GROWING UP, I knew it was nearly Christmas because the nights became longer, the days, shorter.
Today, I know that’s still a fact because malls have pushed back their closing time.
One night saw me and the hubby trying to finish our list of presents. When we heard a disembodied voice inform shoppers that the gift-wrapping sections were about to close in half an hour, we decided to split the tasks.
While he finished purchasing, I lined up to avail of the wrapping services.
I fell behind the couple that was being served. There were several carts parked around us, more items for wrapping.
A clerk emerged from behind a wall dividing the counter from an inside workroom. A blur of white polo, he slotted into the wall an enormous bag of brightly wrapped packages.
Looking at the overflowing slots, a towering wall of festive cheer, I noticed that the crowd favorites were the colors of gold and red.
Under the mall lights, the gold and the red glinted, talons clawing for the eyes.
I borrowed a pair of scissors from the one clerk working behind the counter.
When he looked up from the item that he had been wrapping, his eyes reminded me of the “swimmy” way the yolk jostles against the whites after one has broken a fresh egg over a bowl.
Stooping from my perch to reach the bowl of eggs I was whipping for my grandmother, I once imagined that all the yolks were trying to escape this gelatinous prison. To help them with their nascent rebellion, as well as hasten Lola’s baking, I pierced those yellow eyes with a fork until the yellow bled through and overran the whites.
I snipped off the price tags. I hunted down and scratched out the prices stuck on the underside. I placed each item inside a box. And then I went back to waiting for my turn.
The Voice announced that the mall was closing in 20 minutes but “they” would be more than delighted to have the “dear shoppers” again the following day.
The couple, that had been as immobile as park statues waiting for birds to roost, stirred when the clerk seemed to be doing the last item. The man commented that it surely was a busy time of the year, even more so for those in the “wrapping department.”
His woman companion did not add anything. The clerk went on wrapping. Looking at that bent head, I wondered why in rotten eggs, the yolks just seep into the whites but they never coalesce and encircle that white prison.
The man made a final attempt at fraternal talk after the clerk replaced the packages and summoned a porter. You’re a very fast worker, he said. Have you been working here long?
The clerk replied: No, I’m not a regular. I’m a charity case.
This made the man pause. His woman companion, about to follow the porter and their cart, also paused. I gave up trying to pretend I was not eavesdropping.
Do you mean an emergency worker? the man said, attempting to laugh.
No, the clerk replied. I looked at him and saw his face then, not just the white blur of his uniform or the yellow of his eyes.
No, sir, the clerk corrected himself. I’m a charity case. When someone works overtime and does not get extra pay, isn’t that called charity?
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* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 14, 2008 issue