By the junction of the streets of Colon and Junquera was an old department store, Gaw. This store, before it got burned down in the 1990s, was a spot for students from nearby universities. The store was spacious and cool, with full-blast airconditioning and the whirring drowned by the soothing piped-in music. The only interruption was the occasional ding-dong followed by a cyborg-like female voice calling out an employee to check a potential shoplifter (or, who knows, maybe just to shake the salespersons from their boredom?). Needless to say, it was a nice spot for whiling away the time during class breaks.
From the outside, the department store showed mannequins in their perpetual immobility and dead gaze. Since my memory of this was Christmas time, they were clothed for the cold weather–thick jackets, padded pants, winter boots, and bonnets. Of course, the mannequins have to wear dark ski goggles–afterall, the styrofoam snow inside their little glass box might appear too much for their eyes. The coolness of Gaw stood in contrast to the tropical heat and energy outside the department store. Just a spit away from Gaw‘s doors, vendors plied their wares with mats laid out on the pedestrian lane. The goods were arranged into different mounds of household items: nails, hammers, pencils, pens, saws, knives, kitchen utensils, soaps and many other things. There were also little carts offering jewelry cleaning services and the repair of watches. A man with a rectangular wooden box–about 2 ft x 1 ft–walked about, hawking cigarettes and candies to pedestrians. Opposite the store entrance was a kariton filled with pineapples–the vendor deftly peeling one of the fruits, taking out the numerous pineapple “eyes,” itchy and sharp when ingested.
The lane gets too crowded that walking through it needed crab-like skills and the ability to shrink one’s body into a smaller mass. To navigate, one had to pass through people and things nimbly, with the head and body sideways, shoulder first; then a quick dash whenever a space is spotted followed by a sudden stop, just enough to nudge the back of the next person. The head has to remain immobile–if tall enough, raise the chin up for a whiff of fresh air and, if short, put the chin down like a bull and charge through the crowd. Be careful not to turn your head fast unless you want to intentionally headbutt the person behind you.
Above this urban din, the Gaw Christmas mechanical montage hung above the department store’s signage. Santa Claus moved back and forth on his sled, stopping once in a while for his signature laugh. Santa’s associates swung to and fro in one spot, swinging like the hands of the clock, their teeth white and plastic. It was the monotony of it all that made this montage calming, quite similar to the function of meditation beads in the middle of a chorus of snores. The repetitive movement, in clockwork precision, contrasted well with the pandemonium of the push and shove of people below it.
And then on an uneventful night, the department store went down in flames. Everything stood still the day after.