tilly and the others: part 7

Tilly shifted the shopping bag handle so that it sat more comfortably on her shoulder. She made a valiant attempt to put herself in a better mood as she trudged through the crowds in the Eaton Centre, but she couldn't help silently wishing the Best Buy clerks the same treatment they had just given her when they got grey hair. Did she know what a USB port was... how dare they? And then the little pimply nit had tried to sell her regular headphones with no microphone attached.

Enough, she told herself. She stepped onto the up escalator. She'd make a quick trip to Shopper's Drug Mart and buy herself some lipstick, since her old make-up seemed to be permanently lost.

As she reached ground level, she took a quick glance at the evangelists outside. Once the corner at Yonge & Dundas had been mostly street artists with only a few soap box prosletytisers pushing religion, politics, philosophy, or some strange brew of all three. Now Tilly spotted the silver Elvis living statue, but everyone else seemed to be handing out either Bibles or Korans. It almost made her miss the Hare Krishnas.

A homeless man was leaning against the glass near the doors to outside, baseball cap held out for spare change. His head was turned to watch when people were exiting the mall so he could proffer his cap at the right time. He made eye contact with Tilly and flung himself face-first against the glass-walled façade, pounding with his fists. Even the obvious non-tourists turned to stare.

"Hey!" he yelled. "Special lady! Hey!"

Tilly stepped into a still area in the crowd and stared. Now that he'd spoken, she recognised him. It was the homeless man from the Annex who had told her the Others were trying to communicate with her.

Two security guards walked rapidly out of the Sears store and out of the mall. The homeless man spotted them and started stepping away from the windowed wall of his own accord.

"You need the door in the sky! I'm going to the door in the ground! Did you hear me? You need the door in the sky!" He turned and ran north up Yonge Street just as the light turned green. The security guards followed him as far as the intersection before returning to the mall.

Tilly pretended to check her shopping bag, hoping it wasn't obvious to anyone that she was the one he was talking to. She fished out her receipt and put it in her purse, then carefully looked up. No-one seemed to be paying her any attention. She continued on to the pharmacy.

At Shopper's Drug Mart Tilly did the same thing she always did when she went to buy lipstick: she looked at all the samples on all the racks carefully, then chose whatever shade was closest to the coral colour she had started wearing back in the early seventies. There was still a part of her that wasn't sure about this whole lipstick-wearing business, although she had to admit that it was almost mandatory to put on something against Canada's winter-dry air, and the stuff with tint in it seemed to work better than the stuff without.

The Eaton Centre Shopper's Drug Mart was an extra-large one, with special aisles dedicated to souvenir Canadiana for the tourists. Tilly rolled her eyes at the offerings of plastic Mounties and beaver-shaped key chains, then remembered she needed a new tube of toothpaste. That was somewhere at the back in this store, if she remembered right.

She turned a corner and found herself in the baby care and sanitary napkin aisle. Not having needed either for more than a decade, she was about to turn around and try another part of the store when the aisle's only other shopper stopped her.

"Could you reach that for me, please?" said a sad and creaky voice.

The voice belonged to a man who looked old enough to be Tilly's father. If his back had been straight, he might have been able to match her 160cm, which was still pretty short for a man, but age had made him hunch over and lose a bit more height. Tilly could see over the top of his head.

"What is that?" she said.

"The Depends, dear," said the man, pointing.

Right, the adult diapers. Someone had put them all on the top shelf. Tilly walked to where the man was standing and reached, but her hand couldn't quite find purchase on the package nearest to the edge, even when she briefly tried to stand on tiptoe.

Tilly lowered her arm, thought for a moment, then walked to the end of the aisle. "Wait here," she said over her shoulder.

The next aisle over had items for joint injury, like knee braces and wrist guards. Tilly grabbed a walking stick and returned to where the old man was standing. She reached up with the walking stick and knocked a package of adult diapers from the shelf.

"Did you just want the one?" she said.

The old man laughed. "I'll take two if I can try to get the next one myself."

Tilly handed him the cane with a flourish. He knocked down two packages at once.

"What are you doing?" A large man wearing a white lab coat stood at the end of the aisle, hands on hips. "Why didn't you just ask for assistance?"

"Who wants to ask for assistance with incontinence products?" said Tilly. The man in the lab coat glared at her and walked away.

"You're good in a pinch, you are," said the old man, gathering the packages of diapers from the floor. "I hope you find that door in the sky."

"What?" said Tilly, but the old man just winked at her and left the aisle. She rushed to the end of the aisle herself and looked left and right, but he was gone.