Archive for grocery


Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2012 by javedbabar

Shama saw Zadam regularly walking around town, and after a while he no longer noticed his strange appearance. After all, Zadam had a head with all the right features, just in the wrong places on his face.

His mouth was where his forehead should be, his nose was in the right place but reversed, and his eyes were at the bottom. That’s why he kept his green coat’s hood pulled both up and down, creating a dark hollow. People only caught hints of features and were suspicious rather than afraid.

Shama also got somewhat used to backwards talking. He could follow Zadam’s train of thoughts if he concentrated, but he often lost track. He found it easier to stick to questions and answers rather than partake of long exchanges.

Shama saw him in the produce section of the grocery store, examining blood peaches. He was picking out ripe ones, heavy and juicy, smelling them and saying, “Phoo!” and putting them back. He selected unripe ones, hard and scentless, and licked his lips, saying “Yum!”

“Hello Zadam,” said Shama. “What are you doing?”

“I am smelling good fruits.” He handed Shama a peach that could replace a cricket ball without anyone knowing. It smelled like one too.

“But this has no scent at all.”

“My senses are reversed,” said Zadam, dropping the red skull-cruncher into his basket. “I smell things early and I know what they will become like later.”

“Is that just with fruits?” asked Shama, catching a blood peach hard enough to draw blood.

“No, I can do it with everything.”

Zadam’s olfactory receptors worked in overdrive. They bound to particular molecular features, exciting more or less strongly, the combination of excited signals from different receptors flipping and flopping, integrating and reverting, a thousand times over, creating his upside-down sensation of smell.

Shama didn’t like grocery shopping. Something about it really bugged him. It wasn’t just the high prices at the village store, almost double those in the city – but who’s going to drive two hundred clicks each way just to get their milk? It was also the vast amount of processing and packaging, wasting precious energy and resources.

He felt that he should be producing his own food. He had a dream of becoming a farmer. That wasn’t going to happen in the city, but it could happen here in Lucerne if he…

He noticed Zadam smelling potatoes, dropping a few in his basket and moving onto cheese, which provided some amusing reactions, and then meat and fish.

“What about packaged food?” he asked Zadam. “Can you tell anything about that?”

“I don’t eat it, but I can try.”

He picked up a packet of French onion soup, took a deep sniff and smiled. It went into his basket. He sniffed a tin of spam, which went straight back onto the shelf. He smelled a chilled lasagne, which he thought about, but then made an upside-down, screwed-up face and returned it to the chiller. He tried frozen food but said it was “too hard” to smell. He smelled some fashionable Superfoods and said, “Poo!”

Shama said, “Phoo?”

“No, poo! Your body will not absorb them. They come out in your poo!”

He saw a baby. The mother was reluctant to let this disfigured person hold her child, but then she softened and said it was OK.

Zadam picked up the child and took a deep sniff. He said, “Aahhh!”


Seven Generations

Posted in Lucerne Village, Unknown with tags , , , , , , , , on June 16, 2012 by javedbabar

Nobody in the village had spoken to Breda for twenty four years. Seven generations ago, one of her ancestors had committed a crime, and since then all villagers had shunned her family.  The Nooranis were Quieted, which meant that they were not to be spoken to or spoken about, ever. It was as if they didn’t exist.

Life continued though, and they quietly went about their business in the Upper Valley. They were farmers and thus largely self-sufficient. They had all the food they needed – roots, fruits, meat and veggies –and could make do with or mend most objects. They were also able to trade with out-of-towners, who held no taboos, and engaged with them freely, but Lucerne’s citizens kept away from them entirely.

The only exception was shopping. They were allowed to buy what they needed from the grocery and hardware stores, but always in silence. Mt Alba and Mt Negra – the white and black peaks at opposite ends of the Valley – had been better companions to Breda growing up than anybody in Lucerne.

“Good day, love,” said the grocery store cashier. “How are you doing today?”

Breda dropped her cabbage. Somebody had spoken to her! How? Why? What for?

The cashier continued, “How was your weekend? Boy, it was hot on Sunday. Did you take a dip in the lake?”

Breda said, “Excuse me, are you talking to me?”

“Sure I am. I quit talking to myself years ago. I always chat to my customers. That’s the difference between this place and a box store. We give you personal service. Wasn’t it…”

Breda interrupted. “Do you know who I am? I’m a Noorani.”

“Yes, yes, I know that. Who doesn’t? But that’s neither here nor there now, isn’t it? The baby must be coming soon. When’s it due?”

Breda held onto the conveyor belt. So that was it! It was her baby! The child would be born of the eighth generation, and the taboo would be ended.

“Oh, I see you’ve got some nappies. You’ll be needing plenty of those! You might want to get a bigger pack next time. You’ll get through those in a flash. Do you want to change the pack? I’m sure the people behind you won’t mind much. They’ll understand the situation. Wait! You don’t want to walk up and down the aisle in your condition. Let me call one of the assistants…”

Breda was lost for words. This rush of engagement was overwhelming. It was like a desert becoming a lake. She was not ready to respond.

For Breda’s twenty four years of life, nobody in the village had spoken to her or her family. She had been made an outcast for crimes that had nothing to do with her at all. She didn’t even know what her great-great-great-great grandmother had done in the first place, and what was the chance of a fair trial for women in those days? Was there even any evidence? It was likely a baseless accusation for personal reasons, by a vicious neighbour, a zealous parishioner, or greedy rival.

Breda declined the cashier’s offer of getting a bigger pack of nappies. She bagged her own items and headed out of the store.

Two women passing greeted her effusively. “Oh Breda! Look at you now! When’s it due?” These were girls that she had studied with. They’d not spoken to her during her schooldays – never, ever – yet now asked after her mother and sisters. She didn’t know what to say to them, so grunted and headed to her truck.

A guy in a white half-sleeved shirt, on his lunch break from the bank, helped to load her groceries into the cab. He asked after her brother, to whom he had never spoken.

Breda started the truck and headed up the Lucerne Valley Road. As she rounded a bend near the river, she saw more people she knew that had never, ever spoken to her. They now waved cheerily and made signs to call them.

Breda considered swinging her truck towards them. Hitting them hard and sending their bodies flying into the river. These people had condemned her for things she hadn’t done; at least then they would have a reason to hate her and the next seven generations of her family. But then she thought, why not make this eight generation different?

HOT Chicken

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Organic Farming, Unknown with tags , , , , on March 14, 2012 by javedbabar

It was embarrassing. Everyone had brought the same dish to the party – and because they had all brought the same dish, they knew two things. First, that they hadn’t made it themselves – they had brought it at the grocery store. Second, that it was on special offer – that’s why it had caught their eye.

There was a table full of steaming HOTTM chicken, which everyone knew was past its shelf life, and had been reduced from $9.99 to 99 cents. Was it legal to sell out-of-date food? People weren’t sure, but presumed that the grocery store wouldn’t have offered it otherwise. On the bright side, everybody loved HOTTM chicken. Its unique combination of Habaneros, Olives, and Truffles was unbelievably good. As its millionaire fitness instructor/chef inventor said in the ads, it was “Hot, healthy richness to die for.”

Nobody would dispute that the Habaneros – fire for your tongue; Olives – lubrication for your heart; and Truffles – joy for your mind, created pleasure divine indeed. But a table full of HOTTM chicken was too much to handle. For a start, HOTTM chicken was way too hot for children to eat. They were told not to touch it, but couldn’t resist. Little hands reached up and sneaked around. Others openly raided the table’s edges. Every few minutes a new wailing began, as tender pink tastebuds were slaughtered.

The HOTTM chicken had all been unwrapped (to remove evidence of its out of dateness) and heated (to provide evidence of its just having come out of someone’s oven) – so it couldn’t be returned to the store. Yet a tableful of it couldn’t be wasted either.

Shaun called his son. “Tain, what are you doing right now?”

“Uh, nothing.” He was looking down, bored. A little moody. “Just talking to Egan and Baird.”

“Ok, tell them you’ll be back in a minute. Go upstairs and use my computer. You know Level One of TimeworkTM.” Tain nodded. “Find an offer for the kids – something they’ll like.”

“I’m not sure, dad. Can you do it?”

Shaun snapped at him. “No – you do it! I’ve got to stay with our guests.” He hadn’t realized he was so stressed; guests are meant to be a pleasure but are usually a pain. Still, he shouldn’t have snapped. “Go on Son, please find something for them.”

Tain headed upstairs. “Where are you going?” said Nola. He told her. “Can I come too?” She didn’t wait for an answer, just tagged along.

TimeworkTM was a popular low-level programme. Serious time programs were reserved for government use. Hackers sometimes jumped across from TimeworkTM to restricted programs, but were caught and punished. In most cases their TimeworkTM access was curtailed – easily done with DNA and sensory digitization. They remained forever in the extant present – how dull!

Tain found a good offer on MMMTM Muffins. He dragged the Mango Maple Marshmallow muffins to their household account, and was about to close down, when Nola said, “Wait! Wait! Wait! Why don’t we make another change?”

“My dad only said about the offer,” said Tain. “Don’t you like MMMTM Muffins? They’re the best, even…”

“They’re great. I’ll eat six of…”

Tain said, “Looks like you already have!”

Nola smacked him. Being a tomboy she wasn’t scared of boys physically, and they couldn’t hurt her inside. Sticks and stones and all that stuff.

“Look, I like the muffins but I also like HOTTM chicken. Have you ever tried it? I bet you haven’t, you wimp! My dad let’s me try some. It’s so good. And they let you change the formula. That’s why it’s so popular.”

“How can you change the formula?” said Tain. “It’s Habanero, Olive, and Truffle. It’s famous.”

“That’s what made it famous.” She manoeuvred herself before the computer. “But people change it all the time. It’s a Level Two program. Let me show you. What’s your password?” Tain told her without thinking. “Ok – look at this. You can change the ingredients according to letter. H can be Haddock, Halloumi, Ham, Hare, Haricots, Hazelnuts, Herbs, Hickory, Honey, or Hummus. O can be Onions, Okra, Oranges, Oxtail, Omelette, Oatmeal, or Oregano. T can be Tomato, Turkey, Tofu, Tuna, Turnip, Tortilla, Toast, Tarragon, Tamales, or Toblerone. Why don’t’ we try Hazelnut, Orange, Turnip? Or Ham, Omelette, Toast – just like my best breakfast?”

“We can’t change the HOTTM chicken,” said Tain. “They’re eating it already. We don’t know what will happen.”

“Well, we’ve got to change something,” said Nola. “It’s just too boring. Ok, I’ll just change the T. Eating Truffles is disgusting anyway. They make poor pigs find them in the forest and then kill them and mix them to make truffle sausages. People in Europe are very cruel. So let’s change the T to Toblerone.”

“Isn’t that European too, from Switzerland?”

“Yes, but it isn’t cruel. They just use honeycombs.” Nola confirmed the change to Habanero, Olive, Toblerone Chicken. Almost immediately there was a commotion downstairs. They rushed to see. There was Shaun with his face puffed, writhing on the ground. Dr. Bungawalla was attending to him.

Tain knew that his father was allergic to peanuts, but Toblerone contained almonds, so it couldn’t be that. And TimeworkTM had filters to prevent such accidents. However special offers to consumers require cost cutting by producers. How else could they make a buck? In this batch almonds had been replaced by peanuts. Tain had two minutes to reverse the ingredients. This was a more advanced operation. “Nola! Do you know Level Three?”


Posted in Mystical Experience, Unknown with tags , , , , on March 6, 2012 by javedbabar

Alba said, “I saw you perform at the Transparent Temple last week. It’s nice to see that you’re still here. You must like our little Village.”

“Thank you,” said the Great Shakra. “Yes I do like your Village; I’m staying for a week.” It was strange to see him at the grocery store after all that smoke and mirrors. A man in a top hat and tails was not common in the produce section.

“Oh goody. Will you be doing another show? I’d love to come again.”

“No, just one show per week,” said the Great Shakra. “That’s all I can manage. It takes a lot of effort you know. My job is to make it seem effortless, but there’s lots of hard work involved.”

“Oh, I wasn’t implying that it was easy,” said Alba. “I just meant that…”

“No, no. It’s fine. I appreciate your enthusiasm.” He smiled like he had on stage, his beam like that from a lighthouse, flashing all around. She was caught in its glow – flash-frozen – and then released. “Tell me,” he said. “What did you think of the show?”

Alba recalled the poster in the ATM lobby. It said, “June 21st – First time in Lucerne Village – The Great Shakra – Mentalist Extraordinary.” Tickets were pricey considering it was a local event, but she’d loved magic since childhood and couldn’t resist. Her friends said, “Fifty bucks for card tricks – get out of here! We’ll play snap with you for ten bucks, including lunch.” So Alba went alone to the show. “You blew my mind,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. I mean, I have on TV, but never in real life. How do you do it?”

“Well, I don’t usually reveal my secrets,” he said. “But it’s always a pleasure to meet magic fans. I’ll give you a little snippet. What would you like to know?” He moved out of the way of a trolley, tickling the baby’s head within it. The baby began crying.

“Right at the beginning you sent us all joy; sudden joy. How did you do that?” Alba believed that real magic existed.

“It was really very easy. When people closed their eyes, I turned up the lights. They felt the extra brightness through their eyelids, which they interpreted as joyous.” Alba looked annoyed, but also amazed. “I possess no supernatural powers. What I am is a communications expert. I send and receive messages. I hope that doesn’t disappoint you.”

“I’m sure you’re being modest. How did you know that East Indian man had a silver Frontier?”

“I’m afraid that was my least impressive feat of the night. When I asked him for a handkerchief for the dove trick, I saw his key ring. That was all.”

“But then you read people’s tea-leaves and told them where they’d been on holiday.”

“Again, no magic there. I am a communications expert. The tea-leaves were just a distraction, giving me time to discover their income bracket. Manual workers go to Mexico; office workers to Hawaii; and business owners to Europe. Everyone aspires to something, it’s just a matter of demographics.” Alba looked unhappy again. “Knowing where they may be going this winter was also easy. I saw a poster in the ATM lobby for Christmas deals to Florida. Many people would be considering those.”

“Why did you ask people for 4-digit numbers?”

“Oh, no reason really,” he said. “Picking up more non-verbal cues.”

Alba was disappointed to hear the Mentalist Extraordinary’s mundane explanations for his feats. Is that all there was to it? she thought. She said, “Thank you for telling me. It was nice to meet you. I’d better get on with my shopping now.”

“It was nice to meet you too,” said the Great Shakra. “You may want to avoid the spring onions and cilantro; they’re looking quite wilted. But they’re not beyond salvation. Let’s see if we can freshen them up.” He twirled his hands at the herbs in the fridge. Immediately the misters began spraying, and double-rainbows appeared beneath the bright lights. The greens looked like they were growing in a little heaven.

“Wow!” said Alba. “Did you just make that happen?” She stared at the rainbows like a little girl dreaming.

“Maybe,” said the Great Shakra. “Your father would have loved to see the amazing variety of food here. He used to plant his own garden, didn’t he? But with a much smaller range of crops in The Yukon, of course. I’m sure his oregano and basil did well though, and tasted great in his pastas. He misses making them for you, bambina.”

Alba’s mouth fell open. “You know that? Are you psychic too? A medium?”

“Well, sort of. Come on, you need to get your shopping done. Why don’t you start with this aisle? Oh yes – artichokes, salsify, and organic mangoes, yum yum; and let’s go there – tiger prawns, tuna steaks, how about some surf and turf – let’s get filet steaks; get two packs; and yes, these special breads, made with sprouted ancient grains; this hand-toasted muesli, get the cashew and macadamia one; you can’t beat artisan goat cheese with caviar crust; its divine.” They strolled around the store, filling her cart with Lucerne’s finest foods. When they reached the till he said, “Throw in some mints and a National Enquirer and this will come to….. $360 exactly.”

Alba was amazed. She shouldn’t have doubted. He truly possessed magical powers

He didn’t really though. The Great Shakra had figured out the greens’ spraying schedule. That Alba was from a poor Italian family in The Yukon. His groceries cost more or less the same in these centrally-managed stores; he just needed to balance the cart with some impulse purchases. He was however skilled at sleight-of-hand, sensory overwhelming, and hypnosis. So he used Alba’s credit card – using the 4-digit PIN number he’d gleaned from her at the show – to pay for what were now his groceries, and then made her forget that she had ever met him.

Fresh Foods

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village, Organic Farming with tags , , , , on February 22, 2012 by javedbabar

“Darling will you get me some mint?” said Claire.

“Sure, how much do you want?” said Daved to his wife, cheerful despite nursing a hangover. “Just a handful?”

“One of my handfuls, honey – not one of yours.” Daved clipped young stalks from the container using chained-up-scissors. The rush of freshness cleared his head, but the dullness returned. “Oh, and while you’re there, can you get some cilantro?”

“Sure honey,” he said, and moved to other containers.

“Is my hunky husband in the mood for some heavy digging” said Claire, her trailing arm circling his waist. “Some spuds and carrots please. Not too many. Just what we need for the weekend.” Daved pushed his hands into the soil and rooted around. He yanked up ten medium-sized russets, and a dozen purple carrots. The freshness of food these days was astonishing. Since the implementation of Local Food Laws, supermarkets grew produce right on their shelves. It was all fresh, local, healthy food. What could be better for you?

“Perfect,” she said. “Let’s get some tomatoes. Where’s the hothouse section? Why do they keep moving it around? Oh, there it is, I think. Or is that exotics?” She ambled over and pulled open a flap. “No, it’s tomatoes.” Claire snipped off a pound each of Black Princes and Green Zebras. The peppers looked good, and she decided to get some of those, selecting ripe Hungarian Wax, Jalapeno, Cayenne, and – what the hell! – Habanero peppers; all conveniently growing on the same bush.

“What else do we need, love?” she called out of the hothouse.

“I fancy fish today,” said Daved. “What about you?”

“Ok, go catch something Ahab. I’ll be in the dairy.” Claire was still pulling the Gau MataTM  udders – invented by the great Indian scientist Dr. A.W. Cooraswamy-Muchilinda-Moghlai – when Daved appeared with his catch.

“He had some spirit, this one,” he said. “Zipping around the tank like crazy. I couldn’t get him with the line so zapped him. Anyway, we have grilled wild salmon with coriander potatoes and minted carrots on the menu for tonight.”

Claire finished her milking. She loved the feeling of pulling these udders, it was so authentic; just like the rosy-cheeked farm girl in the ads. She wiped her hands and said, “Ok, just some beef now. I think we’ve got everything else.”

The meat section was always quieter in the afternoons. People liked “fresh” beef grown overnight – they said it was more tender – but Claire had never noticed the difference. She felt that they were kidding themselves; they just didn’t want to pay the extra for Veal. Daved carved thick strips of soft red flesh from the block, each piece well textured. That Indian Doctor was a genius, he thought– it’s a shame he was assassinated; think what else he could have invented. The meat block shook and made a squealing sound. The Butcher rushed over and said, “I’m so sorry Sir. Some of these meats are restless this morning. I’m not sure why.”

“The fish are pretty spirited too,” said Daved. “I felt like I was chasing Moby Dick.”

The Butcher smiled and said, “Well Buster here’s not going anywhere. Would you like me to finish carving? How much do you need?” He wrapped up their bloody meat and said, “Enjoy your meal. By the way, have you visited our new Fair Trade Department? It’s across the other side of the store.”

“No, we haven’t heard about it,” said Claire.

“We’ve kept it quiet deliberately; we don’t want any trouble. Look what happened to Dr. Cooraswamy-Muchilinda-Moghlai. That SFPF is dangerous; they say that they don’t condone violence but every terrorist incident seems to involve one of their members. Anyway, good folk like you won’t cause any trouble, I’m sure. Why don’t you take a look?”

A uniformed security guard allowed them entry to what must have been a previously unused warehouse at the back of the store. Daved and Claire gasped in amazement. It was ten degrees hotter than outside, and pretty humid; the lush green area was divided into continents. In “South America” they saw tattooed Amazon tribesmen picking Brazil Nuts. In “Africa”, red-blanketed Maasai warriors tended coffee bushes. In “Asia” Saffron-robed Sadhus picked orange pekoe tea. “Australia” had ochre-smeared Aborigines tending mangoes. “North America” featured Navajo squaws growing corn, beans, and squash. “Europe” had men in black berets and women in bright dresses treading barrels of grapes.

“What do you think?” said the Manager, catching up with them. “We need to fine-tune the costumes, I know, but not bad, eh? Sorry I didn’t welcome you earlier, but I was keeping my eye on the protest outside. It’s those Slow Food People’s Front extremists. Some people just don’t see progress when it slaps them in the face. Whatever we do is never enough for them. I mean, ten years ago who would have thought that our entire food chain would be fresh, local, and organic?”

He chatted with Claire and Daved for a while, and then asked if he could show them something special. “We always like to run things by our customers first.” He showed them a device that the grocery store was testing, called MORE (Modern Organism Replicator Engine). “Wait till we get this going next month. You’ve never tasted food so fresh!”