In the soap shop of whimsy

The rain was lashing the streets with violence (thank you for nothing, wind!). If you opened the umbrella, it was blown away and turned around. If you didn’t, you got all wet. It was all futile: whatever you did, you lost the battle.

It was putting me in a foul mood, so I thought maybe I should take my mind off the nasty weather by going to the shops.

I crossed this shop’s threshold —for there is no actual physical door in it, only an invisible wall of hot air separating the in from the out— and tried to gather all my layers in preparation of what was to come next: toiletry shopping.

My deliberate efforts to minimise the negative impact I leave on Earth had led me to conclude it would be a good idea to switch to soap rather than use shower gel, and what could be better than getting soap at a place where not only can you buy it by the weight, but is also made in an ethical manner?

Once I gathered myself and shook off the water from my very moist and battered umbrella, I turned around to face the shop itself. I had been unaware of what had been going on at my back in the meantime, so taken was I with my personal reorganisation!

There was a sink brimming with foam; a young woman was swaying and chanting some vaguely audible song while drawing patterns in the foam with her hands, the tap dripping a happy flow at (I guess) a lovely warm temperature. She seemed to be attuned to quite another dimension, but not mine: all attempts to establish eye contact or acknowledge our mutual presence were futile, so I moved on, set on finding the soap.

An immense cacophony of colours, scents, shapes, directions and options assaulted me.

Would it be in the ground floor? Would it be upstairs? Would it be downstairs? How would I know? Who could I ask? Who works here?

Everyone was dressed in a way that made them look like it could be either way: they could be a customer but also a member of staff. Even I could be working there as well, weren’t it by the fact that I was still wearing my coat and clearly not attuned to the right dimension, but trying to find a directory of sorts instead.

I found some hand-written indications that somehow pointed to the first floor, so I decided to go upstairs: in the worst scenario I could just make my way down from there, after perusing the items on offer. I still had that reserve of curiosity that we get when we enter a shop we don’t frequent, and makes us keen to see what is in store.

Except my passage was blocked by a couple with their kid, walking in an erratic and unpredictable way.

With every step they climbed, there was something new and worthy of stopping, pointing at and discussing about. The kid acted like a sensor, detecting what was the next target for admiration, vibrating stronger the closer he got to the item, while the parents increasingly demonstrated a sympathetic unison oscillation in response.


They stopped walking.

“… colours!”

They took two more steps.


They stopped again.

“Bombs! Did you hear THAT? B O M B S, I said! BATH BOMBS! BOOM! Ha! Ha!”

Their swaying and oscillation amplitude kept increasing, in a resonant way. If I had had a Richter scale it would have started to register an impending earthquake already, I’m sure.

I feared that the metallic steps we were standing on might not be able to cope with such vibratory feat, and they took another timid step before getting distracted again:

“And what is THAT!?? That is amazinggggg! It is a CAFÉ!”

The kid repeated the exclamation several times, equal parts incredulous and amazed at what he was witnessing, while jumping on the spot. As they say in subtitles world, [ vibration intensifies ]. I thought that of all the places to die in a collapse, this would be quite unusual, but would make for a good story. Maybe…

“It is a café! A cafééééééééEEEEEHHHHH in the SHOOOOP!”

The parents swayed in recognition. What was this shop of wonders, where you can buy soap and drink coffee?

“I will be in the cafe, off you go!”, suddenly declared the mum, who dashed up the remaining steps to the café and disappeared, leaving father and kid alone to vibe at their own leisure.

There are opportunities in life, and there are the once in a lifetime opportunities, of which this was one great example!

So I quickly took advantage of this gap in the vibing to walk past them and see if I could find what I was looking for, only to be presented with another contraption of whimsy: a conveyor belt.

And as I realised that I was indeed asking to myself “is this really a conveyor belt?” while I unconsciously slowing down my walk, I heard two voices in unison, the last of the vibrational choruses I was to hear that day:

“But LOOOO-OOO-OOOK! A… a conveyor belt!? … WHOAaaaaaaa!”

On the belt, little colourful plates held little colourful things that could be edible, or not, circling around in an infinite loop, while a gathering of devotees stood nearby, proudly, admiringly observing, their gaze following the items as they repeated the same cosmic motion, forever. A true mirror of the universe and its infinity!

I was so deeply confused.

Was that a piece of frosted fruit or was it soap? Were those edible jellies or were they cream capsules for your skin? And most importantly: WHY WERE THEY MOVING!?

I started hearing a profusion of sorries on my back. I turned and saw a Japanese looking lady bowing and muttering something about being sorry she, or her daughter, had bumped into me. “It is fine, no need to apologise”, I said. If that had happened, of which I wasn’t quite sure of.

I had also just realised that I had stopped walking, such was my state of disorientation. Maybe her seemingly unnecessary apology was her way of letting me know that what I had done was freaking annoying and could I please not stop all of a sudden again, etc.

Sensing I needed to “get a grip”, I tried finding something normal to set my eyes on, something that would not trick me, and would allow my overloaded senses to get a temporary break, but it was impossible. Everything seemed slightly unreal, weird or just plainly bonkers.

Bars topped with pistachios and rose petals presented themselves as something that could be interpreted as nougat; plants dangled from unexpected places, giving the floor an air of space base meets soft industrial glasshouse chic, while strategic spotlights caused small things to look bigger and shinier, and bigger things seemed smaller, and you lost the sense of proportion and did not know what you were stepping on anymore.

Plus, staff, or people who I later learned were staff, were just hanging out in groups and coolly talking between themselves, just as if they were also customers hanging out in a shop. Except, they strongly gave ~~mystical vibes~~: one was wearing a sort of gas mask, another wore an aviator eye mask as a bandana (I supposed just in case they had to dash out on a space mission; you never know once you close the shop’s threshold), and there were lots of pastel colours, glitter, sparkles and ethereality, lots of it, and as they jumped towards each other, giggling and teasing each other, I couldn’t stop thinking of pixies and fairies…

And just when I was going to give up, turn round and leave this confusing space, one of them took pity on me and asked me if I needed any help. Which is when I realised that the whole group of people were actually staff!

And other than “yes, thank you, I need help”, I could only sputter incoherence.

It took me a few moments to be able to produce a complete, grammatically correct sentence. Something, something about not being able to distinguish between food and soap, and fearing that what looks like soap might actually explode in a cloud of foam when getting in touch with water.

This fairy lady that had decided to help me smiled at me sympathetically, but something in her eyes also led me to understand between the lines that it could be totally possible for all my above described fears to become reality in this parallel universe I was finding myself in as we spoke, and no one would bat an eyelid, but in despite of that, she still showed me the soaps which looked like nougat and other sweet confections, and I settled on one which vaguely reminded me to watermelon and didn’t seem to have an overpowering smell, and I asked for it to be packed.

She cut a piece with a very long knife. Then she weighted the piece and wrapped it in paper. She spent some time consulting a card that looked like an illustrated spell book for kids, but then struggled to make the label printer work. Ah, even fairies cannot make machines submit to their wishes!

She asked another colleague for help, and her colleague summoned another colleague, which floated towards us and, with pomp and ceremony, produced a permanent pen from one of the multiple pockets in her outfit. The cap made an audible and pleasant POP as she removed it from the pen, and she then laboriously proceeded to calligraph something on a sticker sealing my packet, while the rest of staff admired the process and emitted oohs and aaahs as it took place.

I was finally handed this little parcel with truly eccentric handwriting, and told that they would know what to do with it, as she pointed downstairs, to an imaginary till. It was all handwritten, and there was no barcode or anything, only some mysterious sounding words and some numbers that looked like letters (but represented the weight of the soap piece). I just needed to remember that they would know. I just needed to believe in the magic.

I looked at the conveyor belt one last time, but then I debated whether to look at the café before leaving the floor and making my way downstairs. The thought came to my mind just at once, irrupting, like a wrecking ball: it was ludicrous to drink coffee at that place! It would just be like drinking soap!

“Ah, but maybe that’s what people liked?”, I answered myself. Maybe it just served vibrantly coloured things like matcha, beetroot and turmeric lattes? Maybe they’re the type of people who are VERY OK with coriander. Or maybe they served soap looking cakes that were actually edible in the café…

Whatever! I decided to judiciously let it be rather than get a fit of hysteria when witnessing what people were doing in the café, so I continued downstairs.

And since I then knew that anyone could turn out to be a member of staff, I asked the first person that looked at me where could I find the deodorant. I hit the jackpot, as she was indeed a member of staff! Success!

But she could not understand what I was asking for.


“Sorry, what?”


“I’m really sorry, but I don’t quite get it—”

Panicking that maybe I was unable to pronounce anything anymore, I resorted to the time tested solution of gesturing, and simulated applying deodorant to my armpit with abandon. She still did not understand me.

I repeated “deodorant” a few more times, inventing different accents, to see if it would eventually work. Images of Nigella Lawson calling microwaves meecroowahways briefly crossed my mind.

At some point I said or did something and she finally understood me. Victory! I had not lost my ability to communicate!

She showed me the options. One looked like it would work for me, but I wanted to just buy a small piece to try it out before genuinely “committing” to the cause. She said she maybe had samplers. And then she dashed off without explaining if I was meant to wait there or not. Should I follow her? Did she tell me telepatically and I had failed to receive her message?

This fairy lady and me didn’t have a good rapport, I was afraid to realise.

I waited on the spot for a bit, and got distracted by the sight of the Japanese mom and her daughter walking past me, swaying in harmonic unison. What was the shop doing to people? We all seemed to be becoming weird manifestations of ourselves.

Eventually I tracked my non-rapportive member of staff and tentatively walked towards where she was: the till. Maybe I was meant to go there? Maybe I wasn’t? I didn’t know what to do, but I went anyway.

We met at the till. She handed me a package over the counter and said, in a secretive way:

“This is yours”.

I felt a bit like someone had illicitly asked me to carry something that hadn’t been packed by me. What was in that package? Was that the deodorant? If I was going to head for an airport, I would want to inspect it right away! But I didn’t want to make it look like I didn’t trust her, so I earnestly accepted the package.

And by the way, I asked: “… can I pay here, since we are at the till?”

“No, yes, no, you can pay here, but that other way”, she said, pointing to the only till that was open, and then disappeared back towards the end of the room where she could be mystical and hang out with her friends again.

Confused one more time, I walked around and towards the start of the snakey labyrinth that led to the tills. Images of Snakes and Ladders and having fallen in the wrong square quickly flashed in my head, etc.

A family was being served in the singly open till, and a woman waited behind them. A kid from the family was stirring the stick inside a tester cream pot by the till, like his life depended on it. I thought he’d be good at making allioli. What vigour!

The family paid and went away, with their vigorous son. The woman who was waiting to pay was surprised by the appearance of a very grateful man that emerged from somewhere and hander her a small parcel wrapped in paper, while performing a small bow:

“This is yours”.

“Mine? For me?”.

“Yes, I just felt this is something I had to do for you”.

“Oh, thank you, thank you”.

What the actual hell was going on in there? Was I witnessing illicit exchanges in somewhat plain sight?

And also: “what was going to happen when it was my turn?”, I sort of pondered and dreaded at once.

I ruled out vigorously stirring the cream. There’s a reason I use a hand blender and other kitchen gadgets. My energy is better spent elsewhere (e.g. typing this). Would I get a surprise package? But I didn’t think I had created sufficient psychical connection with any entity to be worth of last minute surprises…

And suddenly, my time arrived.

A person who looked to be the person in charge and was way less floaty than all the other members of staff unlocked the same till I had been conversing over a few minutes before. I hander her the same package that had been handed over to me at that same till. I hoped we were not stuck in a loop…

She looked at the (I supposed) deodorant package and said:

“This is yours”.

It took me a bit to understand, but suddenly it stroke me that when they said that, what they meant is “we’re giving you this for free” but without wanting to explicitly say that, for some strange reason.

I was confused as I had not expected to not pay for the goods, but thanked her anyway and waited for her to make good on the promise from upstairs, that “they would know what to do with this”.

She inspected the soap package with skepticism, turning it around several times, as if she had never seen anything like that, despite it featuring all the branding from the shop, and everything, and then lifted her head to face me and asked:

“Do you know what this is?”

I didn’t know what to answer.

Was it a tricky question? Did I have to say “this is soap”? Or the specific “model”, which I absolutely did not remember at that point?

Or should I have said “this is mine”, to get it for free?

I opted for “this is soap”. She didn’t know which soap. I explained their label printer didn’t work upstairs, so they… drew it with a pen? Also her colleague had consulted a sort of table with colourful pictures of soap, and…

She looked at me as if I was making things up, or deranged, or both, but eventually she parsed the complicated calligraphy on the label and realised what it said, and entered the data into the till.

When I could finally pay and cross the threshold into the rainy outdoors again, I felt like I had spent the last twenty or thirty minutes in some dream like place of fantasy, and kept revisiting each of the scenes. The moving conveyor… the edible-looking-things that weren’t… multiple invokations to say deodorant…

But the one that I keep going back to is the notion of a café in the shop.

And more specifically, the fact that since I unwrapped the soap that I thought didn’t smell of much, it has been acting as both soap and room freshener… for the entire flat.

If a single piece of 100 grams of soap can cause that seismic wave of perfume, how can anyone expect to drink coffee that tastes of coffee in that café?

I think the only plausible explanation is: no one drinks it, it’s for the “influencers” which care about the looks only!

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