Unrecognisable odours waft through the air, dirty dishes are gathered up by the armful. A steep, narrow pair of escalators moves ceaselessly, people with grim faces standing single file, not looking or heeding the continuous, restless movement all around them. Swirls of sticky noodles spill from bowls, birds roasted and plucked of the last vestiges of life are left to hang upside down in disgrace to appease the appetites of men voracious in more ways than one, envious eyes peep into shopfronts where mannequins with absurdly perfect bodies wear the most splendid gowns and life-size pictures of slender, innocently seductive East European girls with blonde hair stare unseeing with blue eyes, plucking at scraps of lace and trailing ribbons. Women clutch their purses and walk quickly by, hoping not to be entranced by the prospect of yet another mid-season sale. It is still recession season, they remind themselves. Young couples wander the aisles, fingers intertwined, oblivious of the existence of the rest of the world- though, of course, she is wakeful enough to notice the pretty woman standing a little distance away, and makes sure he keeps his eyes carefully averted. There go the striding teenagers with their eyes fixed on their mobile phones and video games, the office-goers who walk in and out of trains and step on and off escalators, eyes affixed on their books, miraculously without accident.
Pamphlets are distributed, pushy saleswomen try hard to convince you that the items on sale are the very thing you’ve been saving up for, farthest though they might have been from your mind. Clever packaging, smart ideas to empty your purses- more often than not, you are gullible. You fall prey to the meticulously placed smile on the salesgirl’s face, a plastic smile flashed at every prospective customer, manicured fingers handling your packages.
She sells because she is paid to do so. We buy because we take pride in our possessions and don’t know what to do with our money. We care nothing for the person beside us who can hardly afford to pay his rent, and struggles to make ends meet. We walk by the Swarovski showroom, a mask of boredom put on appropriately to avoid the eyes of the customer assistant who is waiting to pounce upon us and seems to gloat when he realises that we are, in fact, indulging in that incomprehensible habit of ‘window-shopping’ and thinking how the price of one of those marvellous pieces of crystal could pay for an entire year of groceries. Never mind that the salesperson himself earns just enough to get by. We’re all living out a farce. We’re letting pride rule and take the place of discretion. We’re allowing designer labels fool us. Made by our own hands, marketed elsewhere, filling up the coffers of an unknown entity smiling down at the insane drama playing out, yet a part of it too. We are going around in circles.
Beneath all the glitz lurks the human being we’re trying hard to find. Perhaps, some distant day, when we grow tired of our constant buying and selling and bartering, and things begin to be treated as just things and nothing more important, we shall find a way out of the labyrinth.