“We haven’t been to the  new shopping centre,” Betty said during breakfast while dipping her strips of toast into the soft boiled egg. From time to time she looked at the catalogue, lying on the table beside her plate, advertising the grand opening of the extension of the shopping centre.

Jack was not particularly interested and tried to correct her.

“It is not a new shopping centre, only the old one done up a bit,” he corrected her.

“You said we would go and have a look,” Betty said and turned over a page of the catalogue not even looking at Jack.

“I said if he have some spare time,” Jack said.

“What’s wrong with today? We have nothing else to do. Betty asked.

“I have to think about it,” said Jack as he emptied his cup of coffee and started to gather the dishes so he could clear the table. He hated it that Betty came up with new ideas always when he wanted to relax and take it easy.

“All right, you do the dishes and I have a shower,” she told him and left him to do the chores.

“Why is it, that I always get the wrong end of the stick?” he asked himself and did as he was told. He was amazed. that two people could create so many dirty dishes. The common joke was, that they were thinking some other people must be living with them in the house or that the maid had taken the day off when so much house work had to be done.

Betty, while under the hot, relaxing shower, was musing that it was not that difficult to motivate Jack. He was putty in her hands and that thought made her smile.

It did not really take long to get ready and soon they were on their way. They had not been out that way for a while and they were amazed how much  progress, if you could call it that, the former sleepy village had made. Jack used to call it the ‘the forgotten village’ because it was off the highway. Former cow paddocks had been turned into a shopping paradise that had grown, over the years, out of all proportion.

When they turned into the road to the former car park they got their first surprise. There wasn’t any car park. Instead a large complex consisting of multi story parking facilities and grandiose shopping centre entrances rose from the street level.  Soon they were swallowed up by the parking house.

“It looks so different,” Betty said.

“You can say this again.” Jack agreed and said, “look, they have built such a big park house and still one can’t find a spot.” Indeed all the convenient spots were taken. The old adage of the developers “We will build it and they will come!” seems to have become true  again.

“Look,” Betty shouted, “you just passed a spot. It is always the same with you. Your reaction time is not very good any more. God help us in a dangerous situation.”

“Ah, stop winging, I’m looking – ah, there –  someone has enough  of this place and is leaving already.”

Jack parked the car and got out.

“Where are we?” Betty asked.

“I don’t know, but  we are on level 2C, take note of this. But where is the entrance to the blasted shopping centre?” They turned around and saw some lights in the distance, but no sign pointing towards the shops.

“Jack, lets walk out where we came in. This leads us to the main entrance.”

Jack agreed to that and they started to walk. Having sat in the car for a while had made all their limbs stiff. Their legs were aching and they had trouble keeping their balance. They were wobbling along and  felt like fish out of water.

“Why do they keep changing things?” Jack asked.

“To annoy us, I suppose,” Betty answered. “I want to be out in the sun. I’m cold,” Betty said with a sigh. She was exhausted from the effort of getting out of  the car.

They reached the outside and took a deep breath before they walked slowly up the incline. Then they had to walk up a set of steps. They could see some activity up there and got a kick out of that. They wanted to sit down and have a refreshment and when they saw a café Betty said, “I have a cup of tea here – look at the view!”

Jack did not look but tried to find a table on the outside. It was a beautiful mild autumn morning and the sun did her best to warm their old and tired bones. 

The view was indeed beautiful. They could see across the sparkling water of Lake Illawarra with the escarpment in the background and a blue sky above it.

Betty was sitting and wouldn’t budge.

You go in and order, Darling,” she said. Jack sighed and limbed inside. His knee was particularly bad this morning. Always was in shopping centres. Immobility struck him as a rather nasty inconvenience as a former runner.

A long queue was awaiting him. All was new and people wanted to try out this enticing place that smelled of coffee and chocolate. The young waitresses were busy delivering the delectable food and drinks to the tables. While he was waiting, a young man was handing out samples of the delicious, handmade chocolates they were selling in the shop.

Slowly the queue worked it’s way to the front and as he came closer he could see the prices on the wall. “Oh, boy,” he thought, “they know how to hurt you for that momentary pleasure of the taste buds.”

When it was his turn he ordered the tea for Betty and Italian Dark Chocolate for himself. The price was outrages, but what the heck, one only lives once. He limbed outside and found Betty turned towards the sun and soaking up  all the warmth she could get.

Jack looked around and saw, as usual, young people, with a sprincle of mature women, everywhere. They, Betty and Jack, were as usually the oldest for miles around. 

But they were not bothered by this. What bothered them more was the waiting. Soon they became grumpy.

What are they doing?” Betty asked, “still picking the tea in Ceylon?”

You should have seen the crowd inside, its mayhem in there.” Jack said.

I need some water,” Betty said and got up and walked into the premisses.

When she came out after a while she was was announcing that they would bring out a bottle of water.

One could die of dehydration waiting for a drink,” Jack murmured. The water came long before their hot drinks. There was a coming and going all around. After about thirty minutes waiting, the hot drinks arrived.

I believed they had forgotten us,” Betty said, “This better be good!”

It is good,” Jack said, after he took the first sip of his cocoa, “well worth the waiting!” He held the pear shaped, warm cup with both hands and lifted the spout to his lips again. “Ah, this is good!”

I like my tea too,” Betty chimed in.

You like everything they dish out to you,” Jack said with a frown. For a while they were quiet, enjoying their drinks. They often felt life had to be endured for some moments of pleasure and this was such a moment. This moment was created by the cooperation of so many people around the world.

We really live like the Roman Emporer,” Jack mused, “we get everything we want…”

…yes, from Ceylon and South-America.” Betty completed the sentence.

The slaves have been busy everywhere to get the stuff over the oceans, just for us.” Jack finished the thought. 

When they finished their drinks they decided it was time to do a bit of shopping. Jack wanted to see an optometrist and order a new pair of reading glasses. He kept losing them and it costs him quite a package to replace them. This time he wanted the cheapest one.

In the new part of the shopping centre all looked so unfamiliar and they could not see what they were looking for. They felt they were swimming in a sea of people. Sometimes they were in the same stream and sometimes going against it.

Even in the old part all looked different. Some parts were closed off and the familiar shops gone. Betty and Jack were quickly disoriented and anxiety took hold of them.

If I can’t sit down soon, I’ll collapse,” Betty said.

Sorry, I’ll have to find out were we are and were we have to go to,” Jack said. They approached one of those modern touch-screen directories. When they tried to find the category “Optometrist” it would not show up. When asked for the name of the shop they did not know.

A great help they are,” Jack complained.

You will have to find a service desk,” Betty said, “ they’ll will know.

They stumbled further and finally found an attended service desk. The young women behind the desk were busy answering the queries of the people. When Jack reached the desk he was asked,

How can I help?”

We are looking for a shop and can’t find it,” Jack said exasperated.”

What is its name?”

I don’t know, I forgot.”

Alright,” the woman said with a frown, “what do they sell?”

Sorry, glasses, we are looking for an optometrist.”

The woman named a few and Jack shook his head till she finally said the name.

That’s the one! How will we find it?”

They got their instruction but still had trouble finding the way because the old part of the centre looked like a building site.

All the walking made them tired again. They had not been walking for long, but their self awareness had nothing to do with the limited reality we experience through our senses. For them it seemed hours since they had left the café. Betty especially yearned to sit down.

I need to sit down,” she said. “I can’t breathe in here. It’s the air-condition.”

We are nearly there,” Jack tried to encourage her. And they were. It did not take long to hand in the prescription.

Lets go home, Jack,’ Betty asked and Jack agreed and took her hand and slowly they waddled the long way back to the car park. The original idea of going shopping was forgotten.

Let’s grab some cake and have a cup of coffee at home,” Jack suggested.

Oh, yes – we’ll do this,” Betty chipped in and the thought, that their ordeal was  over soon, made them happy and they were able to walk a bit faster.


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