It was my craving for something rich, creamy and sweet, for something that had a name like “chunky jamoca coca” or “smore’gasbord,” that led us to pull on our jackets and climb into the car. When we got there, I decided I wanted to see just what the 31 advertised flavors of the night were and so read the names of each kind of ice cream and its description and then looked up to see if the tub of ice cream matched the image the description had painted in my head.
Strawberry cheesecake or vanilla cream with a swirl of caramel ribbon? Ooh, tough choice. Finally, I settled upon a yogurt variety, promising 30% less fat, but all the flavor! So I ordered one scoop and laid down my $2 gift certificate and one quarter (for tax). The man behind the counter stuck a spoon in the side of the scoop, placed the cup of ice cream before me and said, “You can keep that.”
I tore my eyes from the mound of creamy-goodness and looked at him. I can keep that? Of course I would keep it! Safe and sound in my belly where it rightly belonged! And now if he would just take my gift certificate and give me back my 7 cents change… and I pushed my crumpled, dog-eared certificate a centimeter closer. Again, he repeated the same thing, “You can keep that.”
A moment passed before it finally registered with me that he meant to tell me that I could keep both the scoop and the gift certificate — for a later time perhaps. I said “thanks” and retrieved my wrinkled certificate, but left my gleaming quarter sitting there. I gave this another 2 cm. nudge towards him.
“You can keep that, too,” he said, wiping his hands on the front of his apron (was he wearing an apron? It seems right that he would be.) Quicker to learn what had happened this time, I thanked him again, dropped my quarter in the paper cup labeled with a Bic pen “tips,” grabbed my ice cream scoop up off the counter and whisked around.
To Alan (who is waiting patiently behind me as he does not care for sweets) I do the nod-head thing, the thing that communicates clearly but succinctly, perhaps even discreetly, that a confusing transaction has just occurred and although I am not sure I entirely understand what just happened, it is good, for the current time being it is a good thing and we must make haste and take our exit of the store. …but he does not understand this head gesture and stops me as I am nearly running out of the store. He wants to know what just happened, but eager to leave, to make away with my free scoop of lowfat Strawberry cheesecake yogurt with the bits of graham cracker crust, I do the quick head gesture once more, and without stopping to see if he is following me, I rush outside.
Outside, the air is calm and cold and seems to break the spell of the free scoop of ice cream, of the man and his “You can keep that’s.” We get back in the car and we speculate what the motive was behind this act. At first we are careful not to call it an act of kindness. We contemplate that he is flirting with me. I rule this out as Alan was standing right next to me. But then I put this possibility back on the table; perhaps he thought Alan was a friend, maybe a foreign exchange student who had been my pen pal and was now visiting in person. Next we think that maybe since we are still dressed in the clothes we wore hiking earlier that day, the man behind the counter thought we were poor and took pity on us. Alan added that since it was only me who got ice cream, with a gift certificate no less, that maybe it did make us look needy, as if we could afford only the one scoop. Maybe my eyes looked too wide and I took too much time carefully selecting the one scoop I could afford. I hypothesized that maybe he recognized some refugee-roots in me that he saw in himself and offered the free ice cream as a sort of refugee bond. Then we conjectured that maybe he was special and could see into people’s futures. That maybe he knew our time of enjoying snacks and delightful treats was nearing an end and so was only doing his part to not change the future but to help us enjoy what time we had left…
Then we turned out of the parking lot and started talking about soup.