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The Price of Dignity

Two-hundred and forty-seven dollars, to be exact

By Rachel M.JPublished 3 years ago Updated 2 years ago 5 min read
21
The Price of Dignity
Photo by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash

The Price of Dignity

Entered into Vocal's (No) Regrets Challenge: Reveal your most embarrassing stories and cringeworthy moments.

We gather here today to mourn the loss of a poor man's dignity...

And the area of my brain responsible for peaceful sleep

You see the tale begins not with me, but with the confident swagger of a freshly-turned eighteen-year-old boy looking for a stack of cash, and with a well-hidden secret.

Where I work, we offer cash for used-goods. Sometimes, this means pristine collector's items stored in their original packages, and other times, boxes of junk housing a happy family of cockroaches. Our protagonist sat comfortably on this scale somewhere between 'Xbox controller with the thumbstick chewed off', and 'game-case with water-stained dust-jacket'. He was acceptable.

Approaching the counter, he carried a bag of old games in one hand and scratched his groin with the other.

Charming.

"Can I trade these in?" He asks me, hauling the bag onto the counter.

"You may" I answer. I give the stack of games a once-over. They're dirty, but the cases are intact. Good enough for me.

"That's a lot of games" I point out, "what you trading them for?"

"Aw," he ruffles his hair and tries his best to conceal a sheepish grin, "I have a missus now" he says.

I look at his licence. Eighteen. I smile too.

"And she's not into it?"

"Nah", he laughs.

"Well that's a shame!" I laugh with him, now sorting through the pile. There's about twenty games, and it's store policy for me to check each one for scratches.

"So what will you do instead, as a hobby?" I ask him.

He shrugs, "Dunno".

I pop open another case. I give the disc a sprits and a clean.

"It's her birthday soon though" he continues, "so" he shrugs again.

I gesture to the games. "That's what the cash's for?" I prompt.

"Yeah".

We stand in faux-comfortable silence as I work my way through the stack. I'm impressed. Men his age often bring in collections riddled with scratches. Once, I'd received a disc that had become transparent - I don't know how it had gotten that way, but you can imagine the customers indignation when I refused to take it.

A couple of thumb prints and old dust was acceptable for a Thursday evening.

A cold chill runs down my spine. I startle, and look at the man across from me. He appears to be unperturbed, so I continue.

I'm halfway through the stack now, and we're nearing the two-hundred-dollar mark. What a great haul, I think, we were running low on used-games to sell.

As I think it, a warm gust of wind tumbles through the shopping centres automatic doors; the whistle is tempered by what sounds like a sinister laugh. Too much coffee, I think to myself. I shake it off, and inspect a copy of Call of Duty. Scratched. I put it aside, and pick up the next case.

A family walks in through the automatic doors. I hear the laugh again, this time clearer, it appears to be carried on the backs of passers-by. It's the soft trill of Satan's giggle, the kind of laugh you'd expect to hear from a child chasing chaos.

That's weird, I think. I haven't heard from him in months.

The case feels like butter under my fingers, but I pop it open anyway. I notice something has been left inside underneath the game-guide. An old receipt, I think to myself as I pull it out. A brief moment passes in which I don't recognise what it is I'm holding, but the look of mortified horror on my customers face suggests it certainly is not an old receipt.

Looking down, between my fingertips I see now that I hold the hidden life of the man before me.

A sandwich bag filled to the brim with empty condom wrappers... and peaking between them, used rubbers, tied in a knot to prevent the contents from spilling.

I pause.

He pauses.

Time stands still as we process the scene before us.

I break the silence. "Aye," I say, as I casually hand him the sandwich bag, seeming so unperturbed, it were as if I were reminding him to take his lunch for a long day at work. Time catches up to us, and he promptly hides the shame on his face behind the shadow of his fringe.

"I uh... thought I checked them all" he says to me.

I thought I checked them all. "Not that one" I offer casually, although I'm wondering now what might have been hidden in the other cases before he'd thought to 'check'. I break the tension with a hearty laugh, and he stumbles to pick up a casual conversation. We make it work, for what's left of the transaction, and he happily leaves the store two-hundred and forty-seven dollars richer.

"See you next time" I call as he leaves, although I highly doubt I will. Two-hundred and forty-seven dollars...

Not a bad price for his dignity. Although I'd probably charge more for mine.

When my manager comes back from her lunch break, she's pleased to see the stack of games on the counter. I close a hand over my mouth, and spray the stack with a generous stream of disinfectant.

"What are you doing?" She asks me.

I'm unable to hold it in, and the words erupt from my chest, eager to find property in someone else's psyche. The surprise on her face morphs into disgust, and as I finish the story, she muffles a sequence of gags.

"Which game was it?" She says, now standing stone still, as if traces might remain in the air we breathed.

I try to remember, but I can't. I consider choosing a case at random to ease the intense worry from her eyes, but I decide against it.

"I don't know," I admit.

She muffles another gag,

"We can't sell these" she says, edging them over to the defective pile with her pinkie finger.

"But they're not defective" I protest.

She shakes her head, "it doesn't matter". I picture the games being sent away in a box filled with otherwise completely unusable items, and the confusion of the repair team when tasked with refurbishing a stack of unmarked games. Do we leave a note? Perhaps a friendly, "May contain traces of semen" would do the trick.

When I explain to my co-workers where the games had come from, I tell the story like a fresh novelty. Their responses, however, portray the disgust I had somehow missed at the time.

"Why did you take the games!" - "You should have sent him away!" and most notably, "Burn them all with fire!".

I don't know why I didn't think to reject the games, or even to hand back the case with the offending item. My co-workers wouldn't have thought twice about it. But apparently, that's just the kind of girl I am. The nonchalant, "hey man, you dropped your used-condoms" kind of girl.

At the very least, I'm thankful that the man was able to leave the store with a smile, and maybe even a funny - albeit, mortifying - story to amuse his 'missus' with. Although, I will be anticipating a shining customer service review as compensation for my damaged psyche. Or his first born child.

*Note, aside from a brief guest appearance from the Devil himself, the remainder of the events described in this story are - unfortunately - true.

Embarrassment
21

About the Creator

Rachel M.J

Magical realist

I like to write about things behaving how they shouldn't ~

Instagram: Rachel M.J

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