Every now and then, though, there are customers who make an impression because of something else entirely. Like the old man who – while I was looking up a book for him – told me that he had been stationed in Korea during the Korean War. Until then I had no idea that Norway even participated in that war (so much for being a history student). Or the little kid who on the day of the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows vowed to learn English so that he did not have to wait for the Norwegian translation of the last Harry Potter book. He came back three times on the night of the release to have me translate various names and items for him... Or the drug addict who told me his life story one slow afternoon when I had a summer job in a bookshop in the dodgy part of the city. This man probably never had anyone to talk to about his misfortunes, so when he found me, he was happy to share. His story almost made me cry, and if I ever find I can do it justice, I might consider writing it down.
Even though there are many things I most certainly will not miss about my job when I eventually find a “grown-up job”, I will miss these tiny glimpses into people’s lives. My job may not be the most important in the world, but every now and then I feel like I am playing a small part in someone else’s life story.
Not long ago a handsome man in his early thirties walked into the store. He was looking for a box. Boxes are one of those things that people occasionally come into our store to get that always poses a problem. See, when he said “box”, he had a very specific type of box in mind. But if you don’t specify it more than that, a box might mean anything from a cardboard moving box to a chest to keep treasures in. Since I have not yet mastered the skill of reading minds, I asked him to elaborate.
He wanted a box to wrap something in. He had a rough estimate of the size, and it was important to him how the box looked. I showed him a couple of boxes (believe it or not, but for a bookstore we do carry a lot of crap. Including boxes of every shape and size). None of them were exactly what he was looking for, but he said he’s take a peak around the mall, and if he didn’t find anything suitable, he’d come back.
Ten minutes later he showed up again.
We have some boxes that look perfectly ordinary – the only “unordinary” thing about them is that they all fit into one another, like a Russian Matryoshka doll. When he spotted these, the guy suddenly lit up. Now he only needed the perfect gift wrapping.
We offer the service of wrapping presents, thus we have wrapping paper with our store’s logo printed on it. It’s usually pretty hideous. I showed him the options available – the only one of which I actually like was the one intended for children, with knights and princesses printed on it.
“That would not be appropriate at all,” he said, “even though it is for a princess.”
It begun to dawn on me what his hints meant, but he hadn’t yet shared what exactly he was wrapping in the box. It soon became very clear that this man was dying to tell someone, though...
He took his time to figure out the perfect combination of (non-logo-printed) paper and ribbons. Eventually he came back to the cash register where he finally couldn’t hold it in anymore. He showed me all the boxes, and then pointed to the smallest one.
“Guess what’s going inside!” He was like a little kid on Christmas Day. His eyes were lit up, and he was all giggly, blushing slightly. By then it was pretty clear to me that he was placing an engagement ring inside. I asked, and he confirmed.
He was about to propose to his girlfriend, and since it was a secret (to her, obviously, but also to his family and friends), he hadn’t been able to talk about this life-changing idea that probably had been on his mind for weeks. Thus he simply had to tell me all about it. He was making her dinner, and by the end of it he was going to give her an innocent present – much larger than a jewellery box. As she wrapped her way towards the middle, though, he would get down on one knee and ask the big question.
While his story touched me, I couldn’t help but see the comical part about him choosing to use me – a random stranger – as his confidante. I managed to keep a straight face, though, and wished him good luck.
|Like Mr Romantic, I was only able to find one of the two pieces he was looking for...|