Upstairs / Downstairs

They should be called bi-laws rather than bylaws, thought Forbes. It seemed ridiculous to have an Upstairs and a Downstairs, but he had no choice. The Village had divided his shop into two parts.

“Good morning!” he said to a new customer. The man was stocky, about fifty, with curly grey hair. He nodded to Forbes and turned away. Forbes wondered if this customer was an Upstairs or a Downstairs person – it was impossible to say when they first came in. There were people who rushed in and headed Downstairs before anyone could see them. Others rushed in and bought a book or gift from Upstairs, then headed right out again. People who sauntered in were also of two types. Those who browsed Upstairs books, feeling inspired and delighted, found a work they resonated with, purchased it and left. Yet there were also those who walked around Upstairs like bored children, picking at different sections, summoning courage to head to the darkened windowless room downstairs.

Forbes didn’t bother his customers, only when it seemed like they needed help, or when there was a hot girl, or when he was bored. The stocky man worked quickly through the Sacred Texts section, New Age sages, spoken word audio, international and domestic music CD’s, meditation DVD’s, tarot and oracle sets, musical instruments – touching a crystal bowl and gong, making them sing and shimmer, and spiritual fiction. He seemed particularly drawn to colourful, repackaged series – Conversations with God and its sequels, Paulo Coelho’s works, and the many editions of Deepak Chopra. He spent time flicking through an Eckhart Tolle, but was facing away, and Forbes couldn’t see which one it was. Now the stocky man was hovering as if caught between two worlds. He could be making a purchase decision, but Forbes knew much better than that. He said, “Are you doing ok there, Sir? May I help you in any way?”

“Em, yes,” said the man. He was still handsome and quite well groomed, but maybe not getting the attention he needed. “Can I go Downstairs? I mean, can I just go down there, or do I need to ask first, like I’m doing?”

“Please go straight down,” said Forbes. “But thank you for asking. I’ll be down in a moment.”

The man’s eyes widened. He said, “Why are you coming down?” Forbes opened his mouth but was interrupted. “I thought this was just a store. I don’t want any funny business.” He had the look of a haunted child.

“It’s bylaws, Sir. Because of the nature of materials Downstairs, and also because it is subterranean retail space, there must be a staff member present. And I am the sole staff member.”

“But then who will look after the Upstairs section?”

“The Upstairs will take care of itself, Sir. Thank you for your concern.” He couldn’t resist winking and adding, “Maybe you could stay up here while I’m down there, Sir? I like it down there too.”

The customer nodded initially, and then said in a quiet voice, “I think you’re making fun of me.”

“Just bantering with my customer, Sir. Trying to make you feel comfortable. People are nervous when entering this shop. Isn’t it strange that with all the things you see daily on TV – drought, famine, poverty and disease – rather than being ashamed by their huge houses, big cars, fat salaries, and expensive clothes, people are embarrassed by the materials Downstairs, dealing with the most natural activity in the world; the ultimate recreation. It’s as invigorating as an aerobics class, and on par with yoga for flexibility. I know our materials depict mostly couples, but there are also plenty of items for people to use themselves, in different sizes, shapes, scents, and colours.”

The customer looked haunted again. “Hey, what do you mean by that? I don’t want to use anything on myself. This was my wife’s idea. She’s scared to come in here herself.” The customer was shocked by what he’d said. He hadn’t planned to bring his wife into this.

Forbes said, “I’m sorry Sir. Sometimes I talk too much. I get excited whenever a customer comes in. Please feel free to stay Upstairs or go Downstairs as you please. I’m sorry for bothering you.”

“You’re not bothering me, pal. I’m just nervous, as you said. Thanks for chatting. I think I’ll head down there now. I promise to behave myself. See you when you come down.”

Forbes smiled and nodded. He always preferred Downstairs people. They came via Upstairs – so had seen all the spiritual stuff, and were humble and somewhat ashamed. They were often gentle. The Upstairs people – who never went down – focussed on elevated realms, and could be judgemental. Some were cruel and repulsive. Downstairs people could be cruel too, but at least they weren’t repressed. Upstairs people spent their lives pondering, whereas Downstairs people preferred action. They explored and celebrated the living body, in all its glorious man- and woman-ifestations. Maybe a few too many ways – especially those dirty Europeans; was there a shortage of public toilets there – but who’s to judge? Forbes prided himself on the choice he offered Downstairs.

“Bloody Hell!” he heard the customer exclaim as he reached the floor below. This was a common reaction. Forbes had better head down there now. Don’t want to transgress the bi-law. Maybe he would even stay there this afternoon. Let the Upstairs people come Downstairs.

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