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
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
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
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
I finished my shopping and
walked to a checkout.
Hello, said the
checkout girl, cheerily. Are you OK? You
look like youve forgotten something.
No, Im fine,
I replied. Its just that your shelf
stackers seem a bit, well, strange?
All stackers are like
that, she replied. You havent
been to a supermarket at this hour before, have
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?
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. Whats
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.