A day at the mall

'Is this the right direction? Do you recognize it?' 'I'm not sure: I'll ask the driver.' Yes, he says, this is the way to Panora. It's such a long ride: Charlotte is worried she won't meet her friends on time, although it's a good half hour before the start of the film, so it should all-right. We drive through roads we don't know, trusting the driver to get us there. We take a turn to the left and there's a car in front of us, going awfully slowly. Our driver brakes, and I'm thinking I'm glad he wasn't going too fast. Then I hear a bump and everything is in slow motion. We swing back and we swing forward, once, twice, forever. I have time to remember everything I've always heard about car accidents. There's a long silence. The driver turns towards us: Sorry. My hand is holding Charlotte's. She' ok. So am I.

Men come out of the cars in front and behind us, looking angry, mean, too big for us to take on. I look at my daughter again: she's not even wearing a fucking seat belt! My eyes well up, but I keep it cool. She's ok, she's unharmed and just wants to know if she'll get to the mall on time. We put our seatbelts on. We wait a bit. We ask. They have to wait for the police. Everyone is staying calm after all. We take another taxi to finish our journey and the driver lets us out in the middle of a busy road because he says there's too much traffic to go all the way. My eyes tear up again as I try to cross with Charlotte.

She's relieved that she's not the last girl to arrive. I watch from a balustrade as she greets her friends, goes to buy the ticket. I call my husband to tell him not to worry, that we're fine, that it was no big deal, but that I was shit-scared. I need food. Junk food, to be precise, something with lots of sugar and chemicals that will go straight to the bits of my brain that won't stop playing the scene over and put it to sleep. There's a big queue at the burger place, so I go to the chicken place. It's fried chicken. I used to find it pointlessly disgusting. Now I know that this is how some people in America actually eat their chicken I don't mind so much.  I also know what they do to the living birds that end up in the paper plate so normally I avoid it. Today I have no fellow feeling for chicken.

The film is a long one. Some very dull young woman has to do some very dull things with a glittery vamp. I have to hang out in the mall, and wait for Charlotte's call. There's some Christmas shopping to do, toys for the advent calendar. Charlotte said there were some toy shops on the second floor. I want to find a book shop too. I go look. I get lost. This mall is the closest to hell I've ever imagined. Too many people, too much noise, and no way to find anything: where is Virgil when you need him? It turns out the bookshop and some toy shops are on the third circle and the other toy shops and accessories shop on the second one. Or is it the other way round? Dante didn't have a thing on the people who designed this place. To find a toilet, you have to go round three times anti-clockwise, go into a broom cupboard, and up and down some stairs.

Fighting my ways through the crowds at the bookstore, trying to see where they keep the books, amongst the toys, the magazines, the cheap cds, I picture myself in a zombie apocalyptic world. I have a riffle and I take them out, one by one, creeping behind the bookshelves so they don't see me.

In one of the toy shops, there's a Scream outfit, and a handful of pretty neat Star Wars costumes. What a change from the usual snow white/ spiderman crap! The pictures on the wrappings all show 10 year old boys. What do 10 year old boys have that I don't? I pick up the tag: a lot of money, apparently – I leave the shop.

I'm sitting in the bookshop, drinking overpriced coffee when Charlotte comes and find me. The things I bought are hidden in my handbag. She's pleased with her outing. She's happy we came. We go home.

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