I hoped that no one noticed the strain in my voice.
“I’ll go look in the return bins for you, Sarah,” Drew said reassuringly. We had worked together over the summer and become friends. We always backed each other up when customers decided to pit wars against us.
I continued to search through my pile of returns while Drew went to look in the bins; boot dryer, Under Armor sweatshirt, running sneakers, sports bra. I knew the spandex weren’t in there, but it gave me something to do rather than stare into the angry face of my customers. My register line was still halfway down the power aisle and the other customers were beginning to become irritated. I saw a man in a business suit glance at his watch and a woman behind him sigh heavily.
The customer with the exchange started to threaten me, “If you lost my bag…”
I tuned him out and instead decided to let the chatter over the radio fill my eardrums. I was starting to panic. Where the hell did I put this man’s bag? Why didn’t I remember this happening?
Drew came back and shook his head. “Nothing over there.”
The man exploded with frustration. My heart began to beat fast and I felt my face flush. Drew met my gaze and raised his eyebrows clearly saying This guy needs to calm down. My face must have looked terrified because Drew patted my back gently and walked around the counter to talk to the customer. As he tried to calm him down, I gripped the counter tightly and took a deep breath. I didn’t know what to do. Even if I didn’t remember it, I had lost this man’s return. I was going to get into so much trouble. I was going to get fired. How would I pay for college? Thinking about the list of books I needed to buy for next semester made my knees weaken. All of a sudden RJ appeared next to me. He was looking down into my hanger bin trying to find something. I glanced at the man, who was still ranting to Drew and pointing at me, and then I turned to RJ.
“RJ, this customer had a return that he put on my counter to go look for an exchange. When he came back the bag with the return was no longer on the counter. I don’t know what to do.”
RJ looked up at me then over at the counter, “Well, where is the bag?”
If I hadn’t been so worried about getting fired, I would have laughed. RJ is a great manager, but he is not the best at listening when you talk. Half the time he asks you questions that you already answered in the first place. I normally don’t mind, but I could feel the glares of twenty different customers boring into the back of my head.
I kept it simple. “We don’t know. That’s the problem.”
RJ reached down and picked up a pair of shoes from the ground. He opened the box and picked up the right shoe, examining it. He shook his head then said to me, “Look in the return bins in the corner.” He walked away quickly, still holding open the box of shoes and muttering to himself.
I watched him zigzag through the crowd to the other side of the front end. Well, that’s real helpful, I thought. The man was back in my face repeating again and again, “Well what the hell are we going to do about this!”
My store manager, Todd, appeared next to me, giving me an excuse not to answer the customer. Todd reached over my head to grab the stapler off my counter. I opened my mouth and began to explain the situation to him. The customer still hadn’t stopped complaining. He was now ranting about how I had ruined his trust in Dick’s Sporting Goods. I tuned him out and concentrated on getting the story right. Before I got halfway through the explanation, Todd took one look at the customer whining, rolled his eyes, and then walked away. I was too shocked to form a response initially. First RJ, now Todd. Wasn’t it their jobs to help me? I think back to my final interview before I got hired.
“You’ll never have to deal with customers yelling at you,” Todd had said, “That’s not your job, it’s ours.”
That’s funny, I thought as I turned back to face my angry customer. I was going to have to make the decision about what to do.
“Sir, I’m sorry but someone must have grabbed your bag accidentally off the counter,” I said much calmer than I felt, “I’m going to do a no receipt return and give you an even exchange for the new item. I’m just going to need to see your driver’s license first.”
“Why do you need my driver’s license? Why am I being punished for your mistake?”
I took a deep breath. “I’m still going to give you an even exchange, but for no receipt returns we are required to enter driver license information.”
The man narrowed his eyes. “But I had a receipt in the bag.”
I repeated myself again. He was either very unintelligent or was simply refusing to understand what I was saying. Finally, he grabbed his driver’s license out of his wallet and chucked it at the counter. I picked the ID up and started entering the information into the register as quickly as possible.
“I don’t like that you’re entering my information into the system,” he snapped, tapping his finger against the computer screen.
I resisted the urge to smack his hand away. Instead, I explained that it was just procedure in case we needed to contact him. He did not like that idea.
“Are there little trucks sitting outside taking my information? Where are they sending it?” He demanded to know hitting his knuckles against the counter.
I scanned the spandex he was exchanging and threw it into a bag. I pressed the enter button and the printer started to spit out a receipt. I shoved both that and the driver’s license at him. “It’s strictly for our systems only, Sir. We don’t share customer information with any other companies.”
The man snatched the bag off the counter and stormed out the door muttering words like ridiculous and poor customer service. I watched him go thinking that he had never worked a day of retail in his life before. The man in the business suit was next in line and slammed his return onto the counter. He was on his Bluetooth and was talking logistics while staring off into the distance. He didn’t bother to look at me, much less say hi. I grabbed his receipt to scan and looked towards the scoreboard clock on the back wall of the store. Five more hours, I thought as I took his Northface out of the bag and asked if there was anything wrong with it. He continued to talk logistics and turned around to look out the front doors. I might as well have been talking to a brick wall. The cash drawer popped open and I began to count out his refund. I grabbed the bills roughly, like they were the ones yelling at me and being rude.
“Sarah,” RJ’s voice came over the radio, “head to lunch after you’re done with your customer.”
I leaned over to flick my open light off, and a wave of grumbles built like a nuclear cloud over my register. Drew appeared at the front of my line and started to usher everyone to other cashiers. Customers leaned around Drew’s big form, trying to catch a glimpse of me at my register and figure out what emergency had prompted my light to be turned off. I handed the refund over to the man in the suit and bolted towards the back of the store. I kept my head down and tried to avoid making eye contact with any customers. With any luck, I would make it to the break room unscathed. I pushed through the ‘Employees Only’ door and breathed a sigh of relief. My coworkers sitting at the table look defeated; one had her head resting face first into her hands, one was staring off into space, and another was stabbing at his pasta angrily.
“I need to get out of here,” I muttered, walking over to my locker.
I grabbed my keys and headed for the door. I had some Christmas presents I could return at Target during my hour break. That meant dealing with traffic, but I also would be able to get fresh air.
When I arrived at Target, the lines were just as bad. I crammed into the back of customer service and started to search for my receipt. The woman in front of me in line was talking on her cell phone loudly and I paused mid-search as I overheard her conversation on the phone.
“No, I’m telling you, Greg, this cashier is incompetent. I have been standing in line forever.” The woman tapped her foot and craned her neck towards the front of the line. “She takes ten minutes on each transaction. How can her job be that hard?”
I narrowed my eyes at her as I listened to the conversation. Even after spending the last couple hours dealing with angry customers, I couldn’t quite believe my ears. This lady was at the end of the line, she couldn’t have been waiting for more than five minutes. Her level of impatient was disgusting. I spent the rest of my time in line listening to her complain to her husband and resisting the urge to slap the phone out of her hand. By the time we got to the front of the line, I was biting my tongue to keep from pointing out how judgmental, rude, and inconsiderate she was being. She moved to the next open cashier and I glared at her as she walked away.
“I can help the next person in line,” A cashier called to me as I watched the woman slam her bag onto the counter. Her mouth was moving mile a minute, no doubt complaining about the wait.
The cashier who called me over wore a face that screamed overwhelmed and was all too familiar. Her fair was frizzing slightly around her ears, her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes wide. I smiled at her sadly as I moved up to the counter.
“Hey. Crazy day, huh?” I handed her my receipt and started to take my return out of the bag.
The cashier shook her head slightly. “You have no idea. It’s been like this all day.”
“Yeah, I work over at Dick’s Sporting Goods across the street. It’s been the same over there. People are nuts,” I added glancing over at the woman who had been complaining to her husband.
The cashier handed over my refund and pushed a receipt at me to sign. “It’s like they forget it’s the day after Christmas,” she said in a lowered voice, like she was afraid someone might overhear her.
I laughed as I picked up the pen and signed the slip. That was the exact same thought I had been having all day.
“Have a good rest of your day.” The cashier smiled at me as I handed over the signed slip.
I stashed my refund into my wallet and zipped it into my purse. “Yeah, you too. I hope you survive!” The cashier thanked me and I smiled at her as I walked away. On my way out the exit, I passed the women at the counter. She was harassing the cashier and demanding to know why she couldn’t get her refund in cash rather than store credit. I let the door slam behind me and the woman’s screeching voice was drowned out.
Was I missing the difficulty of being nice to people? I just had a friendly conversation with my cashier, and I wasn’t wounded as far as I could tell. I step into my car and close the door. Twenty minutes until my break was over. I heave a sigh and pull the car into drive. As I pull into the Dick’s parking lot, I stare up at the store and consider crawling under my car and hiding there. I know that wouldn’t work, my mangers would notice my absence. But the idea sounds nice. I sit in the silence of the car, away from the din of registers and customer voices that was sure to circle my head as soon as I stepped foot into the store. I close my eyes and prepare myself to pretend that the customer is always right for the next couple hours; even though they’re not. Not by a long shot.
Sarah Christ is currently a junior at SUNY Geneseo. She is working on a double major of Communication and English with a concentration in creative writing. Originally, she is from the small town of Palmyra- Macedon. Her guilty pleasure is watching her favorite football team, the Buffalo Bills, play on Sundays. She is previously unpublished and would love to sit down with her favorite childhood author, Gordon Korman.