The city jungle


Saleh Al Shaibany

The old man was chewing his own tongue as he was watching people walking  past him. He was in a foul mood, if his creased up face was any indication. Perhaps he never wanted to be there but he had no choice after being dumped by his children.

I shifted my gaze elsewhere and saw a child crying quietly in a corner. I saw the mall security guard walking towards her. She was obviously lost and probably was thinking she would never see her parents again.

As he was taking her away, a young woman weaved through the crowd to claim her daughter.

The old man was watching them and he smiled as mother and daughter were reunited. It was the case of the very young and the very old whose minders were careless enough to leave them alone. I thought if that old gentleman left his seat and wandered off, he might find it difficult to come back.

The old timer looked with disapproval at the woman slapping her little girl. The mother was blaming herself for being negligent of her duties but she took it on her daughter.

It is amazing how they cramp up these shopping malls with as many business outlets as possible.

People who idle away the time on the coffee shops literally sat on the middle of the walkway. The car dealers use the place as extended showrooms to display their vehicles. The girls, with their painted faces, had their beauty product stalls right in the middle of the passageway.

If a fire breaks out, how would anyone find the exits? As it is, there are not many of them. I guess in the age of consumerism, making as much money as possible in a congested place is everything. One wonders why the authorities concerned do not stop that. Perhaps they are waiting for a stampede with newspapers splashing charred bodies on the front pages for them to react. I also wonder how developers of these shopping malls managed to force a blind eye from regulators.

I might have been making my own inspection that evening as I walked past people who found it compulsory to be there. Also, I walked past traders who thought they needed to be there to make something for their businesses. I stopped and looked at a man tapping his fingers impatiently on a counter while watching his wife try different fragrances of perfume. He was among those who did not really want to be in that jungle of people. I am not sure if he realised that, but his hand reached for his pocket and caressed his wallet. It was a subconscious reaction. He was going to part with cash that he would rather spend somewhere else.

A few paces away, a labourer was standing on the ATM machine queue. He was turning his bank card as if he expected some answers from it. But the interesting thing was that, the two people who were standing either side of him were not impressed by his presence. They kept glancing at him as if a labourer had no right to stand with the serious money makers. But he kept his dignity and stood on the line. I saw him half an hour later standing outside smoking. It is funny how poor people resort to dangerous habits in pursuit of leisure.

For me, I had enough of a jungle we call shopping malls. As I was trying to locate my car, people were still walking to the building the way ants would rush towards breadcrumbs. It is the law of the jungle and it is right in our cities.

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