I saw them as I came around the corner of the supermarket aisle: two women, one middle-aged, one perhaps in her teens or early twenties. They could have been any mother and any daughter, standing there in the aisle, thoughtfully pondering the items on the shelves. But my fleeting peripheral vision caught something about the younger woman right away, just in that brief glimpse of her, standing there with her mother.
Then as I passed, I heard the mother ask, "Well, did you like what we had for supper tonight?"
"Yes," the daughter answered. And again, "yes." And some more, "yes, yes, yes, yes," her hands beating the cart handle in time to her chanting.
The mother told her to stop that. She stopped. I didn't turn around to look at them, but kept walking until I was near the other end of the aisle.
Then I stopped and turned, not back to look toward the women, but to the side, as if I too were looking at the shelves. The women were talking quietly to each other. I couldn't make out the younger one's words. But I could hear their rhythms and their tones, and I knew them, and I knew her for one of my people.
I wasn't looking at them, but they were looking at me. They were looking, actually, at my dog. I could tell this much from the mother's words. As I turned and he moved to stand beside me, they were able to see his harness. The mother was explaining the significance of a service dog's harness.
And so, standing there in the aisle, knowing they were looking at me, I let my body begin to rock, let my hands begin to flap. Not too much. Only a little. I'm sure the mother never noticed.
After a few moments I turned away from the shelf and started walking back in the direction I had come from, back toward the two women. This time, as I was about to pass, the daughter stepped out in front of me and held out a hand toward my dog. I stopped. She patted my dog and said, "Hi." Pat. "Hi." Pat. "Hi." The mother gave a friendly smile at the first pat, but after a few of them, the smile was beginning to wear thin. I stood still, not speaking, not looking at either of them. It was, at that moment, all I needed to do. I watched her hands pat my dog, and that was enough for both of us.
The mother put a stop to the patting, told her daughter that was enough. Then she turned to me with another smile, and commented, "First she's going to run away from it screaming, and then she won't stop petting it."
That was what the sounds said. But in the saying of them, and in the tone of the saying, and in the look at me during the saying, what she meant was this: "She is strange, and she does things that do not make sense. You and I know better. We are like each other in being different from her."
Then we went our separate ways: two people from the same world who had met briefly over a common focus; and a third person, an outsider, so tuned out that she didn't even realize how different she was.