The red light has me squirming in my seat. My tight bladder makes waiting to pull into the gas station across the road an eternity. Just as I am sure that warm liquid will soon be streaming down my legs, the light flips to green. I step on the gas, and speed into the parking lot, picking the closest spot to the front door. Bailing out, I sprint inside— past the lunches that are pre-packed for truckers, past the smiling Will and Judd who are working the register, and head straight for the bathroom.
As the sign that designates the bathroom for women disappears around the corner, I slam back on my heels and flatten myself to the wall. A frail frame is shuffling her way down the middle of the long hallway that is filled with stalls. The neon purple shirt that hangs off of her bony shoulders had caught my attention just in time to keep me from plowing into her. She hadn't even noticed. She was too busy carefully picking her steps.
After I take a second to catch my breath, I study her more closely. She appears to be ancient, though she is probably only in her thirties. Her delicate skin looks like the flesh that it had been holding in had been sucked out, leaving only bone, and the bags under her eyes give away her lack of sleep. But her most significant feature is her hair. She wears it cropped closely to her head. I know this look. I had seen it worn in the hospital by my grandpa several years ago. Cancer.
As I get over my surprise at almost running the woman over, a blonde with a head full of bouncy curls rushes over, takes the woman's arm, and places a hand of support on her back. By the look in the woman in purple's eyes, I can tell that they have never met before. In a hoarse voice, barely above a whisper, she explains that she has been out of chemo for barely a week. Before I can pick up more of the conversation, their whispers drift out of earshot. My last glance before I duck into a stall was of the woman in purple and the blonde, quietly making their way back into the store.
Five minutes and an empty bladder later, I follow them out. They are nowhere to be seen, so I shift my attention to picking up some snacks. At the cash register, Will stops joking with Judd for just enough time to scan my items. "That'll be $5.50", he says in a serious voice. He manages to treat me professionally for about ten seconds before he breaks down laughing. They tease me about my beeline for the bathroom, and we talk for a couple of minutes.
Before I climb back into my car and shift into gear, I reflect on my experience in the store. Will and Judd are total strangers. I know their names from their name tags; I doubt they know mine. I am just the girl that comes in every Friday night to buy some junk food. Yet, humanity connects me to these two gas station employees, just as it connected the blonde lady and the woman in purple— just as it connects us all. Satisfied with my deep philosophizing, I giggle at myself, rip open the corner of my m&m's, and head towards home.