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Con-temporary Love In A Supermarket

By: Ethan Soh

Imagine yourself standing at the entrance of a supermarket: move your head to your left and right, and you notice that you are not alone- you are accompanied by a combination of strangers and close friends. Everyone has a shopping basket on their hands, and all of you are only allowed to carry not more than one item from the shopping mart. You have to walk through the checkout counter and never return.


The automatic door opens. You see one person dashes hurriedly into the wondrous assemblage of goods. He just takes the first thing he sees within his reaching distance and rushes towards one of the counters without a second thought, as though it is all love at first sight. It is a moment or two before you notice another young woman, who stood next to you earlier, trying very hard to grab a pack of flour on the upper shelves, on her tiptoes. She seems unable to resist the knee-jerk revulsion over wanting something she understands she cannot reach. You continue cruising with your empty shopping carrier and you never figure out if she succeeds eventually.


Most of the people, including yourself, begin to become convinced that they do not really know what they desire or need, and yet still cannot bear the thought of leaving the place empty-handed or worse, with an unfavourable good. Walking down the aisles, a few people give up looking for what they want. They have decided to snatch whatever they see offhand, open and try them, and subsequently throw them aside upon finishing. Some of them even vacate the place after trials, without any purchase. However, there were also several despondent strangers who were wandering aimlessly earlier, attempt to try out a few food samples, and make up their minds with the serendipitous items they have found.


In the meantime, there are two men bickering over a loaf of bread like two hungry vultures. And it is less than a fragment of time when everyone around them pauses and witnesses the intricate tangle of love. Everyone takes a sharp breath as the loaf of bread just breaks into half after multiple vigorous yanks. Needless to say, the two men walk away to continue roaming after the chaotic episode as though nothing happened.


There is something quaint yet realistically cold about the way people shopping around- how their faces beam as they have found whatever they are initially looking for, or how some of them hog or dispossess the items despite knowing that another person’s needs succeed theirs. Or how some people overestimate their lukewarm love towards their most favourite items. Some of them might think they needed a box of chocolate but you find them looked happier as they chance upon a pair of slippers. And it makes you wonder how many do not get the ones they want, but end up with the one they’re supposed to have. Or, how, little by little, most of them collected tens of different items in their baskets. In the end they seem unable to make up their mind down to one item to walk towards the counter.


There are also several people who know exactly what they want, say a jar of Nutella, but they have decided to take a detour, in case they find something else they prefer more. But they make their way back only to find all of the Nutellas are sold out. They have to experience the singular agony of watching the thing he loves being taken away by another person.


Out of your peripheral vision, you notice a teenage girl who loves eggs, is sitting on the floor crying, like a kid who just dropped her popsicle. She feels disappointed as she cracks the eggs every time her hands wrapped tight around the eggs, as though they are her stuffed toys. People around her age do not seem to understand love is like eggs- the tighter you hold them, the easier for them to break. At the same time, you realise girls and women cry more often and easily here, as if they have missed their “love window”- they think they are supposed to figure out what they really want somewhere between 22 and 26, and now it is too late.


Now, you are still walking with an empty shopping basket. Some of your friends have either found what they wanted or decided to walk out from here empty-handed. After a first moment of reluctance, you feel there is still a sense of hope for yourself. You walk towards the frozen food aisle and you take out two packets of frozen sausages. They are the same sausages, but one is with fancier packaging than the other one. But apparently nobody is getting the less fancier one. An old lady, who nods hello at you earlier, quietly and slowly makes her way towards you. In a monotone, she said, “You’re too picky.” Even though all evidence is to the contrary, you wonder if she might be right and you begin to question if there is something off about yourself. There seems to be no mathematical formula for finding the right one here.


Making your way with heavy feet and a heavy heart towards the check-out counters, you crash into total silence when you tilt you head back to take a look at the place. It has now turned into a giant mess all over the place as there are too many items casted in a disarray. You happen to pick up one of them and you found something you have not seen before, or something you used to not know of its existence. You take a closer look at it, like a blind person feeling someone’s face for the first time. It is now the only thing that is taking up most space in your field of vision. The moment when you know you have to take this home to try it out.


While queueing, all of you are once again reminded that none of you are allowed to come back again after purchase and hence it’s advisable to think this through. Not long later, there are a few people remove their hands from their items and decided to go back to find again. Yet surprisingly, there are still dozens of people who nod their heads upon reminding, and agree that this has been their intention.


After making the payment, you happen to bump into the first man who just grabbed the first thing he saw earlier. He is now taking his receipt and trying to ask for a refund in full as he realises he is unsatisfied with his item. You walk past him, with the least judgments and most sympathies, together with the rest of the customers and head home.


Perhaps it is no coincidence the word ‘contemporary’ consists of the two words- con and temporary.BW


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Born in Segamat, Malaysia and pursued studies in Singapore for more than five years. Being raised in a Chinese speaking family and environment, it did not halt my curiosity and eternal passion towards English, especially words. I could still remember the first time I started loving words and decided to start writing, hopefully for life. It was when I found out my crush loved words and I knew I had to get my hands on every single book I could ever find and read every single one of them , and write my feelings out as much as possible. So that somehow, somewhat we would feel.. closer. And then the addiction could not stop.


Most people laughed when I told them I wanted to write about love. They were thinking cheesy novels about how a boy falls in love with a girl and then a werewolf comes out and steals the girl. What I like and find myself comfortable writing with is the feelings about love;- the longing for love, the different metaphors for love etc. and hence it occurred to me that I should write something metaphorical about love, like “Contemporary Love In a Supermarket”.


You can and should follow me on Instagram @ilovemonstaaa


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