One word

I saw her when I entered the drugstore. She was a lean build, black hair, fair complexioned. Something about her just seemed familiar, so watched as she rung up another customer. She looked up, caught my gaze. I smiled. She smiled back.

I went to the back to pick up dental floss and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

Surprisingly, the line had disappeared and I found myself at her register.

“Kumusta,” she said, and smiled.

I smiled back, automatically registering the word as “How are you?”

As I answered her in English, the smile faded. I wondered if I had done something wrong.

How could I answer her in Tagalog? The words flow from my mouth like chunks of curdled milk, leaving a bad taste in the wake of their butchered pronunciation. Soon, the memory of our shared smile disappeared as she treated me like any other customer, sounding almost impatient when I looked for change.

As I left the drugstore, I looked down at the receipt, hoping to find her name. Only her identification number stared back at me. I threw it in the garbage. I wasn’t sure if I was disgusted with myself for not knowing a single word to respond to her, or her sudden change in attitude.

Either way, I had to get the ice cream home before it melted.