Ideally what the Sunday Vision publishes in the magazine every week should be the seventh draft of what I originally wrote, but time has kept getting shorter and shorter, and I have been cheating—that is why you find so many silly grammar errors in my column these days, (thank you so much for reading it, by the way. Thank you every time I see my paycheck).
This last week was the closest I came to a full seven redrafts in months, because I had initially written twice as much as the paper needed. I had to cut it down to 500 words without losing the ire I was trying to express.
Well, I don’t think I succeeded. I lost the ire. But since the internet gives us all a second chance, may I try again?
You must be acquainted with the phenomenon known as Small Man’s Complex, even if it is not by name, because there is a virtual epidemic of it going around. It is probably an unfortunate by-product of the era of peace and development ushered in by Muhwezi and his friends, because now that we have hotels and restaurants and such, we need askaris to guard them. And that is what small man’s complex is. What the askari suffers from SMC is a situation where a person with inadequate amounts of esteem in himself latches on to a little bit of authority and uses it to irrational excess against, well, anyone he can find who he thinks won’t hit back. It is bullying, in short.
A recent example forms the crux of this rant. Presenting: One Evening at The Supermarket.
The offending object:
Since I lost my wallet a while ago and because I lack the discipline to get around to replacing it when there are makeshift alternatives readily available, I have, of late, been carrying my cash, cards and miscellenia around in a book. Yes, a book. I slip banknotes and ATM cards between the pages.
It is an excellent book, yes, thank you for asking. It is called Last Chance To See, by Douglas Adams and Michael Carradine. I bought it second hand at the taxi park.
Which means that it is also an old book. It is dog-eared, frayed, tattered and weatherbeaten and made even more so by the fact that I have been carrying it around as a wallet for over a month.
It was the only object in my hand on the evening I entered a supermarket in the Ntinda Shopping Centre.
As we walked in (I wasn’t going to buy anything, I was just escorting someone) I paused for a second at the baggage check counter.
At most reputable supermarkets, those which respect their customers and therefore opt out of insulting them, I raise the book for the baggage check personnel to see that it is all I have in my hand and they graciously pass me on, either with a friendly smile, or by actually saying, “You don’t need to check that, sir, not unless you want to. You don’t? Well, then enjoy your shopping experience, sir.” And they wave me on.
The Offending Staff:
This baggage check man at this supermarket was not gracious. He called me over to insist that I leave my book with him. Now, still under the misapprehension that I was dealing with a professional, I offered a little joke. I sniggered that if he would not trust me not to shoplift in his store with the aid of my little paperback, I won’t trust him with its contents. I proceeded to remove the cash from the pages of the book, and the cards as well. When I began to extract two CDs from between the pages, he stopped me again. To assert that I have to leave the CDs, too. It was at this point that I realised what was happening. Either of two things:
The first thing: He thought I was anextremely cunning and unscrupulous villain, who is desperate to steal and cannot be trusted to enter a supermarket with open shelves while in possession of two CDs, let alone a whole paperback novel. If he lets me in with them I will certainly find something to hide and pilfer. In short, he was determined to call me a thief.
The other thing: He knew that he had no reason to suspect that I was on a mission to shoplift whatever tiny shelf item they have that can be secreted in the sleeves of a transparent CD case. He was just throwing his weight around. He wanted to assert what little power he had even if it had no consequence at all.
I know the prudent thing is to give such idiots what they want, but like I said, I wasn’t there to shop. The person I was escorting had already disappeared into the store. I had time to argue. So I did.
I was forcefully asking the man what the hell he was smoking when a uniformed girl, thinking she was coming to his rescue, said something about how they couldn’t let me in with a book because they sell books on their shelves.
You are gasping, aren’t you? And you are not sure if it is with shock, or indignation.
It is so imbecilic because even if you chose not to consider the advanced decrepitude of my book, the store sold mobile phones as well, and they weren’t stopping anyone from walking in with their phone. Not even me. And I had two! Yes, I roll with two phones. Don’t hate, though. One is a katorchi.
By now I was quite peeved, so I turned to look for the customer service desk, only to find that it was right next to the hulabaloo, and the service rep was right there, ignoring the incident of customer dissatisfaction brewing right next to her.
I didn’t expect her to do much, actually. I wasn’t dying to get in to her store with Last Chance To See. I would be as comfortable waiting outside, but I wanted my nerves soothed. I turned to her, hoping to hear words like, “I’m sorry sir, but there is nothing we can do. It is just store policy. We mean no disrespect by it, I assure you.” At which point I would say, “Well, teach your man how to talk to people. He is obnoxious and rude.” Get the response, “I promise I will have a word with him.” And then I would be mollified and I would continue to enjoy shopping at Quality.
Instead all I got was a glassy-eyed look and a few mumbles.
“Listen, this whole baggage check issue is very delicate. I know you can’t let people walk in with bags. I know you can’t trust your customers and that you have to assume they are all criminals before you can let them in. It is a sensitive matter. But you should at least try to handle it with some finesse, with some class, instead of just letting this oaf insult us to our faces!”
Glassy eye. Mumble.
I wasn’t a customer that day, and you can rest assured I will never be. They have a competitor across the street anyway. Nice people who smile when they bag your groceries.