There was no real reason for Beth to be wearing gumboots. She simply liked the way it felt to stomp around in them, the cool rubber hugging her ankles in a solemn duty; they were her most authoritative shoes. Puffing out the tops of her gumboots were tracksuit pants, topped with a sloppy woollen pullover. The neck had slipped off one shoulder so that her bra strap, and the marks it was making on her fair skin, could be seen. She hit the bicycle kickstand with her foot but didn’t bother to turn the key into the wheel lock. The automated doors opened.
Ten points, ten points! Today, tofu earns you ten points!
The upbeat melody got louder as she moved towards the refrigerated section. The thing Beth didn’t appreciate was that it was always today; tofu always earned you ten points. She didn’t need to be assaulted with a shitty, syncopated jingle to know that.
Beth wondered whether others felt similarly agitated, whether they had just grown used to it or whether, despite their courteous facades, they too lay awake at night, unable to wash the inane supermarket melodies from their brains.
She often fantasized about losing it, right there in the supermarket. She could see herself marching up to the stereo in a rage and screaming: Japan, deliver us from your hideous sounds of consumerism! She would unplug the thing and throw the cord to the ground in triumph. Interpreting this as a threat, all other sound-emitting devices in the store would power down: the PA system, the background music, and the stereos beside the lamb, milk and yoghurt displays.
After a moment of shock, other customers would start fleeing to the car park, leaving their half-empty trollies abandoned on the floor, drifting like buoys on a polluted lake. The silence would be blissful. Then, she would pick up a three-pack of firm tofu and place it calmly in her basket. Beth would stroll the aisles alone, undisturbed. At the confectionery aisle, she would be able to hear herself think, able to tell herself that pineapple-flavoured Kit Kats were not a good idea. She would stand at the register and the server’s hand would be shaking as he counted the change. Beth would leave, disregarding the terror in her wake, while inside, an impeccably dressed employee would tiptoe to the stereo and plug it in again, refilling the void.
That year, Beth started to appreciate silence.