mess on isle 4, I purposely dragged my feet and made it clear that I hated my job. Just for shits and gigs.
Suddenly, something out of the ordinary stole my attention from my task and threw me off. I only saw it from the corner of my eye, but I watched three packs of 24-roll toilet paper fall from the shelf.
Logical explanation, I told myself. Nothing is every out of the ordinary, I just became too usual. I make habit out of every day, to repeat yesterday and then the day before and the day before that. I think about that a lot. Nevertheless, I was stunned when I saw a pair of legs appear from the bottom shelf of the toilet paper/paper towel isle.
Logical explanation, I told myself. It’s just an innocent kid doing hid kid thing.
I can only fool myself for so long before I trust me again. You feel me?
His legs were too long.
A homeless guy stood up and groaned while he stretched. I saw him inside the store a couple time before, but I never saw him do anything weird like that.
“Hey,” I called to him, “You can’t sleep here. This is a store.”
“I ain’t got no place else.”
Oh god, I thought. Help him, I told myself. But you have to prioritize.
“You just need to get out of here.” I told him.
Afterward, I continued to clean up the spill. Macaroni shells. Hmm.
Two days later, I was using the register in the automotive section to clock out. On my way out I saw someone peaking around one of the isles, but I didn’t want to make a big deal about it, so I kept walking. I continued to leave, however, when I instinctively glanced across my shoulder to assure myself nobody was following me, I saw him peaking around a different isle. Probably watching me leave.
“Hey,” I called. I’m sure you’re all caught up by now.
He quickly ducked away and I couldn’t see him anymore. I walked past each isle hoping to catch him, but he wasn’t around. I quickly gave up and decided to leave. I walked past the bike isle and I caught a glimpse of his green and brown jacket through many different tire spokes. I stood straight up and peered through the spokes, trying to assure myself it was him. Alas, I had him in my sight.
“Hey, what are you doing here?” I asked while walking toward him.
He swiftly crouched away so I couldn’t see him anymore.
“Hey.” I yelled again. “It’s ok, you don’t have to leave.”
The homeless man turned around while I stood in my spot and stared. The tire spokes in the background blended together. His face was crimson red, a devilish resemblance. His eyes were pasted with tears. Skinny strands of his dirty long brown hair hung in his face. All the while he carried an unforgettable smell. The cracks and wrinkles on his face had its own cracks and wrinkles. His brown sneakers were nearly raw on top, I could only imagine what the bottoms felt like.
“You gonna kick me out?” He asked.
His voice sounded deep as the Grand Canyon. Echoic.
“I’m not going to kick you out but you’re going to get kicked out if you keep sleeping around here.”
“I ain’t sleepin’ outside no more.”
“Well, people here will call the cops on you if you keep sleeping here.”
“I ain’t afraid of no cop.”
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
I impulsively muttered, “Come back here.”
My thoughtful-self led him to a pretty big closet inside the janitor’s room, so that makes me a good person, right?
“Look,” I said and I pointed at the pile of jackets on the floor. “You can have all of those. Make a bed out of it if you want. Nobody comes back here so you should be ok if you’re quite. But don’t leave until I come back. If anyone sees you back here then they’ll make you leave so stay here until I come back to work in the morning. Make me a promise that you won’t leave.”
I knew he would leave, and you probably do too, but I thought, fuck it, you know. It’s Wal-Mart.
The next morning.
You know, the next morning I woke feeling more refreshed than I had in a long time. I felt like I was doing something good. Before the day got too good though, I assured myself, prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.
I walked into work with a McMuffin and a coffee from McDonald’s for him, but he wasn’t in the closet anymore. He didn’t leave a note or anything, but all the jackets were positioned like a bed, so I had a feeling he slept there the night before, but he was gone when I got there. I wanted to ask everyone if they had seen a homeless man walking around the store, but that would make me sound crazy, so I just left it alone. I knew he would be back, and sure enough, right before the first half of my shift ended at noon, he was by the bikes.
I hurried to the register to clock out, and then I raced over to the toys section which was right next to the bikes.
“Hey kid,” I heard him call. “How long can I stay back there?”
“You can’t ‘stay back there’ if you don’t listen to me. You could get me caught and then I could get in trouble or I get fired. I can’t lose my job.”
He scratched his neck and then said, “I’m sorry I had to go. I’m good now, though. I won’t leave.”
“Just come on,” I told him.
I unlocked the janitor’s room and then opened the closet.
I told him, “I put all the jackets back in a pile, but you can do whatever you want him them. Oh,” I added, “There’s a McMuffin for you. I got it this morning so it’s probably cold, but it’s still good.”
He started carelessly tossing the jackets around the room and then sat on the pile and pulled out a book from his grungy jacket that was made a decade ago.
I asked him, “What’s your name?”
“Sam. Ok. I gotta run, but my name is Zach. I’m on break so I’m going to eat so I’ll be back later. Do. Not. Leave. Okay?”
A dirty thumbs up.
Sam opened his book and I shut the door.
I went back to work after my break. I didn’t even check on Sam to see if everything was ok, because I was afraid he would be gone. I was trying my best to not get close to him because I had a feeling he would be out of my life soon, however, I never knew how it was going to happen.
Against my own will, I went to the back to see Sam after I clocked out.
I practically moved in the closet with Sam while we talked about everything from this to that. I learned a lot from him. I mean, Sam was freakin’ smart. He read constantly, but he had this little heroin problem that kind of occupied most of his time. He had to have it, and I wasn’t exactly comfortable with him doing it at my work.
I asked Sam, “Why are you homeless? I mean, people don’t just wake up one day and they’re homeless.”
“You know Zach,” He said, explaining his situation while sliding the glimmering needle into his navy blue vein, “It seems like it happened that fast.”
He leaned his head backwards and then followed up with, “It feels like I just woke up one day and this is my life.”
He paused for a moment and took a deep breath.
“About three years ago I was working for UPS, delivering packages and what have you. I had been a driver for a couple years then, and I was working my way up. I was taking classes at a community college to get a degree. My wife was on her way home from taking our son to soccer practice when someone wasn’t paying attention to the traffic light.”
Put my heart in a paper shredder.
He said, “She wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and then my son tried to crawl out of the car and it fell on top of him. They didn’t make it. I kinda lost it, ya feel me?”
I was crippled by his incident. But what I built inside my heart was an energy full of love and compassion, ready to burst at any moment and show Sam that there’s more to life than waiting for the end. Recovery is within. Happiness is within. And I knew it was inside Sam, he only had to find it. Sam was cold, but I knew it was time for change.
“I hear you,” I told him.
Sam explained, “Heroin became my god. It was my suppression. No more feeling, it’s my world.”
“Do you love me, Sam?” I asked.
“Zach, you’ve done more for me than anyone since then.”
“I love you, Sam.” I gave him my tightest hug. I felt so freakin’ horrible for him and I couldn’t do anything about it.
I continued, “I want you to do me a favor. Will you please do me a favor?”
I asked him with my deepest sincerity, my full compassion, “Please, Sam, put down the needle and let me take you to rehab. This world needs people like us. There is too much bad to let the good go unfulfilled. Don’t let the bad win, let’s make a difference and live instead of waiting to die.”
He fell backward into the pile of jackets.
“It’s not that easy, Zach. You have to understand.”
“I can’t let you go.” I said to him.
He stood up and gathered his books.
“Zach,” He called my name as he began to walk out of the door and I followed closely behind him. “You’ve shown me that there are people in this world worth living for and dying for. When my wife and my son died, now I know they died for me,” He was heading for the exit as quickly was he could walk, without running.
Sam was directly in front of the sliding door, heading for the exit when he turned around and held my head in his hands and then said, “Now whether that means I will live or die for them, it doesn’t matter. All I know is I may be able to live again. There needs to be more people like you in this world.”
Sam kissed me on the top of my head. He wiped his eyes and then hugged me, saying, “I love you, Zach.”
I watched the sliding doors shut with much more meaning than another customer coming to the store. Those closing doors meant the world to me as I watched him walk away, ready to begin his next chapter.
You will only do what you can, nothing more, and nothing less. Just be who you are and do what you do, and work for the rest to come to you.
Love each and every person you know, happiness comes from within, so encourage everyone to release their golden personality.
Zach’s job was repetitive. It was the same thing every day, but something happened out of the ordinary. When Zach saw a homeless man sleeping on a bottom self in Wal-Mart, he had no idea what was going to develop. This is an inspirational short story about a young man showing compassion and doing what he can to make another life better for better’s sake.