The women stay behind the counter. They sit, stand talk amongst themselves... it's a relaxed atmosphere back there. There are smiles, probably small jokes. I'm not sure, since I'm not actually back there. I can see them though, watching us, trying to keep track of all of us. If any of us seems to become too lost then one of them comes out from behind that counter and renders us aid. They come out singly, never a pair and never all three at once, give us whatever help we need, then return to the other women behind the counter where they go right back to smiling and quietly laughing.
I try to hear their conversation, suspicious that we are the reason for the laughter, that we are the butt of the jokes, but I can't get close enough. Whenever I try, I'm spotted almost immediately and one of the women asks if she can help me. I don't require any aid, though, and I don't know what to say to this, so I do what I always do and say "No, no, I'm good. Thank you." and move on.
I move on to see the people in front of the counter. There are more of us, and the atmosphere is very different from the one surrounding women behind the counter. Out here there is panic. Out here there is desperation. Out here there are only men. Men with grasping hands, men with the wide open eyes of horses in full panic.. As I watch, one man picks up a box off the shelf, hefts it and puts it back. He hefts another item, a thoughtful expression flickering across his face, momentarily supplanting the panicked look, but it doesn't last. The panic slides back across his face like a Halloween mask being dropped into place. It's the exact same expression on every face I can see. Every face but the three behind the counter, the only three women in the shop.
As I watch, the man returns the second item to the shelf and picks up the first one again. All about the place I see men doing the same thing - hefting and returning things, then coming back to the same things in a kind of frightened daze. I realize that there's no doubt about it.
The women, all finished with their shopping, and probably their wrapping, are laughing at us as we stupid men try to get all our shopping in on Christmas Eve.
Will we never learn?
Talk to you later!