19, clumsy and shy. Yet surprisingly, I’d gained a boyfriend. During one rare moment of impulsion, I pounced when I spotted him in HMV flipping through Pixies CDs, declaring I recognised him from seminars.
Fast forward two years, and we’re on a shopping trip. His idea, not mine. I’d only just come out of my No Logo phase, and was still wary of capitalist conventions such as ‘shopping’. But I understood my boyfriend’s need. After entering the crystal castle off the M25 it was easy to be swept along with the horde of brainwashed zombies shuffling around the polished interior.
We passed a shop filled with glowing amber jewellery. I pressed my paws on a cabinet of rings, their honeyed eyes winking back at me.
We moved on to a toiletries shop, where he bought a heart-shaped soap. I thought it was strange, not being asked to wait outside while he bought me a memento.
Then a bookshop, where he purchased an elegantly illustrated hardback for himself.
Next: a liquor shop, whose staff would recommend a tipple for the lucky recipient, then decorate the bottle with fine calligraphic labels bearing the motto of your choice.
“Just getting a present for Annabel,” he said, struggling to squeeze the gift bags he’d accumulated through the doorway.
I froze. Annabel was the oft-mentioned girl he’d met when he went back to his hometown during the holidays. Waiting outside, I heard the assistant say, “And what does the lady like?” “Oh, she definitely likes vodka,” he replied, with a knowing chuckle.
As he exited the shop with a Cheshire cat grin, I could tell he was high on spending-endorphins. “Can I get you anything?”
Staggered by the question, I stuttered that I’d liked the amber jewellery.
I chose a ring. £20. I hesitated as it was removed from the case, but he insisted. Hefty fee for a student, even if it was payday.
Pushing thoughts of heart-shaped soaps and gleaming vodka bottles out of my head during the ride back, I admired my gift. It twisted through kaleidoscopic colours and shades in my window seat while my companion sulked in aisle-side gloom, on a spending spree comedown.
Later, going through the receipts with shaking hands, he cried “I shouldn’t have bought that ring.”
Later still, I was left for Annabel (who in turn left him for Lauren), but I still have that ring.