GUEST AUTHOR: Raashi Kulshrestha

Literary Nonfiction

("It is a nice take on being a 'new comer' to 'adulthood' at the young age of 18", as one critic put it. The author, at 18, metaphorically uses a grocery store as the stage of adulthood where she has just stepped on to for the first one as a young adult herself)

                                                                              The Midday Grocery Store

Adulthood is funny. That guy is a regular old douche-bag that comes around once a lifetime and slams right on your phalanges. But how do you know when he indeed has come? I turned eighteen quite a while ago, the legal “coming of age” as they call it, but I am scared to admit the truth that would seemingly ostracize me: adulthood never came slamming on mine.

One sunny suburban weekday afternoon, still eighteen years old, I got out of school early and drove down to my nearest Kroger. ‘Grocery shopping midday? How refined,’ thought everyone. I parked my compact car neatly, reached for my wallet, then positioned my sunglasses and perfectly masked my visage. My fellow grocery shoppers were all deliberately in tune to their own schedules; they work like clockwork. My eyes did not let a single character go unseen, including a boy who sat waiting in the car parking lot as his mother (or nanny, or sister) tended to a list of errands, too impatient to go inside, or perhaps too determined to carry out the task at hand: whatever occupied him on the cell phone so close to his face. The place was mainly scattered with aged men in khakis and women in skirts- every third one with a cardigan tied around her waist, or even better, her shoulders. (It did not matter the weather, these women dressed for one climate, and one climate only: thermostat controlled, air conditioned boxes).

I was on the inside, among people who have actually had adulthood come knocking on their doors. I cannot explain it, but it was a weirdly calming experience. For seemingly unapparent reasons, I knew how to act in the midday grocery store: I knew the rules never once articulated by man. For starters, everybody is your acquaintance, and nobody is your friend at the midday grocery store. You get what you need, and don’t wander at the midday grocery store. You drive your shopping cart around like it’s a car, the aisles are the suburban landscaped roads, and you are a law abiding citizen at the midday grocery store.

I was navigating my shopping cart, silently contemplating which cereal bar would be most beneficial to my health, when I spot a man looking at a woman. He continues his directed gaze and fails at executing what would have been, with reasonable doubt, a meek attempt at starting a conversation with a lady who gave the image of compassion through her purple, polka-dot dress. I watch as the urge goes from a want to a desire in the man’s eyes, yet he still maintains his fixed position behind what he mistakenly perceives as the safety of his cart. In actuality, the cart is anything but safe. In fact, the cart is actively working against him. The cart is, in a way, his ticket to the midday grocery store, but the cart does not have his best interests in mind. He wants to talk to this girl more than anything in the world because she laughs at the crackers shaped like elephants (and in fact, so do I, because it’s possible that I too, find this humorous). But we all go on, sticking to the rules of the midday grocery store, which allows for a smile and a nod- maybe some small talk at most, but only on topics pertaining to current events and/ or the state of climate conditions.

I continue making my midday rounds, and somehow wind up at the snacking aisle. The shelves on this aisle were lined with treats designed to make a kid beg and plead. What they don’t know, is that begging and pleading was the very thing my taste buds were doing. There were flavors and colors I could so easily recall: cheese dust, pink frosting, chocolate candy coating. I suddenly catch myself in the act of gawking at a box of Cosmic Brownies. I even almost impulsively reach a hand out, but stop myself as I slowly look down at my privilege of a shopping cart, currently occupied by bell peppers, bananas, and whole wheat bread. ‘I’m doing so well, there is absolutely no space for kiddie snacks to barge in and ruin my midday grocery store aesthetic,’ and I hate myself for thinking it. I examine my surroundings, looking to my fellow grocery shoppers (or the lack of) to reaffirm my decision, but open my eyes to find people in that very aisle: the snack aisle. Even more peculiar, however, when I strolled past them, sneaking a peek into their carts, I found nothing of the snack sort lounging among their organic chicken and basil.

I go on cruising down the aisles, the smooth sound of shopping cart wheels burning rubber echoes at the backs of my eardrums. A chill comes over and grabs my attention, jolting me to shift my gaze toward the refrigerator. I catch the sweet sight of ice cold kombucha, and become even more intrigued when I see my favorite flavor is in stock: blood orange. The organic-ness of the beverage reassures me that it will indeed fit in with grocery cart theme, and I reach over and excitedly place it in my cart, not letting the excitement part show of course. 

When I am done gathering all the goods, I head over to check out, feeling quite accomplished. Perhaps that sense of accomplishment excited me a bit too much, for I decided to take a daring move: I head for the self-checkout line, the ultimate test of self- dependency. I had followed all the rules of the midday grocery store, I was confident in myself.  I proceed to check out and start scanning my items one by one, then very carefully, very deliberately, bagging them. Everything was going smoothly. Until I  reached for the bottled up kombucha. I am still not certain on the physics of how it all happened; I was going in to scan, holding the glass bottle in my hand, and the next moment I hear a crash and find the sad kombucha on the floor, the top part of the bottle completely shattered. All eyes immediately dart toward me- me, not the sad kombucha on the floor. I instantly think of the biggest rule of them all: you don’t make a scene at the midday grocery store, and I had just broken that rule, and quite beautifully, I might add. My breaking of the biggest rule was not as shaming as I had imagined, however, and I did not feel as upset as the dirty glances told me I should feel. Instead, I was strangely overcome with sweeps of relief.

I did not leave the sad kombucha out to dry (at first), but I did not know what to do. I had gone into uncharted territory, and frankly, I did not care. I simply knelt down reached out a hand, but before I could get to the kombucha, the compassionate lady  in purple polka dots had already thrown her rope. She picked up the broken bottle. At first I just smiled at her, but then I spoke up: “Thank you. God, I am such a klutz,” and she chuckled.

The midday grocery store sent me back out to the open streets. In a way, I knew I did not belong there, but then I imagined that as soon as I had stepped foot outside, everyone at the midday grocery store shattered their own kombucha bottles.