Out of my six years working in retail, the number one weirdest moment happened to me last week. A nice old man comes up to me and asks me for help on sheets. I happily walk over to assist him to the best of my abilities.
"I'm looking for a rose colored pillowcase," he says.
"Rose as in deep red or are we talking a lighter palette?" I ask because the way we see colors and describe them is different despite all the great words available for description.
He furrows his brow and his sad eyes look at me, "Well it's like a pink."
"I've only got hot pink in the store and our pillowcases generally come in pairs, but we do offer an assortment online that I can check for you?"
He pulls a digital camera out of his pocket and says, "Well I've got pictures of the color I need."
"That's great! Let's see what you got." I smile because pictures make life so much easier when it comes to matching colors.
This is where my excitement transitions into an assortment of reactions.
"You see I just lost my wife a week ago," he states while turning on the camera. "We were married sixty years and she died of cancer."
I immediately felt empathetic for him because I knew what it was like to watch someone you love die of cancer. "I'm so sorry for your loss, I know what it feels like to lose someone to cancer."
He looked up from his camera and smiled sadly at me. This time I noticed his eyes were slightly red with hint of slight baggage beneath. "Well she's free from all the suffering," and he turned back to the buttons on his camera.
"So you have a picture of something you are trying to match?" I ask in curiosity.
"No, it's an actual pillowcase I am trying to replace." He brings his camera over to me and starts flickering through scenes of what looks like a party of some sort. I focus on his camera buttons because I feel as if I am crashing a party and intruding into his personal memories.
"Wow that's cool that you took pictures of the pillowcase you needed," I attempt to make the situation lighthearted.
"Yes, well when the funeral home came to take my wife they took her pillow." He continued to flicker through an assortment of pictures in which everyone was dressed in black.
My epiphany came all to late, for he slowed down his slideshow to a body in a casket. As I swallowed my shock and kept my facial expression neutral with a poker face, my mind was reeling at what was happening.
He stopped at a photo of a woman in a casket and zoomed into her face. "You see the pillow case under head?" He looked at me with a serious inquiry.
"Hmm...yes I do." I could not avoid the grim picture because he pushed the camera very close to my face.
"I want to replace that pillowcase because they buried my wife with the pillow and I have to replace it. I only have one pillow on the bed and the set is incomplete." He flicked to another picture and I could only focus on not showing any emotion other than polite interest.
"Well I don't believe we have that color at the moment." I needed some way to get this man's camera out of my face without being rude. "We usually get those colors in the spring, so I would check back during the spring."
He turned the camera off and placed it back in his pocket. "Oh well, I guess I will have to check back during the spring. Thank you for your time." The old man's shoulders slumped a little as he slowly walked away.
I watched him walk off into the mall and wondered how many more of these awkward moments would I experience before I left retail all together.