Class is over. I’m hungry. I go to the clean, polite Wholefoods down the street from my College, and I choose what I want to eat. They have gorgeous smelling soup. And macaroni cheese, sweating on a hot plate. And tatter tots. And potatoes cooked with rosemary and olive oil. They have delicious bread. Cake, if you want it. It’s foodie paradise, for $8.99 a lb.
I’ve been conservative today. A wee cup of soup, a wee wedge of cheese, and a fat wholegrain roll. My stomach rumbles as I whip out my smartphone and buy my lunch with a single tap. Me and the cashier joke about how simple paying has become these days.
I nestle down in the cafe section of the supermarket; it’s set up like an actual cafe, with real espresso drinks and overpriced pastries – and I’ve just whipped out my homework when a black kid sits opposite me. We exchange a cursory glance. He clutches a giant pizza box, and an open bottle of freshly squeezed mint lemonade. My nostrils are teased with the scent of melted cheese, sweet tomato paste and herbs – but I smile inwardly as I bury into my “healthier options” and math textbook.
The kid is tuned in to his music. He’s casually flipping through his phone. It’s a cheap Android, the screen large and gaudy. He listens to loud trap through knock-off Beats headphones.
The pizza box sits unopened between us.
Suddenly a tall black man appears. It’s the store security guard.
“Hey buddy, what’s up?”
I’m unconcerned – I assume they know each other.
But the boy sits in sullen silence.
“I’d like to see the receipt for your pizza”, the security guard says.
I look up from my notebook. The air has frozen. The boy stares at his phone. The security guard stares at the boy. I pretend to be invisible – but I’m all ears. Around us, oblivious people continue orbiting their slick MacBooks and skinny lattes.
A white store manager appears at the security guard’s elbow.
“He given’ us the silent treatment”, the security guard informs the manager, nonchalantly.
“I see. Well hi there! A store assistant saw you take a pizza and just walk off, so we’d like to see the receipt for it please, if you’ve got it.”
The kid mumbles something about throwing it away.
“Great! That’s fine”, chirps the store manager, “why don’t we just head on over to Customer Service, and you can tell us which cashier rang you up, and we can reprint it for you?”
The store manager then makes a move to pick up the pizza from the table, at which point the kid immediately grabs it back from him. They grapple, the manager calm and polite, the kid with a wild look in his eyes. The manager eventually pulls the pizza free, and gently asks the kid to come with him. The security guard crosses his arms. The kid stands, head bowed. The three of them walk towards the customer service desk (which is located near the exit of the store). It’s as though he’s become some sort of prisoner. At the earliest opportunity, the kid quickens his pace and walks straight through the gleaming automatic doors.
“Don’t bother comin’ back in here!” the security guard yells at his retreating back.
Aghast, I stare back at my homework. I’m trying to process what just happened.
I paid my fees for college today. I dropped three grand on my classes this semester. Three thousand dollars. How many pizzas could that buy?
I’ve been worried about money lately – now that school has resumed, I’ve had to drop a shift at the shop. I’ve traded my financial independence for education. But I know that if I run into trouble, a phone call to my folks will put food on my plate.
Yes, I’m on minimum wage. Yes, I’m a student. But all I could think about as I saw that kid’s retreating back was how I should have bought him that damn pizza. I should have just bought the pizza. Ten bucks to me, a meal to him.
A couple of hours later, I went to my maths class. Our professor has a deliciously annoying habit of setting us infuriatingly challenging exercises to solve in groups of our choosing. Engrossed in the problem, more than half the class stayed more than thirty minutes after the class was scheduled to end in order to work out the solutions together.
“No, we have to integrate it with respect to x here!”
“Mate, you forgot that the limit is π, not 2π! We have a whole other area to find!”
“Dude, you dropped a negative! That should be (-2x+4), what you thinking bro?”
As I looked around the passionate, sweaty faces, I realized for the first time how blessed I was to be in an environment where I was encouraged to study and thrive. How lucky I am to have never gone without a meal. How grateful I am for my job, for my education. Now that I have the skill of making coffee, I’ll never have to go without work. And thanks to my mother’s professorship, I’ll never know what it’s like to come home and not have food on the table.
That kid was hungry. You don’t steal pizza unless you’re hungry. And in the richest country in the world, that shouldn’t be allowed to happen.