Hunters and Gatherers


A view of all the signs of abundance emerged beyond the automatic glass double doors. I would like to be able to describe it to you but ... a state of calm, perfectly fine... a desire for mystery... rest... work which is play... I felt... I know, few believe the term emotion these days, but I do not know what else to call it. The ribbon was white. When I cut through it, it fell onto the pavement in waves.

I remember there was applause. Shouts.

I set off down the aisle to loud applause as the first ever customer. The automatic lights came on and the space in front of me gleamed. My assistant followed me with the second trolley, the other officials from the management came after him, and then the first real customers. They let them in group by group at the entrance, but even then crowds rushed inside. I was on edge; how they would react? I was just looking at a pile of pomegranates lit by moving lights when the music suddenly came on.

I stood rooted to the spot. I had completely forgotten about the background music. I will probably never be able to describe exactly what I suddenly felt then. Primal musical images in our unconscious. Symbols which endure regardless of the generation, live continually and fill the primitive layers of our psyche. A stream of irrational thoughts flowed through my mind for a moment. I saw the image of my brother’s death. I imagined cutting my nails. I felt pain like when I once broke my leg as a child again. I got an erection for a second. I saw the image of her face, a face I had forbidden myself from thinking about. I saw shadowy figures, synesthetic images. The school I went to. Rotating circular structures. I thought about the birth of death. I imagined what my father might have looked like. Then a wonderful, previously unknown calm washed over me.

I managed to remember that I had given the creative task of the background music to a group of psychoanalysts from MIT, previously known for their work on the so-called brain opera. ( ) They had created something incomparably better than just playing the ideal shopping adagio with 60 beats per minute, which means a 38.2 percent growth in takings compared to allegro (108 beats).

I felt an irresistible urge to buy a kilo of pomegranates. I put them into the trolley and walked on among the shelves. I felt the rumbling, but not loud repetitive rhythm directly in my body.

I remember that I laughed out loud. I chose a large pack of tamarinds. I did not know what to choose first in Fruit. I grabbed a two-kilo pack of oranges and three-kilo bag of reduced mandarins. I felt happy. ... The shop’s layout urged me on.

I stopped right at the beginning of the fridges, where the cheeses are, and every sort from every single country that produces it. It surprised me how many customers were already there. They quickly put large, much better value family packs into their trolleys. Soft, hard, cream cheeses. Mozzarella. Gouda. Fifty-two types of Emmenthal. Processed cheese, cheese spreads. I chose at least one of every type.

Then I arrived at an external bend in the aisle. I turned my head. I saw some Finnish chips. I did not hesitate for a second. They did not seem particularly appealing, but then I saw the price. I reached straight for them. They were a bargain!

I did not hesitate at the deep frozen goods. The best quality meat. American style pizza. Frozen mixed salads. There was no hurry. Think carefully what else to buy. Chicken. Turkey. Pork cutlets just in case. Then I froze. I realised I did not have enough money on me. I had even left my gold credit papers at the hotel!

I got a fright. I would miss out on some of the bargains! It occurred to me that I could smuggle them into the stockroom and collect them later. It did not matter at the end of the day. Somewhere inside I felt very pleased with myself and nothing else seemed important. I followed the advertising boards, using them to find more goods. After a long silence, I overheard cries. People were obviously entranced. They screamed. Perhaps they understood that there was a deeper symbolic content behind the mall’s design. I had tried to communicate a new message through it in a language which can only be understood in a specific frame of mind and takes into account where we have come from, where we are now and where we are heading.

I saw shoppers crying tears of happiness. They realised hat they could find their hearts’ desire in this mall, and they quite simply had to buy the goods on display. ...

Sixty beats. Yes, exactly sixty. The rhythm. Speeded up then slowed down again. More minced meat. Go back. I forgot the lettuce! There is time. I calmly went back to Fruit and Vegetables and saw that the shop was already completely full of shoppers. I realised that they could sell out of goods located further from the entrance in the meantime! I threw off my coat, ran to the lettuce without my trolley, grabbed two in each hand and threw them among the other groceries. I forged on.

The wheels squeaked on the floor tiles. I crashed because a trolley was blocking the aisle. I pushed it away and hurried on. I saw a sales assistant lying on the floor. She did not move. A trail of blood appeared from her nose. I froze. Someone screamed in the next aisle. Hysteria was taking over the shop.

I remember that I tried to formulate my position in my mind, I wanted to do something fundamental. Until then I had thought that the well-known saying “we do not buy shopping, shopping buys us” was a sick concoction from a marketing structuralist, who agencies offer you hundreds of and you can’t get rid of until you give money for gifts to children. Now I was starting to believe it. I was just pleased to realise that I, as the designer of all the aisles, knew all the ways the customer could interpret them, and I had thought up the mall’s commercial code myself, so there was no danger... I overheard a piercing scream. I pulled myself together. I jumped over the sales assistant’s body, dodged it with my trolley and ran on.

Obviously all the customers had speeded up already. They blurred into a rainbow background before my eyes. Many had probably managed to catch me up! I went berserk. Hit the roof. I speeded up. Shelves of unbelievably quality and cheap goods shimmered around me, and I suddenly did not know what to do first. Move on, or quickly shop here and continue later? I was bewildered.

I stopped for a moment to take a closer look at the price tags, but then the customers who were running behind me started to overtake me. I hadn’t counted on that. The desire to get the goods before others bought them forced me to act immediately. I broke into a mad run, reached the nearest shelf and pulled it. Dozens of types of European mayonnaise tumbled onto the floor with a clatter. Someone fell over and swore. I didn’t care, I ran on. The rhythm of the music fell in time with my steps. I got to the hangar with young fashions, and although I did not much like the gaudy jackets and sweaters, it would have been a shame not to buy them at that price. My trolley was already full.

Then I noticed that some customers were starting to rip the clothes off the dummies.

The sales assistants did not know what to do, no-one listened to their rebukes. ... An assistant called the police on his radio. Someone punched him in the face. The radio fell to the floor. It hissed.

Products I hadn’t even had a clue existed until recently now seemed absolutely essential to smooth running of the household. I had the impression that I had thought a lot of the goods in the basket were useless rubbish only the day before, but today I had recognised their real value, and I yearned for the feeling that I owned them. I understood that the famous American economist with a Dutch name, who I had regarded as a charlatan, was right when he said: from people’s behaviour in shopping malls it is clear that at the core we have remained hunters and gatherers.

The shoppers had already literally cleaned out the shop. It occurred to me that they would have to place more orders. I saw policemen at the checkouts. They were arresting people who wanted to steal goods they did not have enough money left to buy. When the others saw this, they went back into the monstrous bowels of the mall because they could not give up their loaded up goods. The policemen walked along the checkouts and went inside. I watched them. It took a fraction of a second for their sensory receptors to take in the rhythm, lights, scents and other details of the mall’s design. I let out a sigh. There was no danger from the police. I could carry on shopping. ( )

Everything went dark. I lost my balance. I tensed. I remember that at the moment when I threw up the contents of my stomach and tears filled my eyes, in the back of my mind I realised that things were happening in the mall, which were overwhelming me.

The supermarket was a success. A real success! But that was nowhere near the main thing. I knew more now. This time I would not spend the average 38 to 43 minutes in the store. I guessed that I would pay more than just the average 2 dollars a minute for every minute longer I stayed. ( )

Despite the cramp in my stomach, I weaved my way through the throng of shoppers in the aisles and threw more goods into my already overfull trolley. Active daily moisturiser with cocoa butter with a free foot antiperspirant spray. A box of reduced-to-clear perfumes. Quick. Think. What else? Motor oil. A helicopter building set. An umbrella with a self-closing cover. Cut-price briquettes.

I can not forget all the other things I have to get to indulge my courage, fulfil my childhood dreams, find real happiness, know moments of true family peace, enjoy life to the full, get drunk on freedom, reveal the most masculine part of me, and have something to remember.

I staggered down the aisles stooped over my trolley, because a lot of people were trying to steal my goods. I warded them off angrily and searched for more things. Underpants, because a modern man’s self-confidence begins with his underwear. Work overalls so I can show my partner that even this city man has not lost the skill of our fathers. A parachute because I am wild and free.

Then the shoppers started to move at lightening speed to the departments where there was still something left. I took a short cut around the restaurant to Clothes. I picked up a pneumatic drill and set of spare parts for a women’s bicycle on the way. ( )

The shoppers had already started to take the mall’s fittings. Someone was rolling up a small carpet near the changing rooms. Two mirrors had disappeared. I started to look around quickly for what I could take.

I suddenly saw Eileen among the pushing shoppers. She stood sideways on at the haberdashery counter. She had just zipped up a pastel dress. A black suit lay at her feet. I realised how young and beautiful she was. She looked wonderful, not too thin, not too fat, her blond hair looked more beautiful than the original! She had a smile on her lips, which brought back memories of the most beautiful times of my life. I quickly ran my eyes over the shelves. It only took a second to I find what I was looking for.

I reached up to the highest shelf. The fact that only XXLs were left did not stand in my way. I ripped the transparent plastic packaging. I threw off my white shirt, which was drenched with sweat, and put on a thicker one made of checked flannel. I rolled up the sleeves. Eileen stepped up towards me, she had a smile on her lips. And I smiled at her, put my arms around her waist and whispered in her ear. A lost boy holding a teddy bear wandered over towards us. He calmed down when he saw us and smiled at us shyly. Eileen and I each took one of his hands. I smoothed down his messy blond hair and we ran over to Toys together.

Translated by Sharon Miklošová