It is the second last shopping day before Christmas; the day before Christmas Eve. In a cheap shop which people are walking out of with piles of cheap wrapping paper and novelty, Santa-adorned boxes, a young boy is visibly upset. His mother, burdened with department stores bags and a haggard face, is sheparding him through cramped aisles.
“You’re not getting it,” she yells at him, as they boy walks around and stamps on the spot, not able to express his immense frustration at this joyous time of the year.
“You’ve got enough stuff already. You don’t need anything new.”
In the mall at large, the escalators transport a constant line of consumers. Sunglasses perched on the tops of heads, hands holding bags, they crane their necks, looking at shops they’re being mechanically moved past. Have I remembered all the presents? Would I find something for Richard down there?
On the floor it is a matter of the quick and the dead. The quick are in and out, weaving around, ducking past the slow; they are narrowly missing gaps between poles and trolleys. They smile as they move with their head: they feel ever so efficient, pleased with themselves.
In front of me in a line for an ATM that snakes along, two young women – 18? 19? 20? – are discussing their upcoming party. “Last time I was at your house,” one was saying, “I don’t think we bothered with shot glasses. We were just drinking straight from the bottle!”
“You know why that is? Because I don’t have any shot glasses.”
“Well, we’d better get some, hadn’t we?”
They both look at each other, laughing.
In the newsagent’s, they are wearing elf hats. Excited regulars come in brandishing lotto tickets, their expressions giving away their secret hope of a life-changing Christmas windfall. Behind the counter they are sick of it and just want to get to the end of their shift.
Looking at frying pans, two middle aged women are pondering presents. “What about this for Brenda?” They puzzle over the handle, the non-stick surface and finally the price tag.
“We’ll find something better somewhere else.”
In the car park, tinny, worn-out speakers are belting out jazzified versions of Christmas classics. If the desired effect is to impart Christmas cheer, it isn’t working. Profanities greet the ears of unsuspecting young children like lumps of coal thrown down the chimney.
One family, lead by a frustrated mother, has found a spot and is heading in to see Santa. The youngest, a girl, is excited. The eldest, a boy, couldn’t give a rats.
“He isn’t even the real Santa,” the older brother is saying.
“Shut up. Don’t ruin Christmas,” the mother tells him.
Back inside, Santa is looking hot and tired behind his beard. His eyes are working to remain open for outrageous gift requests – a pony anyone? – and for countless photos. Each flash half blinds him, his eyes stuck open.
Perhaps Santa is frustrated, stuck here in a spending palace, as the big day is only two sleeps away.