A convenience store is a world of sound. From the tinkle of the door chime to the voices of TV celebrities advertising new products over the in-store cable network, to the calls of the store workers, the beeps of the bar code scanner, the rustle of customers picking up items and placing them in baskets, and the clacking of heels walking around the store. It all blends into the convenience store sound that ceaselessly caresses my eardrums.
I hear the faint rattle of a new plastic bottle rolling into place as a customer takes one out of the refrigerator, and look up instantly. A cold drink is often the last item customers take before coming to the checkout till, and my body responds automatically to the sound. I see a woman holding a bottle of mineral water while perusing the desserts and look back down.
As i arrange the display of newly delivered rice balls, my body picks up information from the multitude of sounds around the store. At this time of day, rice balls, sandwiches, and salads are what sell best. Another part-timer, Sugawara, is over at the other side of the store checking off items with a handheld scanner. I continue laying out the pristine, machine-made food neatly on the shelves of the cold display: in the middle I place two rows of the new flavor, spicy cod roe with cream cheese, alongside two rows of the store’s best-selling flavor, tuna mayonnaise, and then I line the less popular dry bonito shavings in soy sauce flavor next to those. Speed is of the essence, and I barely use my head as the rules ingrained in me issue instructions directly to my body.
Alerted by a faint clink of coins I turn and look over at the cash register. It’s a sound I’m sensitive to, since customers who come just to buy cigarettes or a newspaper often jingle coins in their hand or pocket. And yes: as I’d thought, a man with a can of coffee in one hand, the other hand in his pocket, is approaching the till. I quickly move through the store, slide behind the counter, and stand at the ready so as not to keep him waiting.
“Irasshaimasé! Good morning, sir.”
I bow and take the can of coffee he holds out to me.
“Oh, and a pack of Marlboro menthol Lights.”
“Right away, sir.” I take out a pack of the cigarettes and scan the bar code. “Please confirm your age on the touch screen.”
As he does so, I notice him glance at the hot-food cabinet. I could ask him whether he’d like anything else, but when a customer appears to be dithering over whether or not to buy something, I make a point of taking a step back and waiting.
“And a corn dog.”
“Right away, sir. Thank you.”
I disinfect my hands with alcohol, open the hot cabinet, and take out a corn dog.
“Shall I put the hot food and cold drink in separate bags?”
“Oh no, don’t bother. Together’s fine.”
I put the can of coffee, cigarettes, and corn dog into a small-size bag. Until then the man had been jingling the coins in his pocket, but now he suddenly moves his hand to his breast pocket as though something has just occurred to him. Instantly I deduse that he will use electronic money.
“I’ll pay by Suica.”
“Certainly, sir. Please touch your card here.”
I automatically read the customer’s minutest movements and gaze, and my body acts reflexively in response. My ears and eyes are important sensors to catch their every move and desire. Taking the utmost care not to cause the customer any discomfort by observing him or her too closely, I swiftly move my hands according to whatever signals I pick up.
“Your receipt, sir. Tank you for your custom!”
“Thanks,” he says, taking his receipt and leaving.
“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting,” I say with a bow to the woman next in the queue. “Irasshaimasé. Good morning!”
The morning period is passing normally in the brightly lit box of the convenience store, I feel. visible outside the windows, polished free of fingerprints, are the figures of people rushing by. It is the start of another day, the time when the world wakes up and the cogs of society begin to move. I am one of those cogs, going round and round. I have become a functioning part of the world, rotating in the time of day called morning.