Enter man. At once he is dazzled by the bright colours, struck by the chirpy sounds. He has come early to avoid people. Man likes to hunt his quarry alone. A luminous green shopping basket dangles from his forearm as he passes through a swinging metal gate into the produce section. Man glances nervously around him. His senses are on edge as he surveys his surroundings, gets the lay of the land. There’s a luminous green woman stacking bananas into a fruity pile. Potassium good, man thinks. Explain potassium, a voice asks. Man hurriedly moves on, away, forward. Towards his staple vegetables. Man adroitly grabs a punnet of chestnut mushrooms, he deftly seizes a packet of baby spinach, he dexterously picks up a cling film-wrapped leek. He looks around and notices a flash of discount through the thicket of labels. He pounces on three discounted avocadoes. He springs on a spear of broccoli. A seasoned hunter, he doesn’t forget to pick up some onions, too.
Man wants to get out of there as quickly possible. He feels out of place in the supermarket, like he is mingling with the wrong species. Everyone looks so blithely content as they fill up their family-sized trolleys or single-sized baskets. But man strongly suspects an evil force lurks there, as though all the ills of the world converge on those bright, bounteous aisles. Man grabs bread, checks then gets eggs. Man races to manifest his mental list. Nominal milk. Notional olives. Putative butter. Fanciful olive oil. Exhausted coffee. Abject tea. Maize. Soy. Palm oil. Fuck..
Man wishes he could eat ethically but he cannot afford to so he flips the CLOSED sign on his conscience.
Man decides to treat himself as a reward for the hard work of his suffering. He opts for some pistachio-flavoured pâté, discounted caviar, and cheese puffs. Now he is in his stride as he makes his way from aisle to aisle. He feels in his element as he goes through the various kinds of dumplings in the freezer cabinet, and reads the ingredients that he does not understand. He decides to try a new line, spicy vegetables, which were recommended to him by a friend.
Man has already seen three women he was animally attracted to. But when man is looking at the toilet paper he is thunderstruck. He feels the tremulous presence of Eros there among those quilted scrolls of (as yet unrevealed) guilty secrets. She is also on the hunt for the same thing. Man is curious: will she go for price or comfort? She glances at him the way a fly momentarily alights on a surface before darting off. Man would love to talk to her, to learn about her hopes and dreams, to passionately lose himself in her. If they were in a bookstore he could confidently use his knowledge of literature as a pretext to strike up a conversation. But it is not easy with toilet paper; it does not lend itself very well to romance. Man feels a sudden surge of empowerment, however, when he glimpses a lurid flash of yellow from the corner of his eye (the cheese puffs sticking out of his basket).
Man: I have a picture of Jesus in my toilet. I’m not religious but I think it really helps.
Woman: Excuse me?
Man: I recommend this brand. It has a good wiping action. God only knows how I go through so much of the stuff.
Woman: Um, thanks.
Man: Have you ever read The Call of the World by Jack London? He died an alcoholic from a morphine overdose. Some think it was suicide. Others believe he accidentally took too much to relieve the agonizing pain of his uraemia.
Woman: (walking away) Excuse me…
Man is not surprised and also walks away. To the next aisle. Where he lingers awhile. Among the detergents and washing powders. There are certain tasks and chores that man hates doing. Washing clothes chief among them. Closely followed by cutting finger and toenails. Why do our nails keep growing while the rest of our body degenerates towards death, man wonders. Man feels upset, despondent, unwanted. Man heads with surefooted steps towards the alcohol section.
Man greets the bottles like they were dear old friends. Salaam brandy. Top of the morning to you wine. Shalom whiskey. What’s up apéritifs and digestifs? Long time no see balsams! I haven’t forgotten about you rum! You’re looking good today vermouth! Ah, there you are. Hello vodka, my love…
Man knows his limitations (price-wise). He knows his needs (volume-wise). He scans the brands, peruses the prices. He affectionately grabs a locally produced bottle around its voluptuous waist and lays it in the basket. His basket is full. His provisions are in. Man goes to pay.
The checkout is deserted. Man recognizes the cashier. She has not worked there long. At first she was painfully slow but she is a quick learner. Man admires her handiwork as she nimbly grabs and scans the items. She summons vegetable codes from memory, beep, swiftly types in numbers from codes too crinkled to read, beep. Man feels sorry for her. She is the last point of human contact in a conveyor belt that stretches all around the world to distant fields, factories and workshops. She barely says a word beyond the prescribed pleasantries she is instructed to say. She looks shy, downcast, unloved. Man is no oil painting but he feels indignant on her behalf. As she distinguishes the correct variety of tuber with the help of a handy catalogue, man fantasizes about what life might be like with her. Man acts out some lightning-fast scenarios while she needlessly puts the caviar in a separate plastic bag. He quickly concludes that it would be an agonizingly melancholy affair, lifted from the pages of a 19th-century Russian novel, in which he ends up exiled to Siberia and she ends up in a lunatic asylum.
That will be 24.73 please. Cash or card?
Thank you. Have a nice day.
Man takes the bags. Equitably distributes the weight between his left and right hand. Firmly grips the handles. Smiles all wrong at the cashier. Turns to leave. Walks away. Into the nebulous day. He hurries home with a strangely ambivalent feeling in the pit of his stomach. Part of him feels like a proud hunter, pheasant draped over his shoulder, panting dog by his side. Part of him feels like he just got raped without being physically violated. Man emits a smoky sigh like the plume billowing out of the chimney stack of the power plant on Savanorių Prospect. Then man breaks into a passerine whistle.