珍惜她

一位店員為不耐煩的顧客提供金玉良言
Carl Schultz◎撰 from Our Town

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photograph by Fredrik Broden

這位老太太舉手投足之間有種味道,吸引了我的注意。雖然她步履遲緩不穩,動作卻從容不迫,姿態間毫無游移之色。她的一舉一動顯示她和其他人沒兩樣,而且有事要辦。

這是幾年前的事了,當時我在本地購物中心的錄影帶店擔任耶誕購物季兼職人員。由店內望出去,我可以看到外頭川流不息的人潮,偶爾會有不尋常的退潮,但大多時間都是洶湧氾濫。

老太太被沖上了我們店門灘頭,同時還有一位年紀較輕的女性,我猜是她女兒。那女兒露出極度不耐的神色,猛翻白眼,長吁短嘆,每隔幾秒鐘就看一次手錶;要是她手上有皮帶,應該會把母親拴住,拖着她趕上購物人潮匆忙的腳步。

老太太不理會那較年輕的女性,開始瀏覽離她最近的貨架,一張張查看架上的光碟。我只稍稍猶豫了一下,就上前詢問要不要幫忙尋找。老太太抬起臉來衝我微笑,遞給我一張皺巴巴的紙頭,上頭用潦草字跡寫着片名。那部片不常看到,有點冷僻,顯然找的人對電影以及影片的水準略有見地。

我沒有急忙離開去為老太太找光碟,而是請她和我一道,好讓我可以告訴她哪裏可以找到。如今回想起來,我認為自己是想讓她陪我片刻。她不慌不忙的動作,教我想起自己的母親。她在一年前的耶誕節過世。

我們一面沿着店舖後方前進,我一面向她說明店內陳列的情形:老電視影集、動作片、卡通、科幻片等。我一點都不趕時間地陪着她,加上隨口聊幾句,讓老太太顯得很高興。

我們找到了那部片子。我恭維她的選擇。她笑着告訴我,她在她兒子這個年紀時,很喜歡這部片,希望他也跟她一樣喜歡;或許,他可以和他自己的孩子一塊欣賞。說這話的時候,她語氣裏帶着一絲渴望。接下來,儘管不情願,我得把老太太還給照料她的人了,人家還等在店的前頭,用腳敲着地板呢。

我陪老太太到收銀機前排隊,然後往後站到那位年輕女士附近逗留。輪到老太太結帳時,她用現金付款,沉着地數着鈔票和銅板,如同先前展現的模樣。

收銀員把光碟裝進塑膠袋時,我往那位年輕的女士靠過去。

「那是你母親嗎?」我問。

我有點以為她會回我不干你事。但她大概覺得我能體會她的不耐煩,翻了一下白眼,答說:「是的。」她語氣帶着慍怒,半嘆息半抱怨。

我繼續望着她母親,說道:「可以給你點建議嗎?」

「當然,」女兒說。

我露出笑容讓她知道我並非批評。「珍惜她,」我說。接着答覆她的好奇表情,我說:「她走了以後,就是這些短暫少有的時刻能喚起你的回憶,像這樣的片刻。我很清楚。」

我說的是真的。我依舊思念家母,也會憶起那些因為我的不耐煩而讓她日子不好過的時刻,記憶之清晰,令人沮喪。

老太太用她慢條斯理的速度回到女兒的照管之下。二人一起朝店門口移動。她們在那站了一會兒,肩並着肩,望着耶誕購物的人潮奔流,尋覓加入的位置。接着,女兒看了母親一眼,有那麼一瞬間凝視着她;然後徐徐的,幾乎是勉為其難的,帶着明顯並不習慣的情感,伸出手環住母親的肩,溫柔地引導她回到洪流之中。


Cherish Her

There was something in the elderly woman’s demeanor that caught my eye. Although slow and unsure of step, the woman moved with deliberation, and there was no hesitation in her gestures. She was as good as anyone else, her movements suggested. And she had a job to do.

It was a few years ago, and I had taken a part-time holiday-season job in a video store at the local shopping mall. From inside the store, I’d begun to see the people rushing by outside in the mall’s concourse as a river of humanity, occasionally ebbing during odd hours but mostly overflowing in the deluge.

The elderly woman had washed up on my retail beachhead, along with a younger woman who I guessed was her daughter. The daughter was displaying a serious case of impatience, rolling her eyes, huffing and sighing, checking her watch every few seconds. If she had possessed a leash, her mother would’ve been fastened to it as a means of tugging her along to keep step with the rush of other shoppers.

The older woman detached from the younger one and began to tick through the DVDs on the nearest shelf. After the slightest hesitation, I walked over and asked if I could help her find something. The woman smiled up at me and showed me a title scrawled on a crumpled piece of paper. The title was unusual and a bit obscure. Clearly a person looking for it knew a little about movies, about quality.

Rather than rushing off to locate the DVD for the woman, I asked her to walk with me so I could show her where she could find it. Looking back, I think I wanted to enjoy her company for a moment. Something about her deliberate movements reminded me of my own mother, who’d passed away the previous Christmas.

As we walked along the back of the store, I narrated its floor plan: old television shows, action movies, cartoons, science fiction. The woman seemed glad of the unrushed company and casual conversation.

We found the movie, and I complimented her on her choice. She smiled and told me it was one she’d enjoyed when she was her son’s age and that she hoped he would enjoy it as much as she had. Maybe, she said with a hint of wistfulness, he could enjoy it with his own young children. Then, reluctantly, I had to return the elderly woman to her keeper, who was still tapping her foot at the front of the store.

I escorted the old woman to the queue at the cash register and then stepped back and lingered near the younger woman. When the older woman’s turn in line came, she paid in cash, counting out the dollars and coins with the same sureness she’d displayed earlier.

As the cashier tucked the DVD into a plastic bag, I sidled over to the younger woman.

“Is that your mom?” I asked.

I halfway expected her to tell me it was none of my business. But possibly believing me to be simpatico with her impatience, she rolled her eyes and said, “Yeah.” There was exasperation in her reply, half sigh and half groan.

Still watching the mother, I said, “Mind some advice?”

“Sure,” said the daughter.

I smiled to show her I wasn’t criticizing. “Cherish her,” I said. And then I answered her curious expression by saying, “When she’s gone, it’s the little moments that’ll come back to you. Moments like this. I know.”

It was true. I missed my mom still and remembered with melancholy clarity the moments when I’d used my impatience to make her life miserable.

The elderly woman moved with her deliberate slowness back to her daughter’s custody. Together they made their way toward the store’s exit. They stood there for a moment, side by side, watching the rush of the holiday current and for their place in it. Then the daughter glanced over and momentarily regarded her mother. And slowly, almost reluctantly, she placed her arm with apparently unaccustomed affection around her mother’s shoulders and gently guided her back into the deluge.

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