I'm in the IKEA mega store, pushing a laden shopping cart through a maze of shelving stacked high with must-have-but-don't-really-need products, desperately seeking the checkout area. It's such a labyrinth in here. Any minute now an assistant Minotaur in a yellow staff shirt might emerge from behind a rack of modular bookcases to demand if he can help me find anything.
"I've been lost for hours." I'd say. "Please can you point me towards the exit?"
The Minotaur would throw his bull's head back and roar with laughter. "There is no exit," he'd reply. "That's just some ancient myth. Nobody believes in the exits anymore." Then he'd direct me to a display of Scandinavian couches with washable cushions.
Perhaps I should have left a trail of little wooden pegs behind me, so I could have retraced my steps back to the entrance. I'm sure I've already been past these Vuillard Parisian theme toilet seat covers at least three times in the last hour. They're unsurprisingly on sale. Maybe someone in the Food Court might know where the checkout is? I can ask at the meatball counter ...
"Next ... sauce or no sauce?"
"I don't want anything. I'm just looking for the checkout?"
"Cashiers are where the soda cooler is at."
"But I'm not buying any food. I just want to pay for this stuff I got from the actual store. Can you tell me where the regular checkout is?"
"It's downstairs somewhere, near the parking lot where you came in."
"Yeah I know, but I can't actually seem to find my way back there."
"Well you can go to the elevators by the bathrooms which are where the closet organizing section is and you can ask somebody there which floor the checkout is at. Okay... Next ... sauce or no sauce?"
I trudge off in search of the elevators, slaloming my way through a thicket of shoe racks and hanging sweater boxes, eventually finding them at the end of a corridor where exhausted families slump against the wall like refugees from Plywoodland. These are my people. Soon transportation will arrive and we can begin the next stage of our migration to the Exits.
Bing! "Register number 338 is now available. Please proceed to register number 338. This register is located on Level 9 and can be accessed via the Red Zone walkway followed by the Green Zone escalators. A customer care professional will greet you on Level 9 and escort you through the checkout tunnel to register number 338. All coupons and rebates must be handed in to the appropriate service concierge at this time. If you have coupons and rebates please proceed to the service concierge desk at the Red Zone walkway embarkation point before proceeding to register number 338. Register number 338 is now available. Please proceed to ...." Bing! "Register number 476 is now available. Please proceed to register number 476. This register is located on Level 12b via the shuttle buses leaving from the Blue Zone mezzanine. A customer care professional will greet you at the transfer portal and conduct you to the Orange Zone zip-line. You're on your own after that I'm afraid. Register number 476 is now available. Please proceed to register number 476. All other registers are currently occupied serving other customers. Please stand by for the next available register."
And that's just the 10 items or less line. When I make it to the front I'm assigned Register number 893, housed in the Purple Annex, apparently just a short monorail trip from the main building. This is it, I tell myself as the train pulls out, the final chapter of my IKEA odyssey. At last the long search for a checkout counter is over and I should be home with just enough time to self-assemble my stuff before bed.
"Did you find everything you were looking for today?" cashier number 893 asks when I arrive.
"Well, the stuff I wanted was no problem," I reply with as much arch-eyebrow as I can muster. "But I had a little trouble finding you."
He looks at me blankly, his barcode scanner bleeping expectantly. "And what is the stuff you want to buy today?"
At which point I realize that I've left my shopping basket at the meatball counter when I asked for directions.