She brandishes three bags already. Blue, red and white – almost like the French flag. And like a true patriot of the new country, the man-made marvel of six storeys of “all a girl could want”, she marches onward. But then it vibrates. She frees one hand from those plastic cuffs digging into her flesh and rummages for the cell phone. “BED & BATH 50% SALE. ONE DAY ONLY. SPOIL YOURSELF.” The orders are clear.
She catches the eye of an unknown soldier, just like her, with the phone clutched in one hand – a grenade that could go off any second. She nods encouragingly. Inspired by a sense of solidarity, the two set off in the direction of the megastore, never talking. Their feet find the path easily. Who could forget the endless drills? But it’s not always smooth sailing. Blue, red and white gets intercepted. A pink twelve inch heel instigates an inquiry. She watches as her comrade presses on without a backwards glance. She will have to face this one alone.
She enters the store courageously. The shoe gleams up on its pedestal. It’s not so much the shoe, but what it represents. Conquer the shoe and you stand for all it represents. Sophistication. Magical nights of meeting the perfect stranger in an unexpected place. Letting your wanderlust decide where you will go, when you’re free. You know, after all this is over. She grapples it and wrestles it down onto the cashier counter. “Size six please!” she cries, and wields her credit card.
She emerges from the store a victor. The onslaught of overhead announcements from a mechanical speaker can’t touch her now. She’s invincible. But when the adrenaline wears off she realises she needs supplies. A checkpoint emerges from the throng like an oasis. “Latte, please. Soya, decaf.” She bites her lip. “And one sugar.” She has to celebrate, after all. The young corporal behind the Starbucks counter sports a toothy smile as he asks her if she would like to up-size. He can’t be trusted…
She recoups at a small steel table with room for one. Her bags tower in front of her, as she adjusts her boots and examines her make-up. And then she hears it, the familiar siren of a small child crying. Lost. His mother nowhere in sight. He reaches out with his podgy arms but no one picks him up. She hobbles over to him, ignoring the blisters on her feet – a hero.
“There, there, darling. Don’t cry.” She squats next to him. “How about an ice cream?”
She scans the perimeter… a new strategy presents itself. “Let’s get you one of those race car trolleys,” she says.
The child frowns, but she pats his shoulder and smiles. He’ll learn soon enough.