Quest for Illumination

Raph al Guul

When she went to the store today, she had one clear objective; she needed to buy a lamp. What’s the use of the nicest room, if you cannot shed some light on that room’s darkness? It sounded like a fairly simple task anyway. Enter the store, take a lamp, pay some money, and off she’d go. And that’s how she planned on doing it. Nice and simple.

It was a huge store, the kind in which one could easily get lost. But that was okay; she was not the kind of person who’d shy away from a challenge. So she went to the third floor, where all the office and kitchen supplies were. Passing notebooks, writing utensils, laptop bags, vacuum cleaners, frying pans, cleansers, and what looked like a hyper-dimensional heat-seeking ground-to-air missile, she wondered where they might keep their famed selection of lamps. Yet, despite all of her carefully directed gazing, she was unable to find it. After an extended period of scrutiny, she concluded that she would have to ask one of the shop clerks.

Shop clerks are a peculiar species. Sometimes they huddle around you like a flock of upset chickens – they wonder and ask if they could “help” you, which is code for “finally make up your mind, grab something and give us your money – or we’ll make you.” However, at other times, they turn the store into a desert filled with expensive stuff. You can look far and wide for them, but you will not find a single employee who could assist you when you actually needed it. Today was no exception; she had to go to the most remote corner of the third floor in order to find a young guy dressed in the clerk uniform, vehemently staring at one of the shelves, possibly trying to figure out how that shelf got there and if it was secretly planning a scheme for world domination.

“Excuse me, sir” she asked “could you maybe help me?”

The clerk did not react to that friendly address, though. He was far too busy with the task at hand. So she decided to tap the guy’s shoulder. She didn’t like touching strangers, it somehow felt rude. But ironically, she really did not know how to get his attention otherwise. As if it had suddenly become incredibly hard for a good-looking woman in her twenties to get the attention of a guy who must have been just about old enough to no longer be categorized as a teenager. Luckily, it did work, though, and the clerk turned towards her and responded with a dry “Yes!?” that equally sounded like an answer and a question at the same time.

“I would like to buy a lamp and I was wondering if you could show me where I can find those.”

“Sure, come with me.” The clerk didn’t seem to be too thrilled to be distracted from his previous occupation. Maybe staring at shelves was a highly fulfilling experience. While following him to the escalator, she figured she’d have to try doing that some time. When they reached the escalator, she saw a huge sign next to it, one that she had not noticed on her way up. “All lamps currently on the ground floor,” it said. There is so much advertisement even inside of stores these days, one doesn’t even realize when there is relevant information among all the trashy “please buy our stuff”-signs. Once they got to the ground floor, the guy pointed towards the general direction of a few shelves stuffed with all kinds of lamps and said: “There you can find our lamps.” And he added “Let me know if you need anything else.” But the way he said it made it sound much more like he was trying to tell her to leave him alone.

She didn’t bother with the unfriendly clerk much more and headed straight for the shelves. Now that was a sight! They had a lot of lamps, indeed. However, as intriguing as a luminous spaceship or a fiery sword-shaped lamp sounded, she was really just looking for an ordinary model. It needed to be bright, have a power switch and be compatible with the power source of her room. She quickly found one; it looked like your every-day lamp, exactly what she had been looking for. The problem was that all of these lamps where on display and there was no sight of the packaged ones. She soon realized that she’d have to find another clerk. Luckily, the ground floor was a bit more populated and there was a friendly old clerk just bursting with energy to help her out.

She pointed at the one she wanted and he said that he’d go and get one of those. While waiting for the clerk to return, she already started picturing where she’d put her new acquisition and what it would look like. However, after twelve minutes of waiting, she started to wonder if the clerk had run into trouble. Maybe he had passed one of those ominous shelves that needed staring at. She started walking in the direction where he had left and soon found him leaning on a counter, breathing heavily and in a strange rhythm. He was looking down, not noticing her approach until she asked: “Uhm, sorry – are you alright?” She didn’t really understand why no one else had noticed the old man in this weird pose, but she figured it might just have been because everyone had better things to do.

The clerk coughed and turned his head towards her. “I… I’m –“ he gasped for air, “not feeling so well –“ and with these words, he collapsed and fell to the ground. She panicked ever so slightly. She didn’t know what just happened and she was not sure what to do. Instinctively, she took a look around to see if anyone else had noticed, someone who would know what to do in a situation like this. But once more it seemed like the entire store had been turned into a desert. She guessed that feeling the man’s pulse would probably be a good idea; so she tried that. He seemed to be alive, at least. She thought she should call an ambulance. They would surely have some procedure for this kind of scenario. After feverishly explaining her situation to the hospital-person at the other end of the line, she was told to stay where she were and that they would be right there.

The hospital-person had not been lying; few minutes later, she could hear the sirens outside of the store. Three paramedics stormed in the front door. She waved at them, signaling that their patient was lying right next to her. The guy had started to produce gargling noises every minute or so. It scared her a little. As the paramedics assembled around the clerk, many people gathered nearby to watch the spectacle. Even the unfriendly guy from the third floor showed up and stared. One of the paramedics turned to her and asked: “Are you the one who saw what happened?” She was a bit surprised at being addressed by the stranger, but she quickly answered: “Well, I saw most of it, yes.” “Can you tell us?” “Sure. He just kind of started breathing weirdly and said he wasn’t feeling well. Then he fell to the floor.” Talking about it seemed way less spectacular than actually seeing it happen. “Did you notice anything else? Anything unusual?” She had not.

Soon, the paramedics transported the unconscious shop clerk to the ambulance and left. While watching them leave in their noisy car, she was still a bit shaken up and she didn’t really know what to do about it. She figured she’d maybe go for a cup of coffee – people claimed that it supposedly helped calm down the nerves, although other people were convinced that it actually had the exact opposite effect. Either way, she was gonna try it. The coffee shop at the corner of the street would do nicely. Of course it took her about five minutes of standing in line to actually get her cup of smoking hot caffeine. She thought they needed more of these coffee places. If you wanted to grab a cup of coffee during a five minute break from work, you’d just spend that time waiting. These thoughts helped taking her mind off the events of this afternoon and soon, she found herself calm again and she decided to return to the store.

When she passed the counter at the entrance, she saw another woman leaving. That woman was carrying a large box and it seemed as if the image that was printed on it indicated that it contained the very same lamp as she was planning on buying. “Pleasant,” she thought, “a woman with taste.” What she didn’t realize at that point was that that particular box contained the last of the lamps that the store had, well, stored. After spending another fifteen minutes trying to find a clerk who was remotely interested in actually helping her, and asking that guy for the item of her desire, all she got in return was a sloppy “Sorry.” and “We are currently out of those. But we get a new shipment next month, maybe come back then and try again.”

This afternoon, when she had left her place to go to the store, she had had one clear objective: buy a lamp. She had failed. Miserably. When she got home that evening, she had two significant revelations. First of all, she now knew that she was terrible at buying lamps. Achilles had his heel, she had lamps. Or more to the point, she did not have a lamp, which was the actual problem. Luckily, it turned out that, secondly, even after decades of digitalization, crushing dominance of electric light, and extinction of numerous alternative light-sources, one could still trust in the good old fire-powered candle, shining brightly in the dark. Literally. Also, sometimes it flickered a little.

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