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A Man of a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison


My flight had arrived at midnight. It was now two in the morning, but my biorhythms were still set for afternoon. I would be unable to sleep, so I decided to make my first nocturnal visit to the local supermarket.

This cathedral to modern living was almost deserted. A brief search failed to locate a loaf, so I approached a man stacking shelves and asked the route to bakery.

‘He who seeks that which is above will find his way,’ he enigmatically responded.

The word ‘above’ prompted an upward glance, and I noticed the signs over the aisles, in particular the one marked ‘bread’. I thanked my mentor and shortly added some white sliced to my basket.

Dairy products were my next targets, but I could see no notice.

I questioned another stacker.

‘Perhaps,’ he replied in a hypnotic tone, ‘you should return to the place where you first began and come to know that place for the first time.’

Annoyance at my difficulty in getting straight answers was suddenly replaced by recollection of my first few moments in the store. There had been a chilled cabinet near the entrance, containing butter, yogurt and cheese.

Placing a brick of cheddar in my basket, I overheard yet another stacker addressing a customer who could have been the twin of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

‘And so that fully explains,’ he concluded, putting another tin of baked beans on a shelf, ‘the precise nature of the Holy Trinity.’

His student thanked him profusely, tears in his eyes, then departed, deep in thought.

I finished my shopping and walked to a checkout.

‘Hello,’ said the checkout girl, cheerily. ‘Are you OK? You look like you’ve forgotten something.’

‘No, I’m fine,’ I replied. ‘It’s just that your shelf stackers seem a bit, well, strange?’

‘All stackers are like that,’ she replied. ‘You haven’t been to a supermarket at this hour before, have you?’

‘No,’ I admitted.

‘Shelf stacking is extremely repetitive,’ she explained. ‘Initially there was high staff turnover, but for those who stuck with it, it seemed to induce a kind of meditative state. Some claim to have reached higher spiritual realms, and others to have understood the fundamental nature of reality.’

She passed my purchases across the bar code reader. ‘We often get philosophers and theologians coming in to talk to them around now and get their shopping done at the same time.’ She started to pack my bag. ‘We lost half our stackers last month.’

‘Did they resign?’ I enquired.

‘Enter your PIN, please,’ she digressed. ‘No, we suspect they all attained enlightenment simultaneously and simply dematerialised in a glow of unearthly blue light. Management had to stock the shelves for a week until new staff were recruited. Do you have a store card?’

‘No,’ I replied as a gong resonated around the building. ‘What’s that sound?’

‘Stackers’ tea break,’ she answered, handing me my receipt. ‘Have a nice day.’

From the exit I glanced back across the store to witness a dozen stackers, each in the lotus position, floating upwards and then hovering high in the air.

I looked at the stackers; I looked at the receipt, and I looked at my watch. I had to go, but resolved that in exactly twenty-four hours I would be standing in a Wal-Mart. There I could discover the nature of Ultimate Reality, clarify the meaning and purpose of my existence, and not have to pay such a ridiculously high price for cheddar cheese.