I meant to pick up cigarettes at the grocery yesterday, but I forgot and by the time I got home, it was too late to go back out. The neighborhood's gone downhill, if you know what I mean. I held off until five this morning and couldn't stand the nicotine fit another minute. Pulled on some sweat pants and drove over to the One-Stop. Around here, it's called Da Sto'.
I should've known better than to get out when I noticed the man swigging out of a half-pint whiskey bottle. A sign on the storefront read "It is a crime (misdemeanor) to consume alcoholic beverages on these premises." But I needed cigarettes and figured I could buy them and scurry back to my car in less than a minute. Nothing else was open yet.
Four men stood in a clump inside the store, not really in line but not shopping either. I hurried to the counter and waited to be acknowledged. The clerk warily watched the group of men. They were shifting now, splitting like a cell about to divide.
"I need a pack of Basic menthol light 100s, please. The light green, long ones."
The clerk ignored me. I glanced over my shoulder. The clump had mitosed and become two pairs of men. One pair moved toward the liquor section.
"I'd like one pack of Basic menthol light 100s and I'm in kind of a hurry." I held up a five-dollar bill so the clerk could see I was ready to pay him. I noticed a sign over his shoulder. "You must be at least 21 years of age to purchase beer or wine."
The clerk bent over and reached under the counter, keeping his head in sight.
The two men near the counter split – one dashed up and shoved me out of the way.
I slammed into a snack chip display before I hit the floor. Frito-Lay products rained down on me. I wondered if my hip was broken. I heard a voice. "Give me your fucking drop cash. All of it. Don't hit no fuckin' alarm either, motherfucker."
The two men near the back had disappeared. I covered my head with my arms.
"No problem, man. Be cool, it's all good. I can't open the drop cash box. Take the register money, okay?" The clerk's voice was high and wavery. I thought he might cry.
"Shut the fuck up! Put it in the bag, motherfucker. Put those cigarettes in there too." The cash drawer rang open. Coins pinged on the floor. I heard items being stuffed into recyclable plastic bags. "Don't look at me, fucker. Look away if you know what's good for you."
Damn, I need a cigarette.
I heard crashing, glass broke. Fluids gurgled out. The door banged open and running footsteps faded away. Cautiously, I peeked between my forearms. "Are they gone?"
The clerk finally answered me. "Yeah. I'm calling the law."
As I crawled to my feet, I repeated, "Can I have a pack of…"