At the cashier booth, I fold the rag and tuck it alongside the solvent bottle underneath the register. The latex gloves are off and my hands are wiped clean with hygienic wipes I always carry in my pockets before a fresh pair of latex gloves are produced and placed on.
My routine begins with a quick but thorough disinfection of the buttons and surface area that I will most definitely come in contact with. With both myself and the area safe and void of impurities, I flick on the light for the cashier and wait for half the line on the express booth to merge into mine.
I methodically scan and punch in weights and prices of goods, systematically nodding as some customers attempt to chat. I, however, keep my breathing low and mouth shut, in the case of flying bacteria and saliva from those who chatter, and only speak to briefly state total price amounts before moving on to the next customer.
Mr. Anthony won't let me wear a face mask when I work cashier, explaining the discomfort of customers if I were to handle their groceries looking like a character from Saw. I move in a mechanical and familiar motion of scanning, punching, stacking, and stating, focusing on the task at hand and disregard the appraisal for my bagging skills.
The mid afternoon rush is swiftly dealt with, and as I wait for the last customer to dash off with his bags of bread and black beans, I grab an antiseptic wipe from my pocket and clear off anything of hazard from the surface of the cash register and food scale. I am clearing flecks of saliva and spilled milk from the counter when someone blows and pops a sticky bubble beside my ear.
I freeze, shocked by the cold splatter of a substance I always care to never touch, much less on my ear. I straighten slowly, turning accusingly at the person who just squirted her foreign, possibly diseased saliva into my right ear canal.
"Hey," she says, chomping angrily. Her apron is askew, my analytic mind notes, and her untucked layers of colorful tank tops and tie-dye shirt is definitely too casual for work. Her jeans are ripped and there are grass stains on her knees. Her hair is a mess of approximate shoulder length blonde, asymmetrical, chopped locks. She looks like a hippy demon that came crawling out of the woods.
She pauses her chewing to smile devilishly, the bright purple wad of bubblegum lodged between her left incisors. Definitely a hippy demon.
I desperately want to even out her hair and send her shopping for a suit, but instead I start a list of all the possible diseases that would breed in the cavern and crevices of my ear. My mind reels at the thought of an infection that would slowly terrorize my brain. Needless to say, my hand instantly reached into my right pocket for another antiseptic sheet.
I am scrubbing my ear with the sheet when I realize she hasn't left. She has leaned over my cleansed counter, her head tilted up to stare at my face, mechanically chewing her wad of saliva slathered gum between her teeth. The close proximity of her face to mine is unnerving.
In a move that defies any sense of logic, my feet slip on a plastic bag I had accidentally ripped off the rack in my scrambled attempt to find purchase on something so I don't fall over. I don't hit the floor. My fear of the unknown hazardous bacteria harvesting on the vinyl tiles sends a boost of adrenaline that I need to scramble, albeit not as smooth as I would've liked, into cashier five's register.
I slam into the steel box and press my back into the edges, ignoring the pain to stare at the bowed head bobbing with laughter. I have nothing to say and slowly retract my body from the uncomfortable, splatter-like position. Humiliation is nothing to me, I repeat in my mind, adjusting my apron from between my legs. I politely excuse myself from her presence, turning around just as her wad of purple bubblegum falls off her gaping and guffawing lips to the rubber mat behind the counter.
I spend the next fourteen minutes scrubbing my ear and face of any traces of residue deposit from her, checking and rechecking my neck glands for any swelling. When I finally feel sanitized and clean again, and not at risk of any sort of hepatitis, although a scalding shower would be much appreciated to burn off any bacterium I've missed, I soak my hands in hand dispenser suds and wash them four times before dressing them in matching latex outfits.
I'm calm and relaxed after I'm done, and I exit the male employee bathroom intent on avoiding the new cashier. My plans, however, are foiled when I open the door and step out into the fluorescent lights and aisles.