The incident I am about to recount is something I would have written in my diary and not shared with anyone else. But I have never kept a diary. I received one for my tenth or eleventh birthday, but I only used it for crossing out drawings I thought were too amateurish for my age. I remember, I also used it to hide girlie cards I traded with classmates. The only diary I now keep is in my head, which is anything but adventurous reading.
It all began at the fruit and vegetable section of the supermarket. It is a popular supermarket on the border of my town’s wealthier neighborhood. People go there from poorer neighborhoods because there are regular, genuine discounts and the fresh, glossy produce is stacked in neat formations every day, as if it were on a permanent museum exhibition. Staff are always friendly. I won’t name the store because I fear the resulting publicity would drive unwanted, curious visitors there. People are always on the lookout for sensation. They slow down at the scene of a traffic accident – the greater the wreckage, the slower they pass. If they only tried harder, they would find more excitement in their everyday routines.
As I was about to pick a wholesome cluster of bananas, something struck my left ankle. I thought it was a fellow shopper who accidentally stumbled into me, and I was about to smile and assure her that these little accidents are not worth mentioning. But the person closest to me was standing by the crate of avocados, two aisles away. I looked down at what I first thought was a potato. But it had a small, curly tail, like a mouse’s, which made it a beet. Red beet. Beetroot. I know it has several common names because I have a perfectly healthy colleague who is a hypochondriac and drinks beet juice every day to spare him from cancer. His screen saver displays a beet that resembles a potent reservoir of superior blood, the kind used for life-saving transfusions at well-equipped clinics. I bent down to pick it up and place it back on the shelf, but the foot I suspected being there earlier appeared suddenly, out of nowhere, as it unintentionally kicked the vegetable. The woman, wearing a pointed shoe, didn’t notice. The beet darted straight into a promotional display of some fancy peelers and knocked some of them off the bottom row. I found this amusing for some reason. With time to kill before an appointment with my accountant, I decided to collect the beet and put an end to its ordeal. This time I was beaten by a shopping cart wheel. This small organic ball of health and energy, an essential ingredient of borscht, as I later found out, and many other recipes, was propelled in the direction of frozen foods, with assists given by a crowd of indifferent feet at the intersection of wine and cheese.
I was no longer interested in picking up the beet, but its random path made me curious, like the path of a ball kicked by boys from the top of the street. It was a frivolous diversion, but on that given day, after a heated argument with my wife, before a meeting with an accountant who should have enrolled in regular follow-up courses in adding and subtracting, and the possibility of the immobilizer’s keypad expecting a PIN code it chose to keep secret from me, I was drawn to projecting parallels between that particular vegetable and higher forms of life, to explore the way we are at the mercy of powers beyond our control.
After ricocheting around violently for a minute or two, the beet settled in a niche under artisanal pastries. It caught the attention of a diligent employee, who reached down for it, but let it go as a man with an obvious passion for pastries made a long, rumbling inquiry. It was not clear to me why the employee decided to leave the beet on the floor: Was it ordinary laziness or company code that prohibited the fondling of vegetables during face-to-face conversation with customers? A young man in bicycle wear, wearing a helmet, stepped on the beet and nearly fell. His glasses fogged up. He was visibly annoyed, so he booted the beet. It landed at the very center of the ice cream aisle. It was very hard not to notice it on the sand-colored tile. A mother was eager to make her mind up about the flavor of ice cream to buy, demanding that her scatter-brained son choose one of the gallon containers. He blurted out something to the effect of “slurpee” and “marshmallow,” made a premeditated five-yard dash and kicked the beet out of the bounds of retail space. The projectile shot past feet, carts and the checkout. It even made its way through the automatic sliding doors with the shoppers. I could follow its path because I was standing right behind the stupid kid, but I fell behind.
As opposed to my initial reaction, I decided not to reprimand him for what he did, and approached the checkout to see if anything was to be seen of the beet. It had rolled into the parking lot, offering itself as an easy target for bigger, heavier wheels. An eggplant-colored SUV missed it only by an inch or two. A man in a weathered windbreaker, with a white beard and an umbrella used as a walking cane, took the beet from the hands of a curious girl in a baseball cap, who had just picked it up, and stuffed it into his pocket. He walked away, mumbling something to himself. I was late, so I rushed back to fetch my bananas.