SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
October 21, 2012

Do I Look Like Jesus?

 

There was someone standing in the doorway of the bodega as I tried to enter. He said nothing when I ran into him.

            “Yeah, excuse me,” I said, placing my hand on the sleeve of his leather jacket to get my bearings as I stepped around him. Whoever it was he wasn’t dressed for the weather.

            I started for the back of the store, but he clapped me on the shoulder and squeaked.

            Aww, shit. I knew who I was dealing with now. I didn’t turn around and went to grab my beer.

            About a year ago I had two uncomfortable encounters with the deaf, retarded, Egyptian kid in the leather jacket. For some reason he seemed to have taken a shine to me off the bat. Lucky me. Both times he got a cigarette out of me, and the second time he gave me a hug. I’d been able to avoid him since then, and I was relieved. A blind guy dealing with a grabby deaf guy—it simply never goes very well, and always takes a very long time.

            Well, this time there was no getting around it. He knew I was in there, and he was waiting for me by the register. I grabbed my beer and paused a moment, then decided it was better to get the morning ugliness out of the way so I could be on with the rest of the ugliness that awaited me during the day. With a sigh, I headed for the counter.

            Turning the corner I stuck out my hand in order to avoid all the slapping. The kid’s operative form of communication involved slapping whatever part of your body he wanted to call attention to—arms, breast pockets, your head. It got old quick, all this slapping, so I decided to beat him to the punch.

            He shook my hand, squeaked and grunted a bit, then followed me to the counter where his brother, one of the store’s managers, was standing by the register.

            “Hey,” I said, sliding the beer toward him, wanting to get all this out of the way as quickly as possible. “Couple packs of smokes, too.”

            He grabbed the cigarettes, rang everything up, and gave me the amount. The deaf kid, meanwhile, was nudging too close beside me, chirping like a gerbil and slapping excitedly at the edge of the counter as I pulled a couple of bills from my wallet and held them out to his brother.

            “You wanna pay for that?” his brother asked.

            Given that I thought holding money out to him illustrated that I was trying to pay for it, the question confused me.

            “What’s this, now?”

            “You wanna pay for that? You don’t have to.”

            This was all very odd. Normally the guys here either overcharge me or gyp me on the change. Was he now telling me to just take the bag and go in repayment for dealing with his crazy deaf brother? That seemed too far out of character. I figured I should get this sorted out before grabbing the bag and running. That footage wouldn’t look good when they played it on the news after I’d been beaten to death with a crowbar. “A would-be robber stopped into the wrong bodega early this morning, according to police,” the newscaster would begin.

            “Pay for what?”

            He tapped the can of soda next to the bag with my beer and smokes. “The soda. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. If you don’t want to I’ll just have him thrown out.”

            Oh, Jesus Christ. Yeah, that didn’t leave me with too many options did it? Either I pay for the fucking soda or I’m the big asshole responsible for getting the deaf kid thrown out of the bodega because I’m a cheap jerk and he was annoying me with his friendliness. Again I could envision the security camera footage. That didn’t bother me nearly so much as the battalion of neighbors who would gather outside my door with torches and pitchforks. Who needs that shit?

            “Oh . . . Okay. I can get that too, I guess.” I reluctantly reached for my wallet again. As I did, the deaf kid spun me around and gave me a big hug. Why do I insist on coming to this place three or four days a week?

            “I’m real sorry, man,” the cashier said as he took my money. “It won’t happen again. If he comes in here and bothers you again, I’ll have him arrested.”

            “Oh, I don’t think that’ll really be necessary.”

            “I’m really sorry about this,” he repeated.

            “It’s okay,” I told him, though I was a little shocked at how expensive goddamn cans of soda had become over the years. I also didn’t believe for a second that he had any intention of having his deaf feeb of a brother hauled off to the station house on my account.

            I snatched up my beer and smokes with the deaf kid trailing close behind, his hand on my shoulder. Oh, Christ, where was this headed now? Does he want me to take him to the diner down the street and buy him some hash browns, too?

            Outside on the sidewalk we paused and faced each other. He began signing things I would never see. I knew the slapping would be starting soon. Sure enough, his limp hand began clawing at the pocket where I kept my smokes. I should’ve guessed earlier, and should’ve handed him one while we were in the store to get it over with.

            I pulled the pack out, wincing at how much this morning was costing me already, shook one free and held it out to him. He plucked it away and almost immediately began slapping at the pocket again. I nodded and reached for the lighter. He didn’t want the lighter. I shrugged and replaced it. What followed was about a minute and a half of hopeless attempts at communication before he simply grabbed the pack out of my pocket and shook himself another cigarette (leaving me with one).

            “Oh, I get it. You wanna take another one of my smokes,” I muttered. “Yeah, that’s super. You just go right ahead, there.”

            He replaced the pack in my pocket, then gave me another hug as well as a kiss. It was gonna be a day, I can tell you that.

            I’d had about enough of all this kindness and charity, so I took a step back, waved as he squeaked away in the gray early morning air, and headed home. The trip had cost me a soda and two smokes, and in return I’d received two hugs and a kiss from a deaf retard. I vowed that the next morning I was going to buy my beer from the Koreans down the street. They were awful and rude and gouged me every time I went in there, but at least their goals were the same as mine—to get me out of the store as quickly as possible, with no hugging.

 

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