We were the sons and daughters of busy working men and women who couldn’t afford crèches, of half-lost souls, of feckless unemployed folks who had some betting or drinking or TV-watching planned on our schoolless Wednesday afternoons. We weren’t quite left to our own devices, but rather trusted to the factory-tested smooth edges of the local Ikea show-room. They walked us kids to the store’s entrance like they’d walked us that morning to the school gates, and released us with the same confidence that they would find us again at the end of the day, happy and spent. We stormed in like into a candy shop as soon as they let go of our hands, we found each other as if by instinct in the swarm of shoppers’ legs.
We each had our preferences – some of us liked to play cooking, reached up over the too-high counter tops to worry invisible knives over invisible vegetables on real, five-quid wooden chopping boards with exotic names. Others lounged in living-rooms, put their feet up on coffee tables in dad-inspired poses. You could spot who among us didn’t dream of nights in front of the screen, but were allowed to imitate their parents’ watching habits: they disappeared into bedroom scenes, catching up on their sleep in neat bunk beds, in neatly organised rooms like you only saw on TV. Many shoppers got spooked by the stirring of a duvet as they pulled on a price tag, or by the moaning of a child, bleary eyes materialising out of the set. We had that effect on adults. We understand it now, thinking back, visiting our memories like those adults coming into the store, the strange vision, walking into one of these little corners full of real-life props, the gangs of children filling it, pretending to live in the pretend rooms, turning the knobs of lifeless hobs, gulping invisible food out of clean plates, waving the remote at en ever-black TV screen. We spooked them. They must have felt like they’d just walked through the looking-glass, stepped into a world of midgets with impeccable household-maintenance standards.
Once in the middle of the afternoon people came and drove us to some office where we spent the rest of the day. They gave us paper and pencils, but we played instead at being patients in a doctor’s waiting room, jobseekers sitting in the corridor before an interview. It was almost a shock that day, to see all our parents come in, all the parents of our mid-week brethren, and take us back to our many homes. Our Wednesday routine suffered for a while. But we got back to it. Little by little, week by week, we repeopled the store. We learnt to hide when sales folks in uniforms came by. We crouched under desks and held our breaths. Stepped into wardrobes, shadowed random adults as if we belonged by their sides. It became one more game we had.
As it happens in all families, the routine eventually broke, changed. We became old enough to be left alone in the outside world on Wednesday afternoons. We lost sight of each other. We got bored, played videogames, drank cans of strong beer in parks, roamed stores we couldn’t find any fun in. We got girlfriends, boyfriends, jobs. We’re sales people, furniture makers, delivery men, chefs. We weren’t really the college type. We have busy schedules, little money. We can’t afford crèches. We make do. The kids seem happy when we pick them up from the store.
Armel Dagorn is now back in his native France after living in Ireland for seven years. His writing can be found in NANO Fiction, Birkensnake, Paper Darts and Popshot. Say hi to him: armeldagorn.wordpress.com