I fight my way through to one of the racks and start leafing through chiffon pleated dresses. Three hundred dollars, reduced to seventy dollars! I mean, even if you only wore it once… And oh God, here are some fantastic print trousers, some label I’ve never heard of, but they’re reduced by 90 percent! And a leather coat… and those Prada bags. I have to get one of the Prada bags!
As I breathlessly reach for one, my hand collides with another girl’s.
“Hey!” she says at once, and snatches the bag up. “I was there first!”
“Oh,” I say. “Erm… sorry!” I quickly grab another one which, to be honest, looks exactly the same. As the girl starts examining the interior of her bag, I can’t help staring at her nails. They’re filed into square shapes and carefully decorated in two different shades of pink. How long did that take to do? As she looks up, I see her hair is two-tone as well — brown with aubergine tips — while her mouth is carefully lined with purple and filled in with pale mauve.
“Got a problem?” she says, suddenly looking at me, and I jump.
“No! I was just wondering — where’s the changing room?”
“Changing room?” She chuckles. “Are you kidding? No such thing.”
“Oh.” I look around again, and notice a spectacular black girl, about nine feet tall, stripping off to her bra and knickers. “I see. So we… change right here? Great!” I swallow. “No problem at all.”
Hesitantly I start unbuttoning my coat, telling myself that I’ve got no alternative — and no one’s watching anyway. But Two-Tone Girl’s expression is changing as she gazes at me.
“Are you British?”
“Yes! Did you recognize my accent?”
“I love the British!” Her eyes light up. “That film, Notting Hill? I loved that!”
“Oh right! So did I, actually.”
“That Welsh guy. He was hilarious!” She suddenly frowns as I step out of my shoes. “Hey, but wait. You shouldn’t have to get changed out here.”
“Because you’re British! Everyone knows the Brits are reserved. It’s like… your national disease or something.”
“Honestly, it’s fine…”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.” To my horror the girl strides over and pokes the woman in black standing by the door. “Excuse me? This girl is British. She needs privacy to try on her things. OK?”
The woman turns to stare at me as though I’m a Martian and I smile nervously back.
“Really, don’t worry. I don’t mind…”
“She needs privacy!” insists the girl. “They’re different than us. It’s a whole other culture. Can she go behind those racks there?”
“Please. I don’t want to—”
“Whatever,” says the woman, rolling her eyes. “Just don’t mess up the displays.”
“Thanks,” I say to the girl, a little awkwardly. “I’m Becky, by the way.”
“Jodie.” She gives me a wide grin. “Love your boots!”
I disappear behind the rack and begin trying on all the clothes I’ve gathered. With each one I feel a little frisson of delight — and when I get to the Prada bag, it’s a surge of pure joy. Prada at 50 percent off! I mean, this would make the whole trip worthwhile, just on its own.
When I’ve eventually finished, I come out from behind the rack to see Jodie wriggling into a stretchy white dress.
“This sample sale is so great!” she exclaims. “I’m just like… where do I stop?”
“I know what you mean.” I give her a blissful smile. “That dress looks great, by the way.”
“Are you going to buy all that?” she says, giving my armload an impressed look.
“Not all of it.” I reach into the pile. “Not… these trousers. But everything else.”
“Cool! Go, girl.”
As I happily head toward the paying table, the room is reverberating with high-pitched female voices and I can hear snippets of conversation floating around.
“I have to have it,” a girl is saying, holding up a coat against herself. “I just have to have it.”
“OK, what I’m going to do is, I’m just going to put the $450 I spent today onto my mortgage,” another girl is saying to her friend as they walk out, laden with bags. “I mean, what’s $450 over thirty years?”
“One hundred percent cashmere!” someone else is exclaiming. “Did you see this? It’s only fifty dollars! I’m going to take three.”