When I met Johannes in the park he seemed a little gloomy. It was a bright rain-had-finally-gone technicolour kind of day, which I assumed would lift his spirits but sadly this appeared not be so. I asked him what was up.
“I went to the supermarket yesterday.”
Great story, I told Johannes and he grunted at me. We walked past a young couple lying on a blanket who were busy trying to paw at each other in a surreptitious manner and failing at deception miserably.
Eventually, Johannes continued.
“Well, I was walking down the aisles of a supermarket and it struck me how uniform everything was. Aisles of the same item, in giant corrugated metal huts. This was reality. As real as real got. Can't get more real than a supermarket. But it was all boring and pointless. Reality was boring and pointless.
“I took a can of Heinz beans and paid for it at the self scan and left. Then I just stared at this can for a while and it struck me that this was so mundane that it could be the key - the key to it all.”
I puzzled as to what the hell he meant as we walked past a mother pushing her giggling jamsmeared child through the park.
Johannes then continued, “So I thought, 'screw it!' - walked back into the shop and did a loop. I took the same can of beans out of my pocket and bought it again. Why not? Why not, aye?”
I told him that I guessed he could do that, but why would he want to?
“Because I could!” he almost shouted, eyed wide in disbelief, “because I could!
“I carried on; I did another loop and bought the tin for the third time, then a fourth! I don't know what I expected to happen but for someone to at least notice. I kept on expecting, the fifth or sixth or ninth or tenth time that someone would stop me, that they'd realise that I'd bought this can from them over and over again.
“After a while, I just couldn't stop. It was like the loop was running me. Leave the store, go in, walk to the aisle, pull the beans out of my pocket and buy them again. Leave the store, go in, walk to the aisle, pull the beans out of my pocket, buy them again...
“I spent hours looping through that supermarket buying this one tin. I kept all of the receipts. I went through 153 times and then finally the shop just shut.”
Not for the first time, I felt concerned for Johannes and lightly put my arm on his back. I looked across at an old man scattering seeds, surrounded by a bunch of pigeons who were variously pecking and taking flight. I asked Johannes why he did it so many times. He shut his eyes and looked genuinely pained.
“Well,” he said, sighing through his nose, “I thought it might break reality... it's such a ridiculous system that I thought that it would maybe, I don't know, point out the arbitrariness of it all and it'd stop and,” he let out another sigh, “break reality.”
The reality of Supermarkets? I asked him.
“Yes but... I was secretly hoping that everything might just stop and we'd get to the next level. Leave this crappy bit behind as I'd finally seen through the cracks and blown them apart. Someone would draw up the curtain, tell me well done and show how me how things really are.
“But I'm still here and I've spent £114.75 on one tin of beans.”
I didn't quite know what to say. So I ventured a 'maybe next time.'
“Yeah, maybe,” he said and carried on walking.