I am borderline claustrophobic (and yet I love diving). I hate elevators, especially crowded ones.
Since the building where my office is located started renovations a few months back, I have avoided going into the office like the plague, working from home even more often than I have in the past. The wait for a ride in the elevators is excruciatingly long during peak hours and the elevators get filled quickly with impatient, cranky office rats (literally!) who have waited in hot stuffy lift lobbies seeing full elevators pass them by. All in, the negative vibes in the air make mundane elevator rides even more depressing.
Until today … see the elevator I was in has these TV screens that usually play the news headlines from Channel News Asia and does a fairly good job of distracting all of us from the humdrum of the elevator commute. Well, today, it was playing a neighbourhood love story set in a local NTUC supermarket.
It was so sweetly innocent and adorable, it pulled me in and made me forget all about the 20 or so other strangers who were pushing up against me. I was smiling to myself as I allowed the young male protagonist to capture my heart with his little tale of love and life that was enabled with the help of his neighbor, the supermarket auntie who worked in the supermarket through his growing years into adulthood. His narration was rudely interrupted when I suddenly became aware that I had missed the floor I was supposed to get off on and was well on my way to taking a joy ride on the elevator.
I got off on a higher floor and walked down a few floors (rather than wait excruciating long for an elevator again), got to my laptop and promptly found and finished watching the little boy’s adventures and conquests.
It might seem a little cheesy – a neighbourhood love story in a local supermarket with a supermarket auntie as the unlikely sidekick. But then I thought to myself…really? Not quite. I recalled my own supermarket auntie – she was the constant once upon a time on my Saturday mornings when I used to go to the supermarket with my ex-husband, young children in tow. And no matter how crowded the supermarket got, I would always make a beeline to queue at her counter, and I would always be rewarded with a smile and greeting that affirmed I was not an anonymous and invisible shopper – that I existed.
Today, so much of our purchasing experiences involve passing through the cavernous (and often now online) halls of modern commerce that threaten to strip us of individuality and our sense of identity. We are reduced to credit cards, anonymous cash, a numerical reference on our receipts, a customer account online and name tags (for those who are serving us) and consolidated in the back end into big data analytics. With every year that passes, more and more of the small neighbourhood shops that affirm our communal existence with a smile that tells us, “hello, I know you” become victims of economic development and are relegated to memory.
So thank you NTUC for reminding us of the constants in our neighbourhoods – the aunties and uncles who watched us grow up one pack of sweets, one comic book at a time. Let us remember and affirm them too before they are no more.