THE UNIVERSAL FEAR

From different directions they came. All were heading for the same destination, all yearning for something new and the hope of finding that which would delight, foremost in their minds.

“I have to go through with this” she whispered to herself, unwittingly gripping the delicate items in her hand closer to her body, the white on her knuckles even whiter than her already pale skin. “I need this and I owe it to myself,” she repeated time and again as she was drawn closer and closer to the endpoint like a moth to a flame.

Briefly scanning the environment, she could sense the same measure of anxiety from those who were now closer and around her. “I cannot turn back now.” Her thoughts trembled as she deliberately pushed forward.

Procedures at the control point were rather swift and uncomplicated, no questions asked, no comments made. She was simply allowed access with no option to opt out from what she feared most – the change rooms!

“Why must it always be like this?” she thought as she braced herself in the queue, waiting for a cubicle to become vacant. “Always the darkest corner of the store, always the loudest music, always the lack of air-conditioning...”

She dreaded the next step which would be to enter a cubicle. “The curtains! Why slapdash curtains and no proper doors? And those merciless lights! So bright, so exacting, so unforgiving!” Like a boxer mentally preparing for the fight, she could already visualise her moves as her mind raced through the ordeal that was looming.

And then it was her turn. She entered the booth where the already stale air was now accentuated by the odour of the body that was there before her. She closed the curtain behind her, desperately trying to cover all the openings to prevent the peepers from looking in. She knew that her efforts would be futile, though. Somebody would anyway rip the curtain open while she was trying on the new garments.

She did not expect anything different. Still the lack of space, only one small hook on the wall for the selection of items in her hands and the absence of a bench to sit on, only added to the desperation within her. “I need space for my bag, hooks for hanging things, a place to sit on. I need space for myself!” Her thoughts echoed through her already overloaded mind while her body shivered from the effect of claustrophobia which the constricted environment enforced upon her.

And slowly, realising that she could not postpone it any longer, she reluctantly turned around to face her worst nightmare – the mirrors. Without even looking she knew that it would make her look fat from more than one angle. “Why can’t they fit optically correct mirrors!” it cringed within her. “Why torment me with a deformed, disfigured and warped image of myself! Why do I walk in here, trying to feel like a million dollars, only to walk out on a vengeful mission to starve myself for the rest of my life? Why? Why?”

Later, in the cafeteria over a strong cup of coffee, she pictured the supreme change room in her now tired mind. Spacious enough to change her clothing and not change her mind. Good, accurate and if it exists, skinny mirrors. Decent, subdued lighting and solid doors that lock. Soft music and fresh air. A floating table for her handbag and at least four solid hooks (not behind the door!) where she can hang the garments while changing. The option to ask someone’s opinion or ask for another size. And, as a bonus, heated floors with gorgeous soft carpeting, silk drapes and a beautiful velvet upholstered French styled chaise lounge.

But as she snapped out of her never to be fulfilled contemplation, she looked up and across the clothing department’s floor to where the change rooms are. She saw fresh ones coming from different directions, all heading for the same destination, all yearning for something new and the hope of finding the delightful, foremost in their minds. She noticed the stark faces and tense bodies, unwittingly gripping the items in their hands closer to their physiques.

And as she stood up, she reluctantly picked up the bag with the new garment that she had bought shortly before, knowing that had she been in her dream change room, she wouldn't have made such a wrong and in the end, disappointing choice. And she briefly hesitated at the returns counter before she walked out.