I opened the glass door of the retail store and walked inside, eyes immediately drawn to the mannequins donning outfits I could never pull off. Yet I couldn't keep my fingers from running over the fabrics displayed on racks that were laid out, row after row around me. Months of penny pinching and shopping-deprivation made me like a hungry child in a bakery. My arms were full of clothes in mere moments.
A sales clerk politely offered her assistance and asked my name.
"Elizabeth," I told her.
"I'm Willie," She replied with a slight southern accent, cheerfully as if we were about to become best friends. She was an older black woman who I noticed was just as attentive to all the customers in her section. Animated and friendly, Willie drew my complete attention as she continued, "Elizabeth, I can remember that. That's my sister's middle name. Her first name is Mary," she explained.
Before I could help it, I told her that my first name was actually Mary as well. She was taken aback, as pleased as if I just handed her the winning lottery ticket.
"You don't say! Your birthday's not February 13th is it?" She asked, her voice full of hope.
"No, but that happens to be my father's birthday," I offered, trying to match her enthusiasm but failing.
It was almost too much for her to bear, "What are the chances? Can you believe that?!"
In a matter of minutes, I learned about Willie's sister, how they grew up together, and where she's living now. I patiently listened with a smile. Willie tapped her co-worker on the shoulder, introducing me as if I were a celebrity, and proceeded to explain the entire story once again from the beginning. Her co-worker didn't find it quite so interesting and quickly moved on.
When it came time to check out, I handed her a pile of clothes over the counter but held back a few shirts, unsure of whether or not to purchase them.
"Oh these are all great," Willie coaxed. "Just go ahead, you deserve it."
I laughed and gave an explanation, "It's just that my husband might flip out a little."
It was here Willie stopped sorting hangers and looked at me square in the eye, suddenly switching from her exuberant demeanor into something more serious and intense, "Honey, the best piece of advice I ever got was from my daddy. He was a minister."
I was intrigued and leaned in closer.
"He told me, 'Baby, your husband don't gotta know everything!'"
I laughed out loud as she continued.
"My husband was a jealous man and he would get so angry when I told him someone made a pass at me. 'Course, I was fly back then."
I now looked around the room to see who else might be listening that I could share a snicker with. But there was no one. The thought of a hidden camera game show even entered my mind at this point. Willie repeated several more times that she was "fly" back then, making me wonder if she was waiting for me to offer a, "You still are!"
We revisited her sister's name a few more times, exploring the possibility of other similarities between us 2 strangers cosmically connected in the universe by first and middle name. We discussed maiden names, husband's names, even shoe size came up - but no more links existed.
I spent far more time in the store than planned, not shopping, but captivated as the one-person audience of Willie's dynamic personality. I left wondering what Willie's sales record was. And I couldn't bear to dishonor her daddy's best advice ever, so I kept all the clothes.