“Who is there?” Ramya shouted out. She was a gutsy one. Navneeta wished she could be like her friend.
There was no reply but they did not wait for long to see the owner of the footsteps. Some figures could be seen approaching in the dim light of the torch. There looked like small children by their heights. But their gait was not the playful stumbling gait of children but the more steady solemn one of adults. As they came nearer, she noticed their worn out faces with long beards.
“Hail thee, yon fair maiden. What bringeth thee to our humble abode?” Navneeta looked at the speaker. A pair of kind, intelligent eyes stared out of his Pince-Nez.
“Our friends have gone through that cloud over there. We are waiting for them to return.”
“Come on with us, dearies. We will take you to your friends. We are anyways going in there. The more the merrier. Ho Ho Ho!” This was a fellow who looked like a miniature version of Santa Claus.
“How many times have I told you not to talk to strangers, Happy!” This from a fellow with a flaming red beard and eyes blazing like cinders!
“Achoo! Aaahchool! Whoosh!” The girls found themselves swept of their feet and flying through air as they just caught a glimpse of one of the men, his nose red, sneezing compulsively.
They landed on the ground with a thud and found themselves lying near the feet of the two boys.
“Don’t you girls even have this much patience. We are hardly been here five minutes and you choose to come sniffing at our heels.” Navneeta was surprised to see the usually level headed and sensible Vinod showing a hint of irritation.
“What do you mean five minutes? You have been away for two hours now.”
“I note thine befuddlement, fair maiden. But father time keeps a different count here and a different one there.” The seven little men walked in.
Seeing their confused look, the happy looking fellow spoke up. “Ho Ho Ho. Don’t you get it? You can pass time much faster in this land. In 5 minutes, your friends were able to pass 2 hours of boredom. Isn’t that cool?”
“Yeah, for 5 minutes here, you lost 2 hours of your life time in your real world.”
“Grumpy always has an eye for issues, eh? Ho Ho Ho. Well, you gain time in some lands, you lose in some. Overall it balances out if you keep visiting lands. Anyways let us not waste the precious hours. Go grab yourself a bargain?”
“Bargain?” All four of them looked puzzled.
“Yes. This is the land of bargains. You can shop here to your heart’s content.”
At the mention of the word shopping, both the girls’ faces lit up for a moment and then fell. “But we didn’t bring much money.”
“No problem dearies. You can pay in cash backs and coupons.”
“What are they?”
“Well – cashback is the opposite of cash. Taking a ‘cashback’ has the same effect as giving cash. The cashback will remain with you till you have some cash and as and when you have equivalent cash, it will cancel itself out and vanish.”
“And what is a coupon?”
“A coupon is like cash but with some strings attached. A coupon may be valid for only certain duration of time, or valid to buy only certain types of goods or usable only with certain merchants.”
“Enough, Happy! We have already wasted enough time. Let us get going on our business.” It was Grumpy again.
The little men disappeared and the children were by themselves.
“Well?” said Vinod.
“What are we waiting for?” said Ramya.
There were stores of all kinds: apparel stores, perfume stores, electronic stores, book stores, art stores and stores selling almost every item you could think of! They went about window shopping for a while looking at these strange shops. The shops were teeming with customers. All the shop keepers as well of customers were strange looking beings, most of them the size of children, with strange looking features that were not exactly human. Some had strange pointed ears, some had pencil like noses, some had animal like features.
The girls decided to check out one of the apparel stores and the boys headed to the electronic store. The girls’ eyes popped out when they saw the range of merchandise on offer. There were dresses of silk, cotton, chiffon, satin, wool and every other material one could think of. The designs were just mind blowing and there was clothing for every ethnicity: frocks and gowns, chudidhars, kimonos, sarongs and kanzus. And as far as colors went, they only had to name any hue and there it was. The girls had a time of their life going parsing through the range of dresses and bargaining over the prices. The strange creatures at the shop seemed so patient. They did not hassle them or rush them into making choices. They kept displaying garment after garment. Before the girls knew what happened, it was evening and they found themselves with large bags filled with clothing, thousands of rupees worth of cash backs and another thousands worth of coupons for perfumes and jewelry. As they happily headed towards the perfume store, they felt a strange wind blowing. Before they could give it a thought they saw the seven short men running, with huge sacks on their back and the two boys, right behind them.
“Hurry up. We are already too late,” they yelled at the girls.
Picture Credit: Shopping Street
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