The store has seen better days.
Outside, the paint is peeling, showing a variety of hues. The sign is missing letters and the walls are plastered over with shredded remnants of advertisements in a multitude of languages.
The steps creak and groan as I walk up them past a pair of scattered bicycles and an old man astride an even older lawn chair to the door thrown wide open in the summer heat.
Inside, the young owners of the bikes outside are being told that they are 20 cents short for the items they wish to buy. I fish in my wallet and lay a crumpled dollar bill on the counter.
Thank you, sir, the boys say. I nod, turn away, and begin opening the mismatched coolers in search of some sustenance.
It takes awhile, but eventually, in a rickety cooler wedged between a rack of homemade shelves, I find what I am looking for. I take the drink up to the counter where two men are discussing who is going to buy a case of beer. One man has been helping the other on a roof all day and the other, in rough gratitude, is insistent that he will pay for the beer.
They leave and I step to the counter where the owner greets me with a smile and the change from the dollar I contributed to the boys’ snacks. I am surprised. It is not every day I walk up to a counter to pay and receive money back first.
Spying the rewards flyer on the wall beside the cash register, I ask the owner if the robbers have been caught. She shrugs, takes my money, and shakes her head no. She doesn’t seem overly concerned and I can’t tell whether she has little hope they will be caught or whether it’s not important enough to keep her from the daily running of her business. The door stays wide open. There is no bullet proof glass around the cash register. It’s just her and I making an exchange, sharing a smile and a goodbye. Then I am back outside.
The bikes are gone. The roofers are leaving in a big blue truck. The old man is still in his chair. We nod at each other and I head back to my car, cold drink sweating in my hand.
It has been a long, hot day so once inside, I start the car, turn on the AC, open the bottle, and take a long drink. Sitting there before I go, I realize that in the moments when I left my car, entered the store, and returned, I have been a sort of world traveler in my interactions with the people around this neighborhood store.
Latino. African-American. Asian. Caucasian. For the smallest bit of time, I stepped within the beauty of God’s coloring book. Living where I live, there are many such moments on any given day. It is a gift of my place of residence for which I am profoundly grateful and one which I hope I will never take for granted. I think of how ugly and gray my life and the landscape of this country would be if the border walls kept out anyone who did not look like me.
I resolve again to do all I can to be a bridge builder and a wall breaker. Then with one last glance at the world’s corner store, I put my drink in the cup holder, place the car in gear, and drive on to the next cross-cultural experience.
A block from home, I catch myself humming “Colored People” by DC Talk.