Food court. Tuesday, 12.25pm
There is a sound that goes with shopping malls. Shoppers chatting, cash registers pinging, phones ringing, trolley wheels squeaking, kids crying… it’s a sort of a trading tinnitus which nearly blankets my own, more physiological, tinnitus.
So, I see his lips move, but can barely hear him.
‘What?’ I say, leaning in across our table, one among the many in the food court.
‘I said,’ he says, ‘do you want to get some lunch?’
‘What do you want?’ he asks.
I feel like doughnuts. (Shopping malls have that effect on me.)
‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘What do you want?’
The food court goes suddenly dim. Oh dear. Am I going blind, too? It’s like a cloud has passed over the fluoros. Is the electricity going off?
No. Two trolleys have rolled in and parked at the table next to us. In the trolleys are giant boxes. In the giant boxes are giant televisions. Sixty-five inch televisions, the boxes say. Must be on special. Together they form a wall and we are in its shadow.
‘Jeez,’ I say, ‘How big do you need MKR to be?’
He says something, looking at me and pointing to his left.
‘What?’ I say.
He doesn’t exactly roll his eyes – that’d be rude because I’m not deaf by choice – but his eyebrows twitch in a way suggesting a barely suppressed eye roll.
‘What about over there?’ he says loudly, pointing to a food stall.
He chats with the girl behind the counter. She smiles and fills a plastic container with something from one of the trays in the bain-marie. She pokes a plastic fork into the meal and gives that to him, with a napkin.
He says something else to her (I can’t hear what) but she takes a plastic cup, fills it with fruit juice. She pokes a plastic straw into that and gives it to him. Smiles all round.
‘I hate that we have to use disposable containers when we’re eating right here,’ I say.
‘It’s the modern world, mate,’ he says.
I point to something (not doughnuts) and tell the woman I will be eating it here, at the tables, not takeaway. She shrugs, smiles, and spoons my meal into a plastic container.
‘You should’ve told her no straw, at least,’ I say to my mate.
‘One straw will make no difference,’ he says.
‘That’s not a valid argument,’ I say. ‘That’s what our government says about selling coal and weapons: “Well, everyone else is’’.’
‘And it’s true,’ he says. ‘Change needs everyone on board. Random individual action is ineffective. Plastic will get chucked, coal burned, weapons fired – even if you’re a solar-powered peacenik saying no to plastic straws – until governments make the change. Until then, suck it up. With a straw.’
‘No. It’s a moral issue. Some things are just wrong, even if others do it. Should we accept FGM, child marriages and honour killings because others are doing it?’ I say.
The woman gives me my meal. I ask her for a fruit juice. She pours the juice into a plastic cup and pulls a straw from the straw container.
‘No!’ I tell her. ‘No straw.’
The woman looks at me, the straw hovering above the plastic cup. Just in time.
There, I’ve made a point. I’ve saved the world from a bit of plastic, no matter how humble that bit may be. I smile at my mate.
‘Okay,’ says the woman, handing me my juice – and throws the straw into the bin.
‘Okay,’ says my mate, laughing. ‘Let’s check out the big TVs.’