Friday 23 September 2022

Rebirth by Anushka Kulkarni, iced tea


Lily walked to work, tightly bundled in her warmest coat. Autumn was giving way to winter and she could see her exhalations make little puffs of steam. As the newest employee, Lily was given the responsibility no one wanted. She opened Rebirth, the only thrift store in town, at seven in the morning. And suffice to say that Lily was not a morning person. She didn't understand why a thrift store must open this early. No one goes shopping at this hour. Cursing under her breath, she unlocked the heavy front door, flipped the board in the window to "Come in, we're open" and settled down with the newspaper. She'd barely made it to the second page when she heard the door open.

"At 7 30 in the morning! That's either a robber or a maniac," she thought to herself. Turns out, it was far worse- an elderly man with a cane in one hand and precariously perched boxes in the other. Lily always felt uncomfortable around senior citizens; she never knew what to say to them. Feign interest and you're stuck in an endless conversation. Any uninterest leads to an endless lecture.

"Hello dear," the man chirped, interrupting her dilemma.

"Good morning sir. What can I do for you?"

Setting the boxes on the counter, he said,"I'd like to donate some clothes."

"Lovely. How many pieces, sir?"

"Fifteen, I think. I'd better count again. My memory isn't what it used to be." A pink slurry spilled from the boxes.

"They're my wife's, you know. She loved the color pink. Had to wear something pink everyday." He proceeded to tell her, in meticulous detail, where and when each piece of clothing was bought. Lily tuned out the rest but caught the end of his monologue.

"She died a couple of years ago. Cancer."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Thank you. It's fourteen pieces actually. Here you go."

"Thanks sir. Your donation is appreciated."

"Take good care of them please. Especially this fuchsia coat, she really loved it."

He stroked the coat lovingly, as if brushing his wife's cheek for the last time.

"Good day, dear," he turned and left.

Lily started sorting through the new clothes, but her mind kept wandering off to memories of humid summer days in Gran's house on the outskirts of town. The scent of freshly baked apple pie would waft down the hall, accompanied by the click-clack of Gran's favorite pink high heels. She never wore those anymore. The doctor said they were bad for her back.

The door opened again, letting in a gust of cold wind that shook her out of her nostalgia.

"Someone came in so early?" Her co-worker, Brandon asked as he walked in.

"Yes. Just an old guy. He dropped off quite a few clothes."

Lily's phone buzzed. It was Tina.

"Sam kicked me out. Can Spencer and I stay with you for a little while?"

Lily sighed exasperatedly. This was the third time in the last two months. Hadn't she warned her sister not to marry that dead beat, sorry excuse for a man? But no, she went right ahead, and had a baby too. Now if she tossed them on the street, she'd be the heartless monster.

"Fine." She texted back.

"Oh look, here comes another customer," Brandon said. "Take her please. She looks chatty and I'm in no mood."

Brandon was right- she did look extremely chatty. She was middle-aged, dressed in a T-shirt, faded jeans and sensible shoes. Probably a stay-at-home mom.

"Hello, Lily," she said, reading her name tag. "I'm here to drop off some clothes."

Lily gestured to the counter.

"I wasn't actually sure about donating these. They're my son's old clothes, so many memories. I wish he would've stayed a baby forever. But he's nine now, of course he doesn't fit into this," she chuckled, holding up a blue onesie.

"I had a practical reason for keeping these too, you know. My husband and I, we've been, well....trying again for the past five years. But no luck. Maybe it's the pills I took when I was younger. Anyway, I guess it's time to let go. It's just satisfying knowing that someone will use them, you know. I mean-"

"Okay, these are twenty pieces. Thank you ma'am," Lily interrupted.

"Oh, yes you're welcome," the lady said. She looked surprisingly unfazed for someone who had just revealed her bedroom problems to a complete stranger.

"She's lucky; God spared her a round of sleepless nights," Lily thought to herself, as the lady walked away.

Spencer was always getting on her nerves with his crying and need for constant attention. Although, he did look like an angel when he slept. And his spit bubbles were adorable. But really he was more trouble than he's worth, Lily decided.

After two blissfully silent hours with her newspaper, the rush began. Homeless people from the nearby shelter and low income families circled within the store, stalking their reasonably priced prey.

A young man wearing ripped jeans walked up to Lily.

"Excuse me, ma'am. I'm looking for a birthday gift for my younger sister. She's about fourteen. Can you help me pick something out?"

Lily sighed inwardly. "This is a thrift store, not Gucci. I'm not your concierge," she wanted to say. The thought of her manager's stern face veered her in a different direction.

"Sure, did you have anything specific in mind?"

"Well, winter's almost here so maybe a pair of boots or a sweater. Usually I'd get her something new. But I lost my job because of Covid. This is all I can afford. I don't want her to know that her gift is second-hand. Can you show me something that looks new?"

Lily led him to the rack of women's winter wear. Watching him sort through the clothes with a focused furrowed brow reminded her of Tina. She'd always get Lily the perfect clothes on her birthday.

"What's her favorite color?"

"Pink," he said immediately.

"Then I think she'll like this," Lily said, pulling out the fuchsia coat. "It's only three dollars."

The young man seemed satisfied with it. He thanked Lily for her help, paid and left. Lily found herself wondering if his sister had some pink shoes to go with the coat. Heels would do nicely, but fourteen is young for that.

Her fashion bubble was burst by another customer who loudly announced that a dollar was too expensive for a pair of shorts. She dealt with him and the next customer and the next.

Before she knew it, it was six o'clock. Time to close up. She turned off all the lights, flipped the sign in the window to "Sorry, we're closed" and locked the front door. As she turned to leave, a flash of blue caught her eye. After a brief internal struggle, Lily grabbed the onesie off the shelf and left two dollars in the cash register.

Exiting through the back door, she walked down the street to her apartment, thinking of fuchsia coats, pink high heels and her nephew in a blue onesie.


About the author


Anushka Kulkarni is a teenager from India exploring the power of her words. Additional work by her may be found at Potato Soup Journal, The Weight Journal and The Drabble among others. 


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