Together

24 Ramadan 1441

I went outside today for some sun, to see the world, and to get vanilla wafers.

I also went outside today because when I went outside yesterday, I couldn’t find vanilla wafers, and I want to make banana pudding for Eid.

My mom makes an amazing banana pudding every year for Eid, and I want to use her exact recipe—but I knew if I called her for her recipe, she’d then ask me how I planned to get the ingredients I’m missing, and like her, I’m a very bad liar.

And even when we are apart, people like her have this powerful Spidey sense that tells them when something is afoot—like their daughter. Going out for a grocery run. To get ingredients for a non-essential dessert.

I texted a friend, How do I get the recipe from her without letting her know I’m about to go out to get those ingredients?

And even when we are apart, friends like her know things. She texted back, Just read her ingredients from a wrong recipe and let her correct it.

So I called my mom pretending I’m simply aghast that a recipe online said I needed to use such-and-such and that couldn’t possibly be right. Mom said, Listen, if you go to the grocery store, wear a mask and gloves and don’t linger.

After taking another two hours to finally leave my home, I went to the nearest Foodtown.

The shelves are now full of things that weren’t there two weeks ago, like Dawn dish-washing detergent and frozen pizzas. They still don’t have Clorox wipes, or any wipes.

In the frozen foods aisle, one young couple quickly walked around me and asked each other about which ice cream they wanted while an elderly woman contemplated the frozen vegetables.

I care about them. I don’t know why, but I do.

So I waited at a distance for them to get what they needed before I also grabbed a bag of frozen mixed vegetables.

As for the banana pudding ingredients, I learned vanilla wafers is either a hot commodity of pandemic times or the workers in factories producing boxes of vanilla wafers have been adversely impacted, or both. I couldn’t find them in the baking goods aisle or in the cookies and crackers aisle.

When I walked through the cookies aisle a second time, a worker was restocking the shelves. He had a mask on, and I imagined he was younger than me. I tried to read his eyes when he looked up. I wondered if he felt nervous.

I care about him, too.

I kept my distance and asked in a loud voice, Do you have vanilla wafers?

And then I felt terrible I didn’t know how to say vanilla wafers in Spanish.

He called over one of the managers. A taller, bigger, older man. The manager said, Vanilla extract?

No, vanilla wafers.

Waffles?

No, Wafers. Like, uhm, cookies?

We laughed. He said, Oh, cookies! You’re in the right aisle. It’s not here?

I said, No, but that’s okay.

On my way home, I walked into a smaller grocery store branded as “Organic Supermarket.” A young woman took my bag of groceries from Foodtown and handed me a tag. When I didn’t find the vanilla wafers there, I bought a bag of egg noodles and returned to the woman who handed me my bag of groceries and said, That’s really heavy.

I said, It’s okay. I don’t live too far.

She replied, Well, I hope you have a nice day.

I care about her.

And I want to hug everyone these days and say, I hope you always have nice days.

So today, while I sat at my desk to reply to a friend’s spoiler text about the ending of How to Get Away with Murder and then somehow we got to talking about Abu Ghraib and Florida, I felt the sun on my face again and decided I would find those vanilla wafers.

Instead of walking north up Broadway, I walked down Broadway to C-Town and passed through the cemetery that has beautiful yellow roses blossoming along the walls of the southeast corner.

When I arrived at the C-Town, I immediately walked to the cookies aisle and saw a masked worker on his knees stocking a lower shelf. I could see his gray hair. I imagined he’s older than me even though I have gray hair. When we made eye contact, I thought his eyes told me he was anxious.

I care about him.

I also saw a lot of Ritz crackers and tea biscuits behind his head and make du’a that among them, there was a box of vanilla wafers. So I walked over to another aisle and entered the cookies aisle from the other end. And just when I thought I would need to buy Maria tea biscuits instead, my eyes spotted a box of vanilla wafers.

One single yellow box.

All the way on the top shelf.

I glanced over at the man still kneeling on the floor. I didn’t want to bother him, so I grabbed a Cheez-It box and used it to push the box of vanilla wafers towards me until it fell into my hands.

When I walked over to the cashiers to check out, a man in a mask waiting in another line waved at me and said, This cashier is open. You should go. I could see his eyes smile.

He cares about me.

I thanked him, the masked cashier, and the masked young guy who bagged my things with all the love I could muster and walked out with my vanilla wafers, box of Cheez-It, and two bags of sour cream and onion chips.

#MaghribtoMaghrib

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