The rush was mad and the blood flowed plenty. But once the dust settled and the customers retreated to their homes with their freshly blood-stained purchases, it was time for the employees to clean up the aftermath.
Dale was on stock duty. His task for the day was to reset the toppled over merchandise to make the store presentable again. Normally this would be an easy task, but not after the black Friday crowd ran rampant. Poor Dale would not only have to rearrange the merchandise, he would have to take stock of everything that was broken and sort out the things that didn’t belong in whatever department he happened to be cleaning at the time. No easy task.
Three hours into Dale’s shift and he had made his way to his least favorite section: the toy aisle. Every year he got stuck cleaning up hardware, automotive, sporting goods, and toys. The toy section was always by far the largest mess. And for whatever reason, he seemed to get stuck cleaning it right after the event before the later shifts came in.
Already annoyed with the job, Dale shoved, crammed, slammed, and hurled the remaining merchandise back on the shelves. Not that there was much left. No, he was mostly busying himself sorting the broken stuff and the stuff that didn’t belong—filling up multiple shopping carts with mismatched junk. He wasn’t even halfway done with his shift yet.
“Dammit!” he blurted out as he bumped into the discount bin of basketballs, knocking them to the ground in a comical array of bouncing.
While he was busy gathering the loose basketballs, a young, timid boy walked in from the other side of the aisle. Dale didn’t notice the boy at first and kept jamming the basketballs into the bin with a boiling rage. But then he happened to glance over and saw the boy staring longingly at a spot high up on the shelf.
Forgetting about the balls, Dale walked over to the boy on instinct. “Can I help you with something,” he said in his kindest customer service voice.
The boy didn’t say anything, he just shifted his gaze toward the ground and kicked his feet back and forth.
“It’s okay. I work here,” he reassured him, “My name’s Dale.”
The boy looked up at Dale for a second, then over to the shelf. He opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. Then he looked back at the ground and shook his head slowly as if he were in trouble.
Dale turned toward the shelf and spotted a bright green Ranger Dan Action Tank stinking out from a sea of pink. He hadn’t made it this far down the aisle yet. It was the Barbie doll section.
“Lookin’ for this?” Dale plucked the tank from the top shelf and extended it to the boy.
The little boy nodded but didn’t look up, nor did he reach for the tank. Tears stained his face and upon closer inspection, Dale noticed the boy’s clothes were in rather poor condition.
Dale started to put the pieces together. The Ranger Dan Action Tank was this year’s hottest selling kids’ toy and even had it’s own set of displays. No doubt they sold out within the hour, but somehow this one had ended up stashed away in the doll aisle. “Is your mommy or daddy around?”
No sooner had Dale asked the question did a large woman come storming into the aisle. “Carter, there you are. It’s time to go!”
The boy didn’t say anything. He just looked up at Dale with tears in his eyes as if he were pleading for help.
“C’mon Carter. Don’t bother this young man,” the woman said in irritation. “Sorry if he was annoyin’ you.”
“Oh, he wasn’t bothering me at all. I think he just wanted this tank.”
“He’s been begging me for this stupid toy forever, but we just can’t afford to spend money on junk like this.” The woman didn’t seem to have any concern talking about her personal business to strangers. This was probably a common occurrence for her.
“Right.” Dale didn’t know what else to say.
The woman was wearing raggedy pajama bottoms and a t-shirt about three sizes too big. Despite her unkempt appearance, she had a shopping cart full of expensive electronics. One thing about Black Friday, the store always kept extra electronic sale items in the warehouse—which they would sell throughout the day. There was no real reason for people to rush in like they do first thing in the morning unless they were specifically buying special kids’ toys.
“Have a good holidays,” the woman said nonchalantly. Then she grabbed the boy by the arm and pulled him in the other direction, practically tripping him in her frenzied pace.
“It’s okay. I work here,”
Dale watched the boy round the corner and caught a final glimpse of the boy’s sad face looking back him. Then the boy disappeared behind a wall of dolls. Dale was alone again.
He walked over to one of the toy carts and started to put the tank in it, but then he stopped. He looked long and hard at the thick green plastic. He couldn’t erase the image of the boy’s eyes staring at the tank in wonder. The thought brought a terrible weight upon his heart. Dale had to do something.
Outside, the blistering cold wind whipped through the parking lot. The little boy was helping his mother load up the trunk of her car. His jacket was far too thin for the weather and he shivered fiercely until she told him to get in the car. Once he did, he sat there huddled up into himself, hugging his arms close to his body as the car began to warm up.
While his mother finished loading the trunk, the boy looked through the frosted window. He heard the muffled sounds of his mother talking to someone outside but he didn’t pay attention. All his focus was on the one thing he could never have. That one toy he dreamed of for so long, but would never get. It wasn’t fair. Life isn’t fair. And then the tears started to well up again.
The boy’s vision became blurry from tears and the sadness was almost too much for his little heart to handle. He didn’t choose this kind of life, and he knew the other kids at school would come in after Christmas with all the cool gifts they received, but not him. He never had anything to bring in. But just as these thoughts started to get too much for the boy, a sudden change came to the window.
The white frost had turned green! What could it be, the boy thought. Then a knock on the glass. He didn’t understand what was happening.
The door opened with a rush of cold air. “Here, consider it an early Christmas present.”
The boy stared at his mother in amazement. In her hands was the Ranger Dan Action Tank!
“Well, don’t just stare at it. Take it.” His mother thrust it into his hands. “I’m freezing my ass off out here.”
Just before she slammed the door, Carter thought he saw a man walking away from the car. He couldn’t be sure, but it looked like the man was wearing the store’s uniform.
Carter’s mother got in the car and began rambling on about the great deals she got, but he didn’t listen. And as she began driving, all he could do was look at the toy sitting in his lap. Then he thought about the friendly man who pulled the tank from the grip of the pink dolls. For the first time in a long time, Carter’s tears dried up.
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