(Mono no aware -which means “Literally “the pathos of things”, and also translated as “an empathy toward things”, or “a sensitivity to ephemera”, is a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence.”)
A supermarket is an enigma yet a place of simplicity. It holds all that we believe we need and ensnares us with goods imported from places we don’t care about. Counters are dedicated to the display of obscured disconnected flesh and headless carcasses marinated for our enjoyment. At the end of every aisle is another deal, another life-or-death bargain.
A supermarket is a plethora of things but not a place of refuge.
Maya walks between the aisles as a mother wrestles her erratic toddler.
The mother grabs him by the wrist while trying to push the trolley along. The baby in her trolley is screaming. She looks drained as if during the process of creating two new lives, all her blood has been transplanted into them.
“Noooooo! Mummy! I don’t want to! I said I don’t wanna!”
“You behave yourself. Right. Now. Or no more sweets.”
“I want a sweet nooooowwwwwwwww…”
The toddler doesn’t give up, he makes small fists and punches her leg like a small wave lapping at the dusted edges of a cliff. Her face crinkles over her despair and she pulls her child roughly. Her face is red as her bloodshot eyes meet Maya’s.
Toddler tantrums are recognisable due to a variety of vocalisations such as shrieking, wailing, and general unhappiness. Yet despite the irrational appearance of the tantrum, these outbursts follow a rhythm. They have peaks and valleys which can dictate how adults should respond. Instead of anger and sadness being the two-part journey of a tantrum, toddlers may experience both of these emotions simultaneously. The research suggests parents should let tantrums run their course. They should do nothing.
Parents may be embarrassed by tantrums in public places yet it is encouraged that the parents focus on the child’s feelings not their own.
Maya keeps walking.
She reaches the sauce aisle. A middle-aged man, with navy desert boots, is standing alone; he fondles his chin as he stares at the shelf of spices. His basket is full of solitary ingredients including a tomato, an apple and a meal for one. He is wearing a navy blazer with a relaxed shirt and red neck scarf. He is wearing his boots with no socks. He glances at her and she tightens her grip on her brown coat buttons. Maya fingers the shelves of curry sauces, browsing the selection. She takes one sauce down, inspects it and puts it back. This is a repeated endeavour which holds no promise.
Her stomach turns with every imagined smell of the sauces as she picks each one up. She grabs the most unoffending sauce she can think of which is a Korma, even though the idea of its creamy taste isn’t appealing. None of the other options do her stomach any more favours.
Maya heads to grab some milk, the second last thing on the shopping list which is wet from her clammy hands. The fishmonger counter spreads its smell like fog through the surrounding chilled aisles. A selection of meat is neatly arranged in rows according to colour and type; rows of red, white and grey.
A strong smell of salmon and cod floods her nostrils, she gags. Everyone flows around her, most with heads held high despite the smell which only cripples her. She pulls herself back to the aisles before, creating an imaginary quarantine zone for the fish which means that she will have to get milk and chicken elsewhere, probably on a different day.
Without thinking, the smell of cheese drifts into her perimeter. She gags again.
She walks back towards bath and hygiene, passing a display of rotisserie chicken.
She stops. She turns her head slowly.
The chicken is headless, and skewered through yet is dancing in circles repeatedly. Its body is no longer its own and is displayed like a prize hunt but was really killed by those who raised it, probably in a slightly more humane fashion. She can’t smell the chicken but it still churns her stomach. Maya hasn’t been a vegetarian since a brief fling with the lifestyle as a 13 year old, yet seeing the chicken almost pole dance in its skinless form is disconcerting. It’s a similar feeling as when you first see a whole fish on a dinner plate, eyes and all.
The butcher’s counter is right next to it but is less grave in comparison. Unlike a traditional butchers which sometimes show the hanging dissected pig bodies with their purple veins showing, the counter just has the meat highlights – a few pink gammon steaks, lamb chops, and beef roasting joints lying in the ice. The blood seeps slightly but it’s only noticeable extremely close to the counter.
She keeps walking and she passes the other mutilated corpses. She passes the cut-out of a laughing cartoon cow.
“We are no longer just animals. And the kingdom of nature does not reign absolute. … Thus the ‘natural’ is not necessarily a ‘human’ value. Humanity has begun to transcend Nature: we can no longer justify the maintenance of a discriminatory sex class system on grounds of its origins in nature.” – Shulamith Firestone
In the bath, and hygiene aisle, she stares at the pregnancy tests. A variety of colours but all seem to be light blues, light pinks, and in general, pastel-colours. Some of them feature a white woman with a smiling perfect face as she holds up the test that she probably has just peed on. Maya is not that woman. She lifts up one of the cheaper ones. £4. There’s only one test inside and the image doesn’t inspire confidence in the product; it looks like a piece of Styrofoam has been forced into a white plastic pen shell.
She puts it back and sighs. She picks up a two-pack at a decent value price and throws it in the basket. It sinks into the other miscellaneous items which occupy the basket. Unbuttoning her jacket, she doesn’t see the alien bursting through her clothing as she expects. The parasite has not yet sucked her life dry.
During the 9 months of pregnancy, a woman’s body changes drastically. Not only does this new lifeform dictate her dietary requirements but also her life. The expansion of the womb pushes the intestines, stomach and anything in the way up into the ribcage. It expands outside the normal diameter of the woman’s waistline. It moves inside of her; it can kick and punch thus transposing its form to the outside world in the same way a pin point impression toy does.
She observes another family doing their weekly shop as she holds her wine prop – she pretends to examine it yet watches the family intently.
“Ah are you laughing? Haha! What’s so funny?” The father pushes the trolley with his forearms, and pulls funny faces in order to elicit giggles from the blonde curly girl who is dressed all in pastel pink. Like a doll. The mother prances behind them, with a basket in hand and stiletto shoes pinging off the coated flooring. She is perfectly done up and her hair is long; too long to be around a toddler. Fake white tipped nails cause her to hold the basket awkwardly and her hair extension clips can be seen briefly through a thick wall of hair spray. Her lipstick doesn’t bleed out of its confines as she yaps happily beside the father.
Maya’s nose scrunches up causing slight ripples at the bridge of her nose and she focuses on her bottle of wine. Its red liquid sloshes in its confines. It’s £6 so she puts it in her basket.
She joins the queues of people at the checkouts. The checkout has a small magazine rack; on it is a mothering magazine with a cherub baby giggling on its cover. It features various pastel coloured headlines such as “Want to breastfeed? Master the secrets now!”, “Awakening your sensuality as a mother” and Maya’s favorite: “Is humour the key to conception?” She picks the magazine up and turns it around then put it back– the baby is now giggling at the black metal shelf.
the aisles of items hide those
caught between the shelves
death in the white light
angry faces cut hard deals
the server daydreams of life
choices upon choice
of no consequence, this place
is without balance
transactions are not final
the routine repeats daily
the child fights parent
hands stretching for the sugar
one today, why not
the butcher forces the blade
knives among the teacups
eyeballs are staring at food
from the iced counters
“Shit!” Maya whispers as urine bounces back from the pregnancy test and onto the toilet seat in front of her. She tries to count to 10 seconds, but her stream of urine doesn’t last that long despite the good volume of water she downed earlier. Yet that’s how long it says it should take in the information leaflet which is laying on the bathroom sink. The stick is poorly made and cheap but it’s the same as all the others available in that it will tell her if she’s pregnant. The idea of a positive causes Maya to breathe in quick deep breaths. Her hands shake as she holds the stick. The rasping noise of her breath echoes around her bathroom.
She pops the lid on the test and dabs any offending areas on the outside dry with toilet paper. The test stares up at her as the test converses with the urine in an effort to come to a decision. It takes three minutes the package states in eager white writing on the back of the pink box. She places it on the counter as she gets up to wash her hands.
The water is loud, deafening even. Maya watches the stick out of the corner of her eyes. She massages the soap into her skin carefully yet after a while her hands look red. She quickly washes the froth off and dries herself on the purple towels on the rack.
With a quick glance, she can see the red line which shows that the test is working. If that line doesn’t show, any result shown will be false. Maya lets out the breath that has been struggling against her chest. She grabs it off the counter and sinks to the ground. She covers the result screen with one hand and counts from 100 backwards. At 50, there are tears on her face. The bathroom mirror is out of reach and merely reflects the wall next to the scene.
“10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4…”
She reaches one and then unravels her hand.
The screen shows only one line – the result is negative.