02 November, 2013

A 50c Packet of Chips

Going to the shops here in Zim is like entering a battlefield.

You drive into the parking lot and join the other cars, circling like vultures, ready to swoop on any available space. There! You swerve and squeeze in quickly, avoiding eye-contact with the lady ahead of you who was scoping out that space too.

Ok, now, maybe if you keep your head down, don't look up, they won't see you, they'll leave you alone.
You peek up through the windshield. Dang it. Spotted.
Who are you kidding; they all made a missile-like beeline for your car the moment you pulled into your lucky space. They're hovering outside your window - no ways they'd pass up this opportunity to accost a white face and her supposedly bulging wallet. (Why do they assume you have money to waste on an umbrella fly-net, some windshield wipers and a pack of AA batteries??)
You take your time, hoping they'll go away - you undo your seat-belt, put the window up very slowly, pull up the handbrake, hide your bag of books under the seat, stick your handbag over your shoulder, check your face in the rear-view mirror...
Dang. They aren't going anywhere.
Ah well, here goes.
You open the door, armed with a smile and ready to make a dash through any available gaps. The security guard is the first to demand attention with a "yes, hello madame!"
You hate being called madame; you're not married and most of the time you're young enough to be the speaker's daughter or granddaughter. Or at least their peer.
You already have a line for the guard; "I'll just be five minutes, don't worry about watching my car." Translation: Don't bother with me, I'm not giving you a tip.
He skulks away. One down...
"Maid's uniforms, madame," a lady waves them in your face.
"Peaches and naartjiis, madame" a man thrusts a box of colourful fruit under your nose.
"No, thank you!" you shake your head to them both. The woman walks away with a humpph, making you feel bad for not buying something from her that you don't need, with money you don't have to spare. The man is more persistent and he trails you as you disengage yourself from the sea of cars.
"Good price, madame, cheap, cheap!"
"No, thank you."
You turn away, keep walking, keep smiling. Resist the urge to flee.
Another man approaches and pushes a laminated paper at you, grinning ever-so-sweetly. You groan inwardly.  On comes more guilt.
"Sorry, not today," you say to him. He gives you a thumbs-up and a disappointed nod.
You don't even look at the paper; you know what it says. Or the gist of what it says: that he's deaf, doesn't have a job, has been officially certified not to work, needs some help to get a small business going ...etc etc. That man, or his prototype, has been around for years. You remember him from when you were in high school and came shopping here with your mum.

You're almost at the shop entrance! Almost free...
"One dollar please, madame."
Ah...the biggest arrow of guilt. A little boy looks up at you with big, sad eyes (you wonder if they practice that sad look in the mirror) and his hands out.
"No, my boy," you say.
"Hungry, madame."
You tell yourself its ok not to give him something - who knows what he'll spend the money on, he could be buying glue to sniff. Or maybe someone takes the money from him and he doesn't get any of it himself. It happens - older street-kid bullies, or family members. Still, you feel heavy with guilt as you finally duck into the store, sheltered for a moment from the onslaught of people in need.

You buy your 70c gum and a 50c packet of chips.
The little boy is hanging on the trolleys outside as you come out.
"Want some chips?" you say and hand him the packet. He grins like gold and claps his hands in thanks. Instead of the relief, you feel more guilt. All it took was a stupid, little packet of chips make him so happy.

You stride quickly to your car, keys at the ready (the security guard is nowhere in sight), hoping for a quick getaway. A man with packets of unshelled-peanuts and some oranges jumps into your path.
"Peanuts, M - "
"No, thank you!" you cut him off, crisp and cool.
Enough! Enough of the guilt!
You think about the little boy and his 50c packet of chips. You dive into the car and take a deep breath.
Gosh, what a dumb world.


  1. You are a good writer, Rachel.....this post reminds me of when I was in Mexico City.

  2. A beautiful, sensitive, and sad snapshot, Rachel. Thanks!

  3. This all explains John 11:35 - believe it or don't (as Garfield would say!)

  4. Thanks Aunty Stacie, Kate. I think it's a snapshot that can be found the world over; the faces and situations are only slightly different.
    It does indeed, Dad.


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