An unreadable look on his face, Old Man Red walked the short distance to the counter, murmured something to Mr. Bin, placed the balls down near the cash register, picked up his purchases, nodded his head at the store-owner, turned away and left. He didn’t look at me again, still standing there silently but with an unfamiliar feeling roiling around in my stomach.
Mr. Bin sighed.
I’ve always known Mr. Bin as a kindly elderly man, one of the few in the town who was consistently nice to everyone and treated all his customers fairly and politely, whomever they might be.
He picked up the three rubber balls, red, green and blue, and put them in a plastic bag. Then he held them out to me and said, “Here you are, child, they’re yours.”
Stammering, I started, “But… Old Man Red…umm. They are? I don’t have any money to pay. My brother…”
Mr. Bin kindly but firmly interrupted me, “They’re paid for, by Mister Red.”
When I thought about it, it did seem like Mr. Bin was kindly reproaching me by stressing the word ‘Mister’.
It was as if he made the point that Old Man Red deserved the same respect and attention all his other customers would receive from him at his store. Or perhaps, also, he knew something about Old Man Red to which the rest of us were not privy to, and which made him wanted to speak out on his behalf, as much as he could.
I didn’t know how that was going to help, seeing as I was a child. He should try saying something to the gossiping adults instead. Or maybe he already did but rehabilitating adults could prove harder to do than with kids.
Mr. Bin continued, “He bought them for you. I guess he saw you staring and admiring them when he came in. Go on, take them.” And he shook the plastic bag towards me again with a smile.
That unfamiliar feeling still roiling inside me, except now it had made its journey from my stomach upward to my chest and clutching at my heart, I accepted the bag from him, just remembering to politely mumble a “Thank you, sir” at him.
Mr. Bin just smiled again.
Right about then my wayward brother finally burst out from where ever he had been hiding himself the last few minutes.
“Found it!” He crowed triumphantly, while holding out a bag of sugar.
I rolled my eyes inwardly, Just how hard is it to locate a bag of sugar in the only grocery store in our small town that he had been to countless times before anyway? Dimwit!
Mr. Bin must have been a mind-reader and had heard my uncharitable thoughts because he cleared his throat and shot me a reproaching look.
Flushing shamefacedly, I looked down, but then I heard him chuckled.
When I peeked up at his face, his eyes were twinkling merrily at me, like we just shared a joke. Tentatively, I grinned at him, clutching my plastic bag of precious rubber balls tightly.
“Oh hey, where did you get those balls from? You know mom didn’t give us enough money to buy your toys!” My brother frowned at me and made to take the bag of rubber balls away.