He was waiting in line before she got behind him. This fact needs to stay in your mind as you read this little story. He had a few grocery items in a small bag held in his left hand. His right arm was used to steady himself, with an arm brace, as he stood. I headed towards the same line not because it was short, though it was, but because it was the accessible check out and I need the space to get through. A woman, about my age, was headed towards the same spot. She got there first.
She noticed his brace and her eyes went from brace to face, brace to face, as if she was trying to figure out how to understand how a young handsome man came to be using an assistive device. As the fellow in front of the fellow was finishing gathering his bags, the gentleman with the crutch moved forward. The woman tapped him on the shoulder and said, "I'll let you go first."
He already was in front of her.
His gaze was steely. He swung his eyes to her. I tensed up. I could guess what he was feeling. Forced into gratitude for a gift that wasn't given.
HE WAS THERE FIRST.
She looked to him as if waiting to be thanked.
He took a breath.
What was he going to do or say?
What would I do or say?
What would you do or say?
He turned from her, took the items out of his bag and finished placing them on the belt. He said nothing. Unfortunately she wanted something from him, "Really," she said, "I don't mind you going ahead." She moved closer as if to make it look like she had let him pass to get to the space.
I saw his shoulders tense and I COULDN'T TAKE THE PRESSURE.
I said, "He was here first, you aren't letting him go ahead. He. Was. Here. First. He doesn't need to thank you."
There was a tense moment. I saw the clerk, someone we have been served by many times before give me a little wink - like she was glad I'd spoken up.
His eyes swung to me, now I felt horrible for butting in, apology leapt to my lips. Instead he said, "I will thank you, I would have said something I regretted later."
The woman stood, mortified, between us.
Sandwiched in, surrounded by disability, she just said, "Sorry, I don't know what made me do that."
He said, "No harm done."
I nodded even though I didn't agree.