Old Mister Singh

Now I don’t expect you to understand, since you didn’t know the man, but sometimes people just have to die. Sure, Jebediah Singh seemed like a nice man to most people in Springville, but I worked for him. He acted nice to the people that came into the store, but behind the scenes, son of a bitch puts it lightly. Working for Jebediah made coal mining seem a viable and safe career option.

Now, don’t take that as a confession! I just want people to understand that, amid all the hero worship, there’s probably a poor bastard somewhere who felt totally justified hanging Jebediah by his ankles and shooting him six times in the chest with a pump action shotgun. And remember, Sheriff Farley hasn’t ruled out suicide yet, either.

I remember the last morning old Jebediah came in for work. He came in wearing that ghastly green suit of his. Now, Mr. Singh had a face that looked like something a six year old made out of Play-Doh, so no fashion designer in the world could make him look remotely decent. Still, if you’re seven feet tall and so thin a light breeze could send you into orbit, you don’t wear green. You wear a green suit, children run out of the grocery screaming about an evil Gumby. His five stands of hair covered strategic areas of his scalp, and I’m sure old Jebediah believed he was fooling all the customers into thinking he had a full head of hair. Upon entering the store, he immediately strolled over to my register, with that vampire smile of his.

“Good morning, sir,” he said, in the monotone so many folks told me was pleasant.

“Good morning, Mr. Singh,” I said, and prepared to tell him about the day’s events prior to his arrival when his constant companion, the stainless steel pen he called Mr. Click slid from his pocket. Yes, the man named his pens, and told us their names with enthusiasm typically reserved for a young girl’s first dolly. Jebediah drove Mr. Click hard into my chest, just above my right pocket.

“Where is your name badge, sir?”

I sighed a bit, not looking forward to this talk again. “I lost it a month ago, sir. I asked you to make me a new one, but you never gave it to me.”

“Did you remind me? You should follow up on these sorts of things, sir.”

“I reminded you every day I’ve worked, Mr. Singh,” I replied, dropping the pretense of civility I somehow managed before. “And, if I might remind you sir, that has been every day so far this month. Do you think–”

“Let me finish,” Jebediah said, and produced a well worn pocket notebook from inside his suit. I don’t know if the notebook had a name; I never asked. Mr. Click pressed against the paper, and that old son of a bitch didn’t even give the decency of eye contact as he scribbled God knows what onto that pad. I often doubted if it had anything to do with our conversation… maybe he worked through a to-do list for the day as he repeated the same lecture day in and day out.

“We do not run this grocery out of the goodness of our hearts, sir. It is a for profit business, and that means we are here to make money. To make money, we must be professional. How do you think it looks when a customer walks into this grocery store, prepares to spend their hard earned money, and they see an employee without a name badge?”

They probably didn’t care, but I knew that would result in an even longer lecture rife with sports metaphors that he felt somehow related to the situation. I doubted people would care if Michael Jordan’s name was on the back of his jersey or not, but I knew I had to play along. “They would more than likely take their business elsewhere.”

“Exactly. Remember, Tom Drew’s market is just six miles down the road, and I hear there is a new chain store opening down in Meredith. They’ll drive half an hour for better service.”

As he finished, I noticed a customer approaching my lane. Not just any customer, either. Maureen Andrews, the girl of my dreams. Long red hair tied in two braids across either shoulders, crystal blue eyes and a smile that once literally made me faint. She sat her purchases on the counter, and I began to ring them up. She smiled, and I felt light headed.

“How are you?”

“I’m great, and you?”

She asked me how I was! This was great! I smiled my best smile, and prepared to answer as Jebediah slid up to my register, and pushed me off.

“How are you, Miss Andrews?”

“I’m great, and you?”

“Doing wonderfully. Tell you mother I said hello.” I sat behind him, arms folded across my chest, practicing the breathing exercises that always calmed me. Maureen looked at me as Jebediah bagged her groceries, but it wasn’t the look of suddenly realized love I always dreamed of. Instead, it seemed like the look someone gave a dog that was about to be put to sleep. Just as I wondered if life could get any worse, Jebediah noticed her looking at me.

“Ah, did you notice this gentleman doesn’t have a name badge?”

Maureen looked closer and shrugged slightly. “So he doesn’t.”

The old bastard looked at me, a gaze of triumph in his eyes. “I told you, sir.”

Maureen left in a hurry, and as soon as she walked out the door, I slammed my bow tie on the counter. “I quit.”

“Sorry it didn’t work out, sir.”

That was the last time I saw Jebediah Singh alive. Since I pay rent, I immediately picked up a few applications on my way home and stopped in the park to fill them out in peace. I assure you, officer, that’s why I missed all of your earlier phone calls. I hope you will understand. The whole shooting came as a complete shock to me, and that’s why I ran away when I saw you at my door. I’m sorry to hear old Jebediah’s gone, but I assure you, someone had a very good reason.

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