Yesterday I was standing in the supermarket queue. The young man at the checkout’s name badge said ‘Phuc’; the screen where the prices of my groceries were being displayed read” Hello. My name is Phuc.” He was clearly Vietnamese. I deduced that his name was Phuc. (I’m clever like that.)
My mind started playing with his name, making the pronounciations, trying to figure out what the diacritical marks would be. I didn’t really look at him. I was just playing around with his name. It’s the kind of name that other kids create havoc with. Usually pronounced “fook”, it looks an awful lot like it could be pronounced … well, you get the idea.
I caught his eye sometime after the speedy: “Hello, how are you / Fine, thank you. Yourself? / Not too bad” exchange and smiled, like I do at most people. He half smiled back but looked quickly away again. There were many groceries to be scanned. My mind wandered away from where I was, wandered off on home, I think.
When I pulled out my credit card to pay for our week’s worth of food and other random essentials, I pondered whether he’d realise I too was Viet. I wondered, if he noticed, whether he’d care. Probably not, I thought. Doesn’t mean much. I was so preoccupied with looking for my name on my credit card, and wondering whether it appeared on any receipt that I thought my mind was chanting my name: Oanh, Oanh, Oanh, Oanh. It was odd.
Phuc waved a hand in front of my eyes as I was signing the credit card slip, and I looked up. Behind him was a friend – the culprit intoning my name over and over to get my rather distracted attention. I grinned and said a surprised “hello?”, she clutched her paper towels to her chest, balancing in the other hand a basketfull of her own goodies. For some reason, we both reverted to mime – she gestured with her head (I’m heading over this way) and I shrugged (Kinda stuck here now). When my partner and I emerged from the check out, we stood outside indecisively considering whether to wait and converse, or head home to rustle up dinner. Stuck in her own queue, my friend was making – go home / no point waiting – gestures. We grinned sheepishly and maneouvered our shopping trolley into the car-park.
It doesn’t mean anything. It just happened.