Mia and I went to Ikea today. That is to say that we travelled there in the same car, but after that our paths didn’t cross much. As so often happens, I headed in the direction of the things I wanted, got them, and was only distracted for a few minutes by a stand-up desk I hadn’t planned to get, and suddenly knew I had to. I collected the numbered boxes I’d need to build this desk from the tall shelves in the large warehouse that sits between the walk-through part of the store and the check-out lines, and arranged them on a flat-bed trolley. And then I was done. In all, it had taken me about twenty-five minutes.
A part of those twenty-five minutes was spent looking for Mia. I realised as I walked through the mock kitchen setups that she was no longer beside me. I walked on in defiance for a while, but then, as always, I caved in and went back. It was then that I came across the stand-up desk. It seemed quite fitting to me that I should buy something on an impulse in revenge for being left unsupervised.
After thirty minutes of waiting I decided to sit down between the boxes on my trolley. I felt a bit like a hobo but across the wide aisle from me another man had just done the same. We exchanged a knowing, wry smile.
“You’ve reached Mia Hannom,” Mia’s voice message informed me.
No, I thought, I haven’t really.
Over the next hour I watched various men who all waited, as I did. Most of them worked their phones and looked, as time passed, increasingly shipwrecked. I worked my own phone and reached Mia Hannom a few more times before I gave up. It occurred to me that there should be an international day of remembrance to honour all men who had lost the will to live while they waited for their partners in shops across the world. Just then a grandmother pushed a flat-bed trolley past me. It was empty except for her small grandson who sat on it and looked bored out of his tiny skull. They were waiting too, I realised, no doubt for the little boy’s mother.
“What does that cost?” I asked as a lame joke.
The grandmother stopped, mimed deep concentration, and announced, “He’s free.”
“I’m not free!” the little boy exclaimed. “I’m four!”
Much later, as Mia and I bickered about men and women, her sense of time, and her misleading voice message, I told her about this little boy.
“It’s not fair,“ I said. “Even small ones wait.”
“It’s not so bad,” she replied. “By now he’s five.”