“You’re a machine. My time will not be wasted. Get me a human now or you will have an unfathomable shit-storm on your hands.”
“Good afternoon. Know that I will do whatever it takes to get what I want and do not get in my way. Are you a machine?”
The man was tall and his hair a neatly cut brown with dignified stripes of gray. He might be handsome, but his unblinking gaze was wrapped in a faceful of tense muscle like a vice-grip from brow to jaw. His voice was almost a shout. The cashier was unphased.
She looked about seventeen, petite, pretty with brown hair, blue eyes, and pale skin which put in stark relief the bulging, beet of a man before her. “I would be happy to help you, sir.”
He placed the tip of his index finger a knuckle’s length from exactly between her eyes. “You’re a machine. My time will not be wasted. Get me a human now or you will have an unfathomable shit-storm on your hands.”
“Well, we don’t want that! I’m afraid there is no one else here. What can I do for you?”
The man pressed his lips together, widened his eyes like a gorilla in fury, and lifted his hands high above his head before slamming his palms against the glass counter-top, jolting the used electronics inside.
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW,” he screamed, “I WANT A HUMAN. NOOOOOOOOOOW. I will rip you apart with my bare hands, machine!”
“Of course, can I write down your problem and we’ll see if we can get you some help?”
Muted fumbling came from behind a locked door to one side of the counter, next to a small one-way mirror. The door swung open and an overweight, mustachioed man dropped an oversized ring of keys onto the floor. He stumbled, retrieving the keys, and hurried to the counter. “Yes — um, I’m the manager, I’m human — I swear . What can I do for you?”
The man tossed a smashed cell phone on the counter like a blackjack dealer, jammed two fingers into it, and ground it forward against the glass until one end of the phone touched the manager’s overhanging belly. “I want a refund. I will do whatever is necessary to get it. Give me a refund now or you will have an unfathomable shit-storm on your hands.” Apart from the obvious tension, he appeared now in control of himself, as if there were no question his wish would be granted, but each of the terror-stricken customers behind him sensed that he stood precariously at his breaking point and he would gladly take anyone along to see what a catastrophic afternoon lay beyond it. The manager noticed the sleeves of his customer’s lime green hoodie didn’t reach his wrists. The man wore jean shorts and untied converse shoes without socks.
The girl placed one hand over her mouth. “Oh! Looks like we had a little accident. I’m very sorry you had to go through this and I’m sure it’s been a great deal of trouble for you. However, I’m afraid this damage doesn’t appear to be due to device failure.”
The man now yelled “I want a human! Give me the manager! I will not waste my time!” The man clapped violently in the face of the girl six times before everyone was sure he would stop, then he did it four more times.
“I’m here! I’m the manager. Please, please, I dont want a problem. I will give you a refund.” The manager placed his hands over the cashier’s shoulders and scooted her away from the register. He clumsily rushed through the keys on his ring.
“I’m sorry you’re upset, sir. Can I offer you a cup of water and perhaps we can take a look at some of the phones we have in stock?” The girl’s tone of voice was as if her customer were a distraught friend in need of a shoulder to cry on.
The manager dropped the keys and for a moment felt himself losing control. He placed a hand over his migraine. “God damn it.” He collected himself and placed a finger under the right corner of the cashier’s jaw, turning her off. Finally he retrieved the keys from the floor and opened the register. “I’m very sorry.”
The man watched as the manager pulled a stack of hundreds and then a stack of fifties from the register. “Give those to me.”
“I am telling you to give those to me.”
“…I have to count it.”
The man began clapping again, his hands between the manager’s face and the money in his fingers. This time the man screeched while he clapped. He continued in this way, to the horror of six petrified people in the store, until he had clapped over twenty times. The manager’s hands were shaking and he bumped the girl, knocking her off balance until she spun around and gently rested her forehead against the shelves of bubble gum and sour candies behind her. Her eyes were open and frozen, as was her mouth. The manager finally finished and without looking up from the counter he thrusted a handful of cash to his enraged customer.
The customer became instantly calm. He snatched the money from the manager and beat fast steps through the heavy glass, automatic doors. “Thank you very much. Have a lovely day.”
An old woman in a dark brown coat had witnessed the entire conflict from two places back in the line. She appeared to be losing her hair and glared at the inanimate girl. “Serves you right hiring those God forsaken robots. I came in for a simple, inexpensive phone and before I knew it she had me convinced to spend over a thousand dollars on this stupid toy.” She held up a glossy, black phone and let it slip through her fingers and onto the floor. “I changed my mind. I thought she was so nice and I felt so lonely and I was so happy to make a friend. I should have known. Look at that, bitch. Stupid robot. I should have known. That’s how we do business. You don’t care about me. I’m just the lock on my purse for crying out-loud and you want in. And you gotta break me open, just smash me.” Tears pooled in her eyes. She spit on the floor and shuffled out of the store. “She was so nice to me. Serves you right, you God forsaken animal.”
The manager was panting, with sweat rolling from his brow.
Several blocks away the man with gray in his hair watched contently as a teenage girl counted the money totaling twelve hundred dollars. The girl had a green circuit board held between her lips and loose wires hanging from it. She shoved the money into a small pocket of her yellow backpack and from its larger pocket, she retrieved another broken phone of the same model as the last. The girl zipped up her bag and from the man’s right pocket she pulled a gray, plastic-encased female connector port and took the green circuit board from her mouth, squeezing one end of it into the port. One of the loose wires was connected to her phone which she used to program the man with the location of the next store. He would find the most direct route to that store, navigate the people there, and upon exchanging the broken phone for money, return to the starting location with the prize. If anything went wrong, like the involvement of the police, he would not return until he had completed what he estimated to be the most direct route to resolving the situation.
The teenager sat against a wall to wait for her next haul and shielded a cigarette from the breeze as she lit it. The old woman wiped her mascara with a napkin as she waited for a coffee at a bistro and smiled warmly at a small dog. The manager cradled an empty mug of tea and drifted to sleep, his legs hanging off of the short couch in his small, darkened office. The young cashier was operating again, taking the arm of a boy, walking him to the headphone aisle, and laughing so hard at his jokes that she snorted. The man with gray hair marched happily off, sure to find his way, sure to negotiate a solution to whatever or whoever obstructed him, sure to return with his harvest or unleash an unfathomable shit-storm.