He’s not really a friend, but his face is very familiar. I have seen him at least once a week, often twice, for a couple of years now. He is the man who loads my groceries into my car at the supermarket.
What makes him memorable is his invariable happiness. Not just a pleasant demeanour. I’m talking full-blown ecstasy. Sometimes, he even does a little dance while loading the bags. A soft-shoe shuffle that ends with a big ‘ta-daaa’ of the hands. He sings a lot too. Mostly just a little humming noise, but occasionally, he breaks out, operatic style, startling passers-by.
There are no other customers in the pick-up queue this particular Wednesday, so I take the opportunity to askhim.
“How do you manage to be so cheerful all the time?”
He pauses his packing and looks up at me, startled. As if it is incomprehensible to him that not everyone lives in such a state of euphoria. Then he shakes his head, making his badly cut hair fall forward on to his face.
“Just am”, he mumbles. My drawing attention to his cheer seems to pop a bubble somewhere in him. He looks down and keeps packing. It dawns on me that a previous customer may have given him a hard time about his service style. Now, he thinks I’m about to do the same.
I apologise, and explain that I love his cheerfulness. I add that I don’t know how he does it with so many harried, cranky, customers. He brightens at this.
“Well, you see, it’s part of the job. Making them have a little smile, or a laugh. If someone comes in, all down, it’s great to send them out laughing. Makes you feel great.”
“Is your whole family like this?” I enquire. He gives a hoot of laughter. “Not likely.” Something in his tone is bitter, but he’s not about to tell that story to me, a complete stranger. I tell him he does a great job and that they should be proud of him. He puffs up.
As he walks away, finished, I tell him that I’m going to write a story about him—the happiest grocery-packing man in Australia. He turns to me with a huge grin, and gives me a thumbs-up.
I took it as permission.