Tesco

There’s a delicious sense of detachment to be enjoyed sitting in a warm car in traffic in the snow. Wipers wend their way back and forth. The blood red lights of the car in front blur and clear and blur again, and I feel mesmerised, reluctant to watch anything else.

On the pavement, people pick their way delicately through the slush. Mouths open and close in conversation but all I see is their expression. A more pure form of communication is this, devoid of the confusion of spoken language. I know what they’re saying even though I can’t hear them. I watch them as one might watch a television documentary with the sound turned off. My focus is drawn to their eyes, and their mouths. The unintentional pleading. The unspoken scorn. The irritation.  Occasional enthusiasm. Occasional distracted attention to half attended sentences that may as well remain unsaid.

I see all these people living their different lives apart from mine. And I see them seeing me living mine apart from theirs. Except I know they don’t notice me. I watch anonymously. But I’m cocooned in a warm bubble. Steel and glass encapsulated anonymity. And the snow falls gently from the universal grey to melt on my windscreen. And the wipers quietly sing their hushed, snow falling sibilance. And the engine purrs as though it will continue to purr for eternity.

How is my life different from that of these people walking past that I watch with such detachment? Why don’t I usually see them with such clarity? I love them. And I hate them. And I’m mystified by them. And I’m jealous of them. But most of all, I see them for what they really are, in a way that I usually can’t.

The traffic inches forward. I can’t see who’s in the car in front. Those behind present silhouettes. One is male and the other female. She turns to him, and then turns away again. He stares ahead.

Slowly through the sweeping snow, the blood red fluorescence of a Tesco sign emerges. The traffic moves more quickly as we approach and starts to carry me along. I have less time to watch the people walking past. I glimpse just small parts of their lives now and I guess the rest. They seem to be more like me. The gap in understanding reduces with my pace. The gap in comprehension and understanding increases.

Then the blockage is broken and I have to move faster to stay with the other cars. I have to look forwards. Can’t afford to look sideways. Can’t afford to consider those people anymore. Or to wonder about them. My attention is driven back to my most immediate concern, which is steering my car through this awful traffic.

And each person that I see now looks much as the other. All trudging through the slush, up the hill, with their bags of necessities. My world shrinks back to my cocoon and I see myself in them now. As part of a process that carries me, and all of them, along like flotsam on a river. But it was good, that small moment of clarity. Perhaps one day I’ll see that way again. Was it a state more alive, or nearer a state more like death?

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