Red lentils.

A month or two back, on my way home from some errand, I stopped at the little Punjabi grocery store up the hill and filled up four clear plastic baggies with rice, turmeric, mung beans, and red lentils. I paid the total of three dollars or whatever it was, and since I was parked right outside, waved off the proprietor’s offer of a big bag to carry my purchases.

Of course I was about two steps out the door when the lentil baggie slipped from my fingers and burst open on the pavement. Managing to salvage about half the contents, I hunched back inside, leaking lentils, to see if I could score a replacement baggie. The proprietor hurried over to help me pour what I’d saved into a new baggie and to top it up with enough lentils to make up for what I’d lost. Then he gave me a big bag so the accident wouldn’t happen again.

Here’s the thing. I was too embarrased by my clumsiness to offer to pay for the replacement lentils. I’m pretty sure the proprietor would have waved it off – there was no way to separately weigh the extra lentils, and they were worth no more than twenty or thirty cents anyway – but rather than offer, I just mumbled thank-you and walked out red-faced, clutching my grocery bag with particular care. Exiting the store I noticed the heap of spilled lentils I’d left on the doorstep and I thought for a moment about offering to sweep it up, but did I? Nope. I drove home knowing that as far as that Punjabi guy was concerned I was just a big dumb klutz who let other people clean up his messes and who thought the world owed him free lentils.

I was reminded of this incident today when I picked up fenugreek (AKA kasuri methi) at the health food store nearby. The price was pretty fair – $1.99 for a pouch stuffed with more fenugreek than any sane cook could use in a year, more than I could fit into my one empty jar. As I tipped the excess straight into the organics bin I thought, I bet that Punjabi place would’ve had a more reasonably-sized pouch of fenugreek for sale. Of course I’ll never know, because I can never go back there again.


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Michael A. Charles is a writer, animator, and musician currently living in the Vancouver area. He used to be the singer and guitarist for the band known as Sea Water Bliss.

You can find a selection of his cartoons, music videos, and ads on the Gallery page.

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Garson Hampfield, Crossword Inker