• The Nearly Man


03/06/2002: 04:16am: Cold out: mild northwest wind, clear skies.

Well... again I am talking to myself, with only a small section of my brain able to compute my thoughts at this impious hour. The rest cleverly left hours ago, decently removing itself from view, tucked up in some far away corner awaiting the return of sense and reason. Good luck! It is indeed an ungodly hour! I'm stocking up on my TV tan and by that I mean my skin is slowly becoming more translucent and paler by the second. I'm starting to embody the spirit of a cool brooding vampire, secluded in his tomb, awaiting the sleep of the sun, though in truth I more accurately resemble one of those deep sea creatures found fathoms down in underwater caves; not unlike an anorexic spindly shrimp. I feel like I'm gradually reaching brainwashing territory observing the vulgarity of commerce through this toxic box. I've been here, inside, too long, like some kind of self made prisoner and it's turning me into a product-craving machine. I've casually looked out across to the adjacent shop, pondered my choices, rewarded my brain with precious joyful chemicals, only to then imagine the reality; me in my slacks and slippers, under the flickering glow of half broken strip lights, murmuring half felt pleasantries to the clerk whilst browsing the shelves for items that serve no purpose whatsoever, but to induce a chronic early onset of diabetes. This vision of ill health thwarts my urge to open my wallet and watch two moths fall lifelessly out. However, the craving is monstrous and before long, I find myself stood under the welcoming neon glow of flickering lights.

My madness stems from this; a lack of delicious bad food stuffs, boredom, loneliness, crap TV and my insignificances to it. I just don't know anymore. It's been difficult to focus on the minutes let alone the days that have passed since my arrival here. "How long has it been?" I ask myself. With the only rational answer being, "I really don't know; though I know it's been a while.” I spy the shop assistant’s new badge, as she looks on at me sympathetically as I look at her through tired vein-ridden peepers, thinking, “Please don’t ask me any questions today”. I’m in no mood to think straight let alone hold pointless tête-à-tête at this hour. So my mind drifts as her voice becomes a faint echo in the distance and I start to imagine her life, living it over and over again, watching her youthfulness wilt as she ages rapidly behind the counter into an old woman, whilst the days pass into night, the seasons change, and life rushes by the window, and all the while within these four yellow walls of this place I’ve amusingly called Russia, she sits there with a smile on her face. "You must want for more than this?" I utter unknowingly under my breath, followed by an uncomfortable wall of silence that lingered too long in my ear, until I was dragged back from my day dream by the words “Nearly? Nearly, what was that?” I drew back to the surface starring into the bewildered eyes of Cath as she gazed over the counter at me. I retorted “Do you have any more of these Cath?” smiling and holding up a 99p yogurt coated flapjack. All the while thinking, “She can’t have settled for this life... surely? Why would she?”, though I get the impression, this is all she wants to know. And I suppose there's a strange contentment and innocence in not knowing what's going on outside that door. It’s safer to be ignorant to the ugliness of it than to accept it. And sometimes I wish I had never seen its face, though it is too late for me now.

We spoke about politics, social economics, American foreign policy and many things beyond the boundary of the shop door as I ate my yogurt bar and she drank her tea. I noted the tuts of dislike as she read out the headlines from each morning paper whilst I wondered back to the flapjack box hoping that somehow I’d missed my favourite chocolate coated one accidentally, even though I had checked the box thoroughly several times. Like my gran did every morning at breakfast without prompt, Cath read each article out verbatim “Have you heard this.... disgraceful... would you believe this...?” forming no actual opinions for herself she waffled on as I set to a blueberry flapjack. The more time I spend with Cath the stronger my impression of her not knowing a thing about the world comes to be. Geopolitics, Government hoodwinks, conspiracy, 1984; these ideas are just X-Files episodes to her and not a reality of the modern age. Her intelligence comes from another quarter, another belief; ask about stock levels of toffee covered flapjacks, tins of soup, tea bags, chocolate treats and gummy sweets, and quicker than a bolt of lightning she'll riddle off how many are in left in stock, how many are out of date, even when the next shipment is due, right down to the exact minute of its arrival and the drivers name. Likewise, her in-depth knowledge of the local clientele is unsurpassed. Cath is marvelous in her own way, and I will miss her once I’m gone from here.

I'm most amused by her antics and every time I walk through the "Beep-Burp" the same shrill high pitched, dragged out through the nose drone "Helloooo, mooorning!" comes hurtling out of some unseen location within the shop, or more generally from the stock room at the back, which is no more than a wee cupboard filled to the brim. Then whilst you're coasting the shelves for snackable treats, she materialises into her rightful position behind the counter, like some kind of phantom that floats into being, fiddling with the till, busying herself with insignificant tasks, whilst she peers up at you with suspicious contempt. I play the game of isle hopping, just to see how many times, she'll subtly appear at the end of it, like some kind of hawk watching its prey, eager to one-day test out whether her under counter finger alarm actually works or not. So far I have escaped such perils, as I always seem to have enough cash to buy the fat inducing snacks I need to keep this brain functioning at a basic level.

Bizarrely though, above her throne is the latest in surveillance equipment, a full colour hi-resolution 19inch monitor, with time-lapse and real time recording multi-image and multi-screen mapping night and heat sensitive modes. I've lost count as to how many CCTV cameras there must be situated around the various nocks and crannies of this Russian state corner shop. And apart from the one that resides behind her, and the one outside the shop, I've failed to find any another camera. Anywhere! Very well hidden indeed. Regardless of this newfound technology, I get the impression she truly only trusts her eyes to capture the buggers that steal from her. I suppose there's no real substitute for the human eye and a gut feeling for knowing who's in your shop. She still checks my notes with an anti-fraud pen, even after the length of time I've known her.

"How long have I been here? I haven't slipped too far down into oblivion just yet have I? I still remember my own name, my contact's number and the credit security code I was given? Ah! Fruit salad penny chews! I remember those!"