Molly felt her senses go crazy as she beheld the city’s streets after stepping out of the office. All around so much was happening that she wasn’t sure which way to go first. Stepping out of the way, she straightened her grey pencil skirt, cream blouse and dark grey jacket. Fluffing her short blonde hair and tugging her handbag further up her shoulder, she glanced back at the dark double doors, then set off.
She followed the road downwards past the Manchester Arndale shopping centre and the shop fronts on her left. The street was busy with people and cars, but nothing more than she was use too. Embracing the city as she always tried to do and falling into step with the rhythm of it, she recited the shopping list in her head once more. Today was really the first Christmas shopping day and also payday. An important and frantic time for some people, but for Molly, it was a chance to enjoy some freedom and get into the Christmas mood.
Walking past the bars and restaurants outside the Printworks building, she had to cross the road as it was dug up and the pavement had come to a sudden end. Weaving around people, she carried on towards the Urbis museum. Molly paused. Here packed tightly together and already getting crowded was the first of the Christmas Market spots. The streets were lined with cabin like stalls and shops, attracting people with their displays.
Smiling, she went to the first stall and inspected the display, but it was only kitchen wear items and she had no real use for any of the shiny serving bowls and glasses. The next stall was a jewellery one, but it was too busy and Molly could only see the backs of heads in front of her.
Moving on, she went to each stall in turn and looked at as many items as possible. She wasn’t that interested in buying anything, she just enjoyed window shopping. Stepping from the last stall, she found herself in a food and drink section. Smoke was rising up from grills and the coal fire. Warm food hugged the air and every time she breathed in Molly smelt something different. She went in a little further, but stopped and turned around when she saw two large circle bars ending the street. She might get a drink later, but for now, she just wanted to explore the markets.
Turning back, she walked along the other side and viewed some hats and other winter clothes. With nothing else gripping, she forced her way through a group of teenagers eating mini Dutch pancakes and walked towards the next market place. She licked her lips, catching the slight stickiness and icing sugar tang of the air. More displays called to her; clothing and foods, wooden toys and soap stalls.
She let her fingers trail across harsh wools, her nose take deeply of the cooking sweet things and her eyes roaming the fairy light lit cabins. It became too crowed close to the doors of a large retail shop, so she turned once more and walked away joining a main street. A man trying to gain support for a charity waved her down but lucky, the crowd pushed her away. The street ended at a cross roads and every way looked busy.
Molly wanted to spin around and just go in whichever direction she ended up pointing in. However, there was no room to do that and she decided to turn right and head downwards again. There were stalls that way and now she should be able to zagzig to the town hall. Joining a new crowd, she went with the surging sea like flow and moved with them from stall to stall. She tried some cheese and wine, was tempted by both, but didn’t buy.
She past a garden shop and tried some Holland ginger cookie, whilst the seller called out a special deal on the goodies. Molly pulled at her handbag and took out her purse. Really, she shouldn’t, but the biscuits were so nice and they did last long. She took out a ten pound note and handed it over. In return, she got a bulging paper bag which contained a packet of ginger biscuit rounds, a large cookie, almond cake slice, toffee waffles and Holland thin biscuits. Thanking the seller, she put her purse away, avoided a pram and moved by with just quick glances at the next few stalls.
When the street ended, she turned the corner again and walked down another main road. The crowds still weren’t easing and Molly knew it would only get worse as the town hall was the main market square. She had two side streets to do before then though, but as the town clock rang out, she remembered that the market got busier the later it got. Pushing that thought aside, she mingled in another group of people and headed to the first side street.
There the stalls filed down the middle with people moving in slow lines, or else forcing their way through. Clutching the paper bag, Molly moved closer to the stall fronts and looked at all the displays. There was one with candles and holders, which was very pretty. She was tempted to buy one, but wasn’t sure where she’d put it. There was more jewellery, a man selling drifted wood art pieces, dried meats, local cheeses and more alcohol testing. She saw nothing else and walked onto the next street.
Avoiding a homeless man huddled in a sleeping bag, she turned the corner and felt a sting of guilt and sadness. I’m grateful, she told herself, Thank God. Holding her head high, she let the thoughts go and embraced the shopping experience once more. She had yet to buy anything on her list, but she would once she’d done the markets. All the things she come for today were either in the Arndale shops or those along Market Street. Glancing at the stalls again, she walked passed a few more, before pausing at one.
Stepping closer she saw all the soft toys lined up or sitting on plastic stands. Clearly, they had all been handmade and looked charming. Molly picked up a small panda bear key chain and looked at it. Smiling and feeling the soft fabric growing warm in her hand, she checked the price tag: five pounds. Maybe a little expensive, but still, he was worth it. She handed him to the seller and pulled out her purse again. She swapped a note for the now wrapped up bear and placed it with her purse in her bag again. After a quick look at some of the other items, she moved on.
This row of stalls ended in massive fudge shop. She lent in and smelt the mixture of chocolate, fruits and fudge. She was tempted, but knew that there was a better fudge place at the town hall. Also, this one was too packed as people were being drawn by a chubby woman shouting that it was the best fudge ever. Molly wrinkled her nose and moved on; she didn’t like people yelling at her to buy things. She walked back along the other side, but saw nothing further of interested. Most of the stalls seemed to be getting repetitive and else similar to those she had seen before.
She came to the end fast and waited to cross the road. Opposite her, the giant Santa sat on the town hall roof overlooking the stalls laid out under him. Molly eyed him and decided that he still looked ugly, but at least he was better than the blow-up Santa that had loomed over a few years back. There had been something unsettling about a massive Santa leaning over the towering building and grinning down into the street. The lights changed and she crossed the road on-mass.
Avoiding the gardening stalls again, she pushed her way inside the square and found the crowds had hit their peak. The mass of bodies meant everyone was at crawling speed and constantly apologising to each other. There was no space to avoid anyone really and Molly found herself disappearing into the flow of legs and heads. Luckily, the layout of the stalls here didn’t change and she made it the fudge stall she wanted easily enough. There she took a small pick-a-mix bag and some metal tongues, before choosing her fudge flavours.
Carefully, she selected a few different ones then handed the bag over. The total was just under four pounds and she gave the teenage looking boy a handful of coins. She put the fudge in with the Holland biscuits and decided that she would try and see some of the stalls around here. It was hard going though and there too many people to really see any of the stalls’ displays well. After going down one row, she gave up and went into the town hall instead where the pop-up shops from Affleck’s Palace where. She wasn’t into the gothic, alternative, vintage and odd themes that Affleck’s was normally home to, but at this time of year, she didn’t mind a look. The first shop drew her straight away though because it was an American candy shop, though they also had English sweets. She brought a packet of cola cubes and a box of Lucky Charms. Afterwards she browsed some clothes and jewellery stands.
On leaving, she decided that she couldn’t face trying to get through the crowds again. Getting out of the square, she took a few short cuts back to the Arndale as these streets were quieter and she could move through them quicker. When she joined a main street again, it was on the way to the front doors of the shopping centre.
Once inside there she went to Waterstones and brought a new book, the next in a crime series she was reading. Then she went to the PoundWorld and brought some fruit snacks for the office as well some batteries, fairy lights, a box of Christmas cards, coloured paper and some glitter gel pens. The queue was long and she ended up getting a bag of sweets whilst she waited. After paying, she left and went it into the Card Factory, where she brought a leaving card and a birthday card.
Walking back, she stopped outside of Starbucks and decided to try their new winter hot chocolate drink. Joining the line, she juggled her bags and took out her purse again. Checking the menu board, she gave her order and name to the American accented woman over the counter and paid. Waiting for her drink, she thought about the two places she needed to go to next: Boots and Primark. Both would be hectic. Sighing she took her drink and grabbed an armchair by putting her bags on it. Placing her drink on the coffee table, she dumped the bags on the floor and sat down.
Tiredness was hitting her and the hot chocolate wouldn’t help, as it would make her sleepier. Sinking into the chair, she watched everything going on around her, enjoying the sight of people and listening to their voices. Smiling, she knew she’d make to those other shops and then she could go home. Her cat would be waiting for her and she could share her newly brought treasures with him.