By Craig Loomis
Yousef doesn’t mean to forget to pay the cashier, it’s just that—more times than not—his mind is busy with other, more important things: the thirtysomething daughters who can’t seem to stay married, debts that refuse to go away, a wife who insists he spend more time talking with her about things like their unmarried daughters, and so on. But there is more to it than that. Yousef’s forgetfulness usually has to do with shopping for clothes: when he sees the styles and colors he likes he becomes, if asked, what he would call intuitive; there is no need for him to hold a sweater up to the light to see its intricate weave, to press a perfectly starched shirt against his chest and study himself in the mirror, to search for the changing room to slip his legs into finely creased trousers. What is all this talk about the right size? No, Yousef, if truth be told, is an intuitive shopper. A glance is all he needs.
But there’s even more, because when he goes shopping, Yousef almost always wears his favorite dishdasha, the one he can no longer get extra clean, the one that has a hint of tea-stain at the cuffs and around the neckline. But never mind, it is his favorite, and intuitive shoppers are like that.
In the end, grasping two shirts, a pair of sky-blue trousers and a sports coat, with leather elbow patches, Yousef, in mid-shopping, stops to stare out the window at two birds sitting strangely close to one another on the ledge. At a glance, one incredibly fat bird; and now turning to investigate a new noise behind him: a mother with little boy who is rolling on the floor screaming, demanding candy, a toy….
Yousef eyes a black belt, reaching to feel its snaky smoothness. The security men, two big beetle-browed Indians who could be brothers, approach, sporting clean white security shirts with patches on both sleeves, epaulettes at the shoulders, that says they are in fact security, their cellphones at the ready. Each holds up a hand, or maybe two, and insists that the clothes Yousef is cradling in his arms really should be paid for first, sah? Motioning towards the cashier. Not to mention the beeping alarm with flashing red lights that have followed him out the door.
Yousef is shocked, and says so. “I am shocked. You mean, I haven’t paid for any of this?”
“Yes sir, that is what the alarm and lights mean. Exactly, exactly.”
“But of course I have the receipt here somewhere. Wait, hold this.” And he hands his bundle of clothing with price tags dangling to one of the brothers. “It’s here, in my pocket, I know it is. It has to be.”
As he goes through his deep dishdasha pockets, he finds cigarettes, cigarette lighter, two parking tickets, assorted sticks of gum (one of which he immediately unwraps and puts in his mouth) but nothing that resembles a receipt. His pockets empty, and with no receipt in sight, Yousef cannot believe it. “I can’t believe.”
The two security men, side by side, eyebrows knitted tough and frowning, fumbling for a firmer grip on their cellphones, have, sad to say, dealt with forgetful Yousef before. And yet, although security men are nothing like philosophers, they know there are worse people in the world than Yousef. He is not a bad man as bad men go, not a thief, as thieves go; he is simply forgetful. So once again, they remind him of the paying rule, and of course Yousef does not argue, does not insist he is right, they are wrong. With no receipt there is nothing to argue about; intuitive shopper Yousef knows this.
And so, when the two security men, who if not brothers most certainly are cousins, see him coming, entering the shop, blinking up at the brightly lit ceiling, they know there is no need to follow him, not your common criminal, this one. They simply move closer to the exit with the alarm and flashing lights, and with cellphones at the ready, they wait for Yousef.
Now Yousef, with his armful of clothes, turns and goes to the cashier, a young Filipino who hasn’t stopped smiling; but when he places everything on the countertop finds, on second thought, the pants are a little too blue, and you know what, it’s still too hot for a sports coat; never mind the leathery elbow patches, and, come to think of it, one of these starchy green shirts is more than enough.
Once Yousef is gone, having paid for a shirt, one security guard says to the other, “He’s crazy, that one.”
The other, maybe an older brother, considers before answering, and then finally, “Maybe.”