Was sitting in a Shopping Mall the other day, trying to conserve energy, watching the world go by. It is not a Mall we often go to, except when we happen to be over that way and need to get a few things from supermarket. It is a linear mall. The car park underneath leads up to it via a walkway at one end. Then you move along the central passage way (where I was sitting), browsing the shops, and eventually leave by a walkway at the other end which takes you back down to the car park.
The shops are all the usual same-old same-old we see everywhere these days. A supermarket (one of the big two), McDonald’s, Subway, Donut chain store, Coffee chain store, Bakery chain store, KFC, several clothes shops, mobile phone store, another one, computer games, cheap jewellery chain store, chemist, a store in which everything is a dollar, a hairdressers, fingernail salon, cheap clothing chain store, Chinese takeaway, Medicare, and so on.
The crowds browse these less than impressive (to be fair, tawdry) retail outlets as if they were on Fifth Avenue, or perhaps Oxford Street. Constantly, it seems, in thousands of triumphs of hope over experience, believing that this, this will be the transaction that transforms their life like the kiss of a prince waking a sleeping beauty.
There are apparently, at the time I am there, mid-afternoon, virtually only females in the Mall, apart from me. There are young girls just out of school for the day, celebrating with milkshakes and donuts: Teenage girls getting their nails done, first tattoos shyly peeking out on necks and arms; Young adult women, baby bumps, sadly unpaparrazi-snapped, pushing clothing out, or those with ex-baby-bumps now in prams or strollers; Thirty-somethings. wiping crumbs from mouth after coffee with girls, hurrying guiltily to get home before school buses arrive; Middle-aged women, hair with fresh new colours after discoveries of grey hairs, push trolley loads of supermarket goods, bought on auto-pilot; Old women, supported by walking frames or occasional surviving more elderly husbands, move from chemists shops with repeat prescriptions, to Medicare offices for refunds.
Sometimes these individuals combine as if preparing for family portraits of the “Three generation” type – mother, daughter, grand-daughter in pram; or grandmother being supported by middle-aged daughter, baby bump being carried alongside. Or they clump together like friend’s battalions, small platoons of teenagers or thirty-somethings or schoolgirls.
But if I, invisible old man with no hair, sitting on a hard bench apart from the crowds which flow around me like a river around a rock, squint my eyes just a little, order is imposed on this apparently almost random scene. Then I see a young girl emerging at the top of one walkway, and, as she walks along the Mall, gradually aging, going through all the ages of woman, until she, supported by a walking frame, disappears down the walkway at the other end. And then another, and another, until the Mall resembles one of those factory machines where raw materials are poured into hoppers at one end, and, after much processing and whirring of gears, a finished product, child’s toy perhaps, or household utensil, emerges at the other. It is it seems a big machine where young girls are processed by life into old ladies.
Finally I see, pausing at the top of the last walkway, an old lady who seems to be looking around for something, searching with increasing desperation. And I know, instinctively, what she can’t find – it is the Reverse Button, which would send the whole machine running backwards and turn old ladies into young girls again.
They never seem to fit the Reverse Button to these bloody machines.