There are three regular cashiers in the main cafeteria at work. For the ten years that I have been here, they too have been here and I have seen then to my estimation over two thousand times (ten years, fifty weeks a year, on average four times a week). Hence I am capable of the following descriptions. One woman is one of those artificially, overly happy people with a perma-grim glued to her face. She asks every man, woman and child in the line how they are and responds to their obligatory “Fine. How are you?” response with “Fantastic!” I avoid her line when possible because although she is pleasant enough, there is an unsettling artifice to her that makes me feel uncomfortable. The second woman is pleasant and has mastered the art of stillness despite the constant flow of customers that she addresses. She has positioned her seat, yes the cashiers all are seated in what look to be very comfortable, padded, pseudo-leather chairs, so she has to move only her arms. She does not swerve, swizzle or sway. She is perfectly still other than her arms and occasionally she will move her head. When it is your turn, she says nothing. She rings in what she sees and tells you the price. If you have food in a to go box, she won’t ask you what you have, but rather stare at you expressionless until you confess your culinary choices. She hands you your change and says thanks you and does the same with the next, customer after customer. The third woman is the master of the line that I usually choose. She is a small, slightly rotund and older Hindu woman. She too is expressionless and never says much other than how much you own her, but there is an overt serenity to her that makes the interaction, as minimal as it is, very pleasant.
Most days the extent of my interaction with cashier number three is as described, minimal and insignificant. There is one exception to the normal minimal level of interaction. I occasionally wear a somewhat unusual, large, silver pendant that most people in this country cannot identify; she however, can. It is the Sanskrit symbol for Om. When I wear this and see her, she lights up and tells me how much she loves my Om and then shows me her smaller, gold version that she wears silently around her neck, beneath the cafeteria jacket she is made to wear. I assume she that she assumes that I’m some sort of Hindu convert although I am not. The symbol is also significant in Buddhism which is more my flavor. She also tells me how surprised she is that more people do not know what it is which is a peculiar thought given that Boston’s population is over 85% Christian. She asks me where I got the pendant and I tell her. We exchange a few more pleasantries while she smiles and smiles and smiles. As she completes my transaction she tells me to have a wonderful day. This exact conversation happens every time I wear my pendant which reminds me why I wear the pendant in the first place. I wear it not in hope of of random chats with strangers, but as a reminder of universality. It also reminds me that cashier number three has a very bad memory.