Today, I woke up and walked to Trader Joe’s.
The elevator was taking a particularly long time, so I opted to walk down eight flights of stairs. The air that encompasses the staircase is hot and inky, and so I walk as fast as I can, my feet barely grazing every second stair. The door on the first floor of the tower sounds an alarm, so I exit the stairs on the second floor and walk through the lobby.
I could’ve waited until the shuttle was operating, but I enjoy the walk, mostly because I enjoy the things I will see. I especially like the houses on Granite Street. I like their steel blue facades and open porches. I like their carefully pruned flowers and walkways warped by the overgrown roots of trees. I like their windows, and how their tenets leave them open. I like the house at the intersection of Granite Street and Rockingham Street. I like how it is cornered against a baseball field, where the local children play. When I walk past that house, I feel an overwhelming yearning for domesticity. For matrimony. For a car that is safe and reliable. For a sidewalk covered in chalk drawings. Then, I feel an overwhelming feeling of nausea. I shake it off.
I also enjoy the people. The walk to Trader Joe’s is situated at the midpoint between Boston University and MIT, and just as I pass the boathouse, before I enter Granite Street, there are always students running. They are shirtless, regardless of the weather, and the hems of their shorts sit well above their knees. Sometimes, they gossip as they run. Other times, they are playing music aloud. Those are my favorites, because I can hear them trotting behind me. Soon enough, they will shout “On your left!” or “On your right!” and I will never be able to predict which it will be. So, I cling to whichever edge of the path I choose, and they will either run beside me, or I will receive an elbow to the side.
Past the intersection of Granite Street and Rockingham Street, there is Pearl Street, and a woman is sitting on her porch. She is sitting on her knees, like a child, shins pressed against the concrete. She is smoking a Marlboro Red. I can tell without looking, because I remember exactly how they smelled back home. I’d never seen a woman smoke a Marlboro Red.
As I walk past her, she waves at me, and so I wave back. I wonder if she waves to every passerby, or just the ones she is curious about, or just me. I wonder if she pities me. I stew on it for the rest of the walk.
Granite Street ends abruptly and spills into the Trader Joe’s parking lot like a river spills into a bay. This Trader Joe’s is small, especially in proportion to its massive concrete parking lot, and I am suddenly reminded of California. Wide, barren, concrete. Cars. Little enclaves of carefully curated trees.
I am pragmatic in a Trader Joe’s. I know exactly what to buy, and where things are located. I inspect a bag of clementines, knowing that I will have to request the assistance of my roommate to finish them before they rot. I grab the Boursin cheese. I reach for two Honeycrisp apples, but I realize they are too expensive, so I opt for two Fiji apples instead. I turn the corner into the coolers. I find the same selection of microwave meals, which I will eat on the days I nap through dinner. I grab two bags of freeze-dried strawberries. One bag of popcorn. One bag of tortilla chips.
The clerks at Trader Joe’s love to chat. A man gestures to his lane, and I oblige and set my basket on the counter. He asks me how I am. I say I’m doing well. I ask him how he is. He says he can’t complain. I start to bag my groceries. The heavier items go into my backpack, while the lighter ones go into a reusable bag. He finishes scanning the items faster than I can finish bagging them, so he watches me as I clumsily shove the remaining bag of strawberries and the bag of popcorn into the reusable bag. As I pay, he asks me what school I go to. I tell him I go to Boston College. I do that when I’m feeling a certain way. I casually lie to strangers. Last week, I told my barber I was an anthropology major. What would anybody know. Sometimes the truth feels too tiresome to explain.
As I’m putting my card away, I notice the CSAIL lanyard hanging from my pocket. I shove all of the lanyard back inside and leave with my backpack and bag. I should’ve said I went to Boston University, because Boston College is so far. If he’s wondering, I could just say that I’m visiting a friend at MIT, and the friend works with CSAIL, hence the lanyard. Of course, he’s not wondering. He’s bagging the next person’s groceries. Perhaps this person will say that they go to Boston College, and they won’t be lying.
I take the identical walk back from Trader Joe’s to my room. Everything looks drastically different when going the opposite way. Now, the Granite Street houses are on my left, and I pray that the woman with the Marlboro Red went inside. She did. I can see the city across the river, and it looks different than it does at night. It looks sober. Corporate. The river looks still.
When I get back to my room, I realize that only an hour has passed. I feel different from how I felt when I left, as if I’d seen something life altering. Of course, I didn’t. I just went to Trader Joe’s.
I sit on my bed and record an audio of myself speaking, which I’ve been doing in lieu of writing lately. I speak about the houses, about the children playing in the field, about the Marlboro Reds, about the expensive apples, about the city, about my lying. Then, I Google search where Boston College is actually located. Newton. Then, I search if there is a Trader Joe’s in Newton. There isn’t.
It wasn’t too egregious of a lie after all.
Edit 4/25/2022: There is a Trader Joe’s in West Newton.