Bondi Junction: We walked into ‘Room 4 Pets’ and made our way to the end of the store.
It was a pretty small store so there weren’t any aisles.
We took ten steps toward the left corner and knelt down to see what we could see.
In front of us was this ‘Large Aquarium Plant’ that someone had opened but had then decided not to buy.
It looked like the ‘Large Aquarium Plant’ was trying to escape but was maybe too scared too escape.
The ‘Large Aquarium Plant’ looked like this:
I imagined someone opening the plastic casing and touching the plant.
Maybe stroking it.
Holding the plastic leaves between his or her fingers and then going: nope.
Not for my fish.
Maybe saying, “No fish of mine’s gonna be swimming in no purple fucking flowers for fuck sake fuck.”
Next to the ‘Large Aquarium Plant’ was this starfish sort of stuck to the front of a train that had somehow ‘sunk’ to the ocean floor to theoretically become a home for animals to live/hang out in.
The thing about the starfish was that it looked super baked.
It looked like it partied.
Or had partied but was taking a time out.
I nudged Liv and said, “Look at this party animal.”
The super baked starfish looked like this:
Liv said, “What a chiller.”
And I said, “Steady chiller.”
Except I tell you what wasn’t a steady chiller.
This scuba diver with maybe a spear gun that was suspended in the middle of this fish tank directly above our head.
The scuba diver with the maybe spear gun looked like this:
All the fish seemed pretty nervous.
None of them were really swimming, just floating together near the corner of the tank.
I kept staring at the scuba diver.
Kept thinking: the fuck?
Then this dad and his son came over and the dad pointed at the scuba diver and laughed.
He laughed like: hahahahaha.
He said, “Kill those fish, bro.”
And the son said, “Kill ’em.”
And then they all laughed because I guess killing animals is cool.
My favourite animal in the fish area was this sea snail just snailing along.
Not doing anything else.
Not worrying about life or Centrelink repayments or whether VB cases were on sale or were still like fifty bucks a case.
I said, “Look out: we got a cruiser.”
Thinking: steady cruiser.
And, oh god, how sometimes I wish I could just cruise!
I stared at the sea snail and decided to tweet about it.
The tweet looked like this:
But then I saw this rabbit.
The rabbit had wedged itself between this upside-down red bucket thing and the window.
And I wondered how long the rabbit had been there.
I wondered how many times the rabbit had to look up through its rabbit eyes at a human smiling or not smiling, tapping the glass, wondering if it was going to be bought or passed over before it just lay for most of the day with its face down in the hay.
I took a photo and tweeted about it.
The tweet looked like this:
And it seemed so shit.
How sometimes we can try so hard but how still no one wants us.
How we can buy clothes and make up and haircuts and attend conferences about confidence and self-worth and how it can all amount to nothing.
To my left there was this fish in a tank half-filled with water staring at a ‘sold’ sign and I thought: god damn it.
And in another cage there were two dogs sleeping on top of each other not doing anything just staring and I thought: god damn it, too.
I thought: god damn it, when I looked at another pair of dogs resting on top of each other, their sad eyes under bright lights staring past the exit to the walkway of the Westfield.
The major thing I noticed was how most of the humans were white and happy and how most of the animals were sad.
Nothing reinforced this more than this sign made by KAZOO that said, ‘LET’S TREAT’, which had two white people on the front smiling and looking white.
The happy white people looked like this:
In the middle of this store was this cute little puppy jail that had puppies running around and whining a lot.
I knelt down and put my hand through the cage and touched one of the puppies.
It looked like this:
I wanted to tell the puppies how sorry I was that life was like this sometimes.
I rubbed a puppy’s paw and mouth and he licked my finger.
And then I began to whisper.
I began whispering, “I’m so sorry little guy … I’m so sorry.”
But then something happened.
This lady started whistling from the other side of the puppy jail and all the puppies ran to her.
Then she spoke real loud.
She said, “DO THESE LITTLE THINGS SHIT EVERYWHERE OR WHAT?”
Liv was over at the hermit crab enclosure staring at these hermit crab stickers on the front of the enclosure.
What was wild about the hermit crab stickers was that some marketer had decided to rebrand hermit crabs as stereotypical human/crab/sexy/rough hybrids.
First there was the ‘Sexy Pop Star’ crab with intense eyelashes and lipstick:
And then there was the ‘Sexy Nurse Crab’ with large breasts holding a stethoscope against nothing.
After that there was the ‘Slingshot/G.I. JOE’ crab that seemed ready to kill something while smiling:
And finally there was ‘Surfer Crab’ who had a bite out of his surfboard to show how extreme he was and sunglasses on to not show how stoned he was, I think:
I looked around for more stickers because I was wondering where all the normal non-stereotypical humans/crabs were.
I wanted to know where the ‘Independent Woman Crab Who Doesn’t Need To Be A Sexy Nurse’ was.
I wanted to know where the ‘Emotional Male Crab Who Isn’t Very Tough But Who Is Okay With It’ was.
A sales person came up and asked if he could help me.
I said, “Where are your intersex human/crab stickers?”
And he smiled at me and left.
Turning back to the puppy jail I noticed that a few puppies had been let out of their cage.
They were running around so excitedly.
But then one jumped up on this blue dog kennel and looked at me in the eye.
It was a look I’d seen before.
It was a look that meant: escape.
And then the dog began running, with his mate following.
And I ran after them.
And it reminded me of another race that had been run earlier in the day.
The Melbourne Cup.
It reminded me how humans are always chasing animals, trying to control them and eat them and tame them.
I watched the first dog BURST out the store.
And it was so beautiful.
But as she did I thought about ‘Admire Rakti’: the horse that had died of acute heart failure earlier in the day, just moments after the race.
And as the second dog BURST out of the store I thought about ‘Verema’: the horse that was euthanised in the 2013 Melbourne Cup after she broke her leg.
And staring at the two puppies just slipping on some tiles in the middle of Westfield in Bondi Junction I thought about the animals living and dying in factory farms and the dolphins existing in Sea World tanks and the polar bears and lions and giraffes I’d seen in small enclosures in zoos on television and around the world.
And then I just stood there.
I watched a lady come out.
She picked up the puppies and put them back in their cages.
And I thought about what Walt Whitman had said.
How he’d said, “There is no escape for you.”
And I closed my eyes addressing every animal in the store and I thought: there is no escape for you.
And tonight in your dreams I will try my hardest to visit you.
Do not be afraid.
Let me in.
For I have a message for you.
There is no escape for any of us.
Oliver Mol is a Sydney-based writer. He has lived in Houston, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. He was the co-winner of the 2013 Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers and was the recipient of a 2012 Hot Desk Fellowship. His début book Lion Attack! is out through Scribe Publications.
Illustration by Olivia Claire Chin