Sonia tugged on the hanging edge of her scarf, wondering for the 100th time that morning if she could get through this. It seemed to easy when Danielle first told her, but now, standing there alone, every centimeter of her body wanted to run.
“I will be right outside the whole time. I promise.”
Danielle’s promise felt like it was made days ago, when really it was just a minute or maybe two. Had Sonia really been in this shop so little time? She looked back to see her teacher standing on the sidewalk, waving to a small child in a passing stroller.
Turning back around, she caught the gaze of the man behind the counter over his paper. While his skin color was similar to her own, the large golden cross hanging from his neck and attentive stare said they were very far apart in this life.
Another tug on the scarf brought it tight around her face, offering protection and a reminder of her strength. Taking a basket from the corner, as she had watched Danielle do last week, Sonia walked the aisles. She already had groceries for the week so it did not matter what she got. Just a few items.
“Try some new things,” Danielle had encouraged. “Just pick out three or four that look interesting.”
From the refrigerated section, Sonia selected a yogurt and some plate of things with rice and green vegetables. At the end of the next aisle was a banner for “Snack Pots” on sale. Near the counter, and under the worker’s gaze, her last selected was one of the breads that Danielle had picked last time. Sonia found it too sweet but wanted to thank the woman who was waiting outside for her.
With two hands she lifted the small basket onto the shelf, and then stepped back, exhausted from the process. The man set aside his paper to ring up the items silently. His eyes were no longer on her, but the feeling of doing something wrong still filled Sonia. With one hand grasping for her scarf, she handed over her debit card. That a piece of plastic would have value still seemed so strange to her. In her village, it was grains, animals, cloth, or occasionally coins that traded in the marketplace. Not numbers on a screen. This was a strange country.
Taking the paper bag from the shelf, Sonia nodded and headed for the door. She was almost through this class assignment and ready for the air outside to cleanse her.
Within a meter of the door the man’s voice shouted out to her: “Hey lady.” She had been trained by family to run when someone yells, at her or just anywhere near by. A yell meant danger. But Sonia’s feet could not move. Why wouldn’t feet that had run from Syria not move in this Belfast shop?
Coming up alongside her, the worker held her plastic card. “You forgot this. Have a nice day.” Sonia turned to take her card, looking into the man’s eyes perhaps the first time that day. The smile on his face had added creases around them, and softened the judgement from earlier. He stepped forward to hold open the door: “Come again soon.”
Sonia offered a smile back as she stepped outside. “Thank you.”
This story is a response to the Flash Fiction Challenge by Fractured Faith Blog.