By DEBORAH HUANG (13), Auckland.


One minute, she was here, perusing the meagre selection of nuts a few metres down the aisle while you salivated over the chocolate biscuits. And the next, she was gone.

That was five minutes ago. And five minutes isn’t that long at all, just 1/12 of an hour. 300 quick breaths of cool, dry air that made your mouth shrivel up like a raisin. There were raisins in the second aisle. You knew because you had been down that aisle twice within the last two minutes. Or was it hours? You don’t know.

The slapping of your shoes against the floor is loud, like the pumping of your heart in your chest. Thump, de-thump. Thump, de-thump. Like the percussion section in an orchestra. The endless scanning noises of the checkout counter. Beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep. That was the piercing noise of trumpets, of saxes and french horns. The rubbery wheels of the shopping cart squeaking on the polished, white ground. Squeak, squeak. Those were the high-pitched screams of violins. And the underlying, mellow humming of the refrigerators; they were the cellos and bass.

You’ve reached the frozen food aisle again. The cheeses stacked on the shelves and milk sitting in plastic crates are a familiar sight. There’s the beginning of a stitch forming in your left side. You clutch your torso as you stand by the yoghurt. Once, a teacher told you that stitches were caused by a muscle in your body that decided, No, I quit, I’m done, and it curls up into a little ball until you’re relaxed, and then it uncurls. You wish you could do the same right now. You probably shouldn’t be running in a supermarket anyway; some people have started to give you strange glances after you’ve hurried past them for the third time.

One minute, you were catching your breath in the chilly aisle, blood pounding in your head and heating your cheeks. And the next, she rounded the corner into the aisle, looking like nothing had even happened.

You run towards her, stitch forgotten.

“Oh, there you are! What were you doing, little miss?” she asks.

“Nothing,” you reply.

The supermarket orchestra has finished their piece, and the audience is clapping.


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