I’m at the Kampala road branch of Aristoc, standing at the gifts section. It’s where the assistant brough me. He said, with a beam in his eyes, that I’d find the finest gifts over here. It now feels like he sold me unready cake. I glance over at the kids section.
It blooms with a thousand and one options; toys, puzzles, books, colours.
The adults section is plain and dull. It’s boring. A sleeping pill. But something saved me. I found a book in their Award Winners section, one that I have been looking for for the past two years. I can relax. Their Christmas cards section is loud with cards carrying cheerful messages. They sit on the shelves with a glow.
There is a man behind me, about 60 years old. He is scanning the shelves, picking a card, reading the words and putting it back. His blue t-shirt is hanging down his waist with ease. He seems stuck, not sure what decision to make. There are too many options available and he can’t make a choice.
I’m strolling along the adults gift section, with mugs filling almost half the section. Really? I wonder. Are mugs the only possible gifts we can easily give. That’s the kind of present that worked in the 20th Century. There’s a lot more thought we can put in now. The others are pink and blue notebooks with flowers and butterflies, silver key holders the shape of keys and shoes resting next to them. It’s a package. I can’t take it. I pull my goatee and wonder if I should really pick anything from here. I turn. Sixty-year-old man is still there, tilting his head to the left. He’s fighting with decisions.
Finally, he picks out three cards. Two small ones and a large one, large enough to hide a new-born baby in. Why would anyone hide a baby anyway?
The has mixed him up so calls me to help. Handing the large card to me, he asks, “Do you think an 80 year old woman will like this card?”
He had a small worry. The card had a brown teddy bear on its cover and in one of the pages too. The teddy had a ribbon knotted on it’s head. It sat on what a sofa, the edge of it.
“Won’t she be offended by this cartoon on the cover?” he continued. “She’s 80 and I don’t want to give her something that will make her feel bad.”
Oh, how thoughtful of him.
But he had asked me to trick questions, both closed ended. I could have given him a straightforward yes or no answer but that wouldn’t have helped me. He called me to assist in his decision-making. I’m probably a master in making card choices. I didn’t know. Maybe I am. I’m up for hire if anyone needs help making card decisions.
I put on my 80-year-old thinking cap and ran my hand on the surface of the card. I read the juicy words on the cover, loud enough for him to hear. They were beautiful wishes for a merry Christmas and an exciting new year. It had five pages of messages, all well curated. I read them aloud and he nodded. They made me blush. Surely, they’d make the old woman happy and extend her life by another 20 years, minimum.
“You don’t have to worry about this teddy bear on the cover or this other one in the card,” I said. “The messages in this card are full of meaning I’m sure she’ll appreciate them more than the picture.”
“Just add in a few of your thoughts and wishes in pen, to this card and it’ll carry a lot more meaning to her. She’ll appreciate that. The teddy bear is alright.”
He glowed with a smile, shook my hand with a grip of strength, thanked me and said adios (I should’ve taken some Spanish classes this year but that didn’t happen. It’s a failed resolution for 2018. I downloaded an App though but it didn’t work).
Our man of 60 walked to the counter and paid for the card.
I went back to the idly gift section but couldn’t make a choice. A girl, about 16, looked like she was in her senior four vacation, volunteering at the Christmas table asked if I needed any help. Pretty little girl she was, wearing Santa ears on her head. She looked as though she was having a time of her vac. A few years from now, she’ll add this experience to her C.V.
So I told her yes, I needed help, her help. I couldn’t find a neutral gift.
“Well, why don’t you buy a cup?” she asked.
I was disappointed. I wanted something else. She read it in my eyes and thought of another option.
“Have you seen the pens yet,” she asked again.
I hadn’t. And pens, ordinary pens were not in the plan. I thought buying pens for a gift meant being devoid of any creativity in thought. She asks me to follow her. I do.
We walk between the shelves of books, take two steps down and walk again between another set of shelves of books. She points to the display of pens.
“Here we are,” she tells me, opening out her right palm, “you can make a choice from any of these.” And she walks back, leaving me to appreciate then gift of pens. I held my breath.
Those were no ordinary pens; blue, black, silver. Pens that cost 300k, 400k and 500k plus. I stood at the display in admiration, dumbfounded.
Pretty little girl probably thought I had lots of money to spare. She probably thought I had enough that some would go into getting luxurious pens for a gift. I wish I did have that money. It was surreal. What do people who use 500k pens do? And what do they use these pens for? To write? To sign on multi-million dollar deals? Surely, there has to be a catch to these pens.
I wanted to touch one, any of those pens. I wanted to know what they felt like; their texture. I wanted to sniff them, just to know how they smell. The closest I got was to the glass pane that protected them. The display had little bulbs at the top (that lit in the night, I suppose).
I walked around this circular display in awe. Pens at 500k. That is someone’s salary. I couldn’t leave the display. It was gripping. So I just stood there for God knows how long and just stared. I’m sure the camera’s caught me in static motion. I’m glad their security didn’t swing into action to throw me out. I did not look suspicious.
What do people who use pens that cost 500k do?
I walked out without a gift. But I plan to go back to Aristoc, just to look at those pens again and maybe, I’ll get to know what work the people people who use those pens do. I might land in their boat too,