Monthly Archives: May 2007

White matter

…A few days later, she returns. The harried woman from the previous post.

I’m on express again and she is two people away from being served. As I’m scanning and bagging for the mother in front of me, Ms. Fidgety leans past the lady in front of her and asks me for the time. I read it out to her, deliver a friendly smile, and continue what I’m doing.

Ms. Fidgety jiggles the items in her arms and presses her lips together with growing displeasure. The person I’m serving leaves and the next customer collects her groceries from the small ledge and gestures to show that Ms. Fidgety can go in front of her. Ms. Fidgety takes her up on her offer and places her three yoghurts and other items on the counter.

Turning around, she holds up two yoghurts and, in a sort of ‘Haven’t we done this before?’ moment, asks the kind samaritan which one she should get. The woman, who, unlike yours truly, makes a snap decision and points to one of them. Ms. Fidgety heeds the advice, but pushes the other yoghurt towards me to be scanned. I’m really not sure why she bothers asking for anyone else’s opinion.

The good samaritan and Ms. Fidgety begin a sort of conversation. Ms. Fidgety states that she needs to catch the bus at 11:32 and that she thinks she might make it. The samaritan offers some sort of appropriate reply.

After Ms. Fidgety has departed, I tell the samaritan that she was rather kind to allow the other woman to be served first. She fixes me with a solemn look and says that her brother used to work ‘In that industry.’

‘You mean in mental health?’ I ask innocently.

She says yes.

‘I was a volunteer a couple of years ago at…’ I say, naming a well-known mental health institution in the city.

The samaritan locks me in another intense staring match and I get the feeling that she wants to pat my hand in approval. ‘That’s very good of you.’

In the same serious tone, she thanks me and wanders off.
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Oddly enough, before the other woman had pegged Ms. Fidgety as being mentally unstable, the thought hadn’t occurred to me. Well, okay, perhaps it had, but not in the sense that she was in need of, or had been in, the care of professionals. Now that I think of it though, her behaviour does fit in with that of the patients I came in contact with. What she and they had in common was an autism of sorts, an inability to read people and to act in socially appropriate ways. And in addition to that, a lack of self-awareness of one’s own actions.

But then again, I think that I suffer from the polar opposite. An over-awareness – or perceived heightened awareness – of the effect my words and actions have on others. It is an affliction which often leaves me dwelling unnecessarily on every detail of an encounter and causes mental anguish over how I could have done things differently.

So who is to say which is worse.

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