C12: Checkmate

At the curb of the department store on State Route 5, Keitaro thanked the Uber driver for selflessly volunteering to park and wait for him for free. Keitaro joined the flow of shoppers entering the supercenter. He skipped getting a cart and grabbed a basket instead.

“Hi, welcome! Hello, welcome, welcome. Wel…”

Keitaro bowed slightly to the young greeter. Her eyes followed the unmatched disaster of his dress shoes and garbage green scrubs up to his arm in the sling. Her jaw fell when she noticed the horrendous bruising on Keitaro’s face and the swelling of his left eye.

“Morning…good…” She twisted sideways as he walked past her. Like a driver passing a car crash, unable to not look.

Keitaro ignored the stares in the crowd. All the unfamiliar faces around him wearing TJ’s expression of shock and horror. Subjecting him to unwanted attention. Forcing him to realize people don’t understand how to handle another’s trauma.

He turned down the razor aisle. For temporary essentials, he chose favorite scents and familiar brands. A razor, deodorant, face cleanser.

“I hope he isn’t going to steal those,” a little old woman down the aisle said.

“You know, people these days will just walk out with the whole basket,” a second old woman whispered to her friend.

Against the gossip, Keitaro struggled to concentrate on finding toothpaste with baking soda.

“Well, you know the homeless find those slings and things in the dumpsters and wear them just to hide stuff in when they steal from stores,” the first woman said.

“Oh, they’ll do anything these days, won’t they?” the second woman said.

“Won’t even really be injured,” the first woman said.

Keitaro snatched the toothpaste off the shelf. Purposely he passed the elderly women, ensuring they got a good look at his face, saying, “Excuse me” as he rounded the corner to the shampoo aisle.

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