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Through Lattice Windows: The Familiar Stranger

...I was stopped by a shimmering wall of lights. I stepped to the side, only to find myself about to walk into another woman. I apologized, stepped out of her way, and was surprised when she appeared still to be blocking my path...

Leanne Hunt, whose sight is severly impaired, tells of a disturbing "encounter'' while out shopping.

I used to be able to go shopping alone. When I was first married, I used to hop off the bus after work, go into our local grocery store and select ingredients for the evening meal. A packet of minute steaks, some crispy-looking carrots, strawberries on special or an exotic-sounding flavor of ice cream. Now I can't even find the minute steaks or the carrots, let alone read the labels.

This has been the cause of many blunders and an equal number of laughs - although not always immediate. Once, when shopping with my credit card, I purchased a duck instead of a chicken. Besides the fact that it was inexplicably fatty and odd-tasting, it was later discovered to have been almost three times the price. I have also been known to buy amasi - a curdled milk product favored by the local black population - instead of fresh milk; exorbitantly expensive kosher biscuits instead of ordinary ones; and various inappropriate shampoos and conditioners, whose labels have lately become so detailed and technical that it is impossible to simply go by the colour and shape of the bottle when making a choice.

Having tried various methods of shopping, from ordering off internet catalogues to engaging the help of a shop assistant, I have resorted to using my family members, simply because it's easier. They know what they like and can drop it into the trolley as we go along the aisle, without lengthy discussions about the range and price of products. It is a weekly chore that no-one really enjoys, but I have to say, we've got it down to a fine art. Not much gets forgotten and we make good time.

Clothes shopping is another story. I do it as seldom as possible, and then only with one of my daughters when they are in an especially good mood. I keep my tastes very simple and don't follow fashion. That way, I hope to get lasting wear out of each garment so as to avoid replacing it for as long as possible.

But there are times when I need something urgently, and then I have to brave the stores alone, trusting that the assistant who approaches me is up to the task of not only choosing the correct size but of describing the colour and design detail of the fabric as well. Occasionally I get really great service and am encouraged to try the experiment again. Sometimes it is a total disaster.

Not long ago, I went into a popular ladies-wear store to pass the time while my husband was conducting business at the bank. Inspired by the selection of dresses on display, I sought help and chose several to try on. The assistant showed me to a cubicle and I duly went through the process. Finding none of them suitable, I left the cubicle and made my way back to the showroom.

Before I could reach it, however, I was stopped by a shimmering wall of lights. I stepped to the side, only to find myself about to walk into another woman. I apologized, stepped out of her way, and was surprised when she appeared still to be blocking my path.

"Excuse me," I said, "Will you help me find the exit, please?"

The woman said nothing. I put out my hand to indicate that I wanted to pass - and then, to my horror, realized I was talking to my reflection in a mirror! I spun around to see if anyone had noticed. Thankfully, the assistant had disappeared, but I was stuck inside the change-room area, with no idea of how to get out.

Then, to my enormous relief, my husband appeared. He came, as if by magic, through the shimmering wall of lights. Blinking my eyes and trying to work out what I was seeing, I took his arm and gripped it tightly. I felt completely disorientated and unbalanced.

"Are you all right." he asked, sounding concerned.

"Yes, but I just had a frightening experience," I replied, looking around me in confusion. The shimmering wall swung from side to side. Lights twinkled and flashed. I blinked again. "What is this?" I asked.

In answer, he put out his hand. The wall parted, and I saw that it was, in fact, a curtain of mirrored plates, suspended from roof height between two mirrored panels. The curtain sparkled as we went through. I emerged in the showroom, breathing heavily. It would be a while, I told myself, before I ventured into that weird, parallel universe-type place again!


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