The Real World Applications of Karma

I didn’t buy the pizza; you didn’t buy the pizza; the pizza is not on the receipt, nor is it on the menu; we cannot check the shopping order for the pizza, as it only shows 86 things, and we ordered 92. We have acquired a pizza, and we know not how. I suppose we’d better eat the fucking thing, then.

We’d recently switched to online shopping, after years of despising the stupid malarkey. I blame the children, but mostly the fact that having children makes you want to not be stuck in a fluorescent-lit hell hole with two of them, any one of the four of us screaming at any given point in the seventeen hours we could easily spend in there on any given Saturday. Rather, my partner and I spend a few hours alone on a Thursday night, ordering the stuff, and then a few minutes on a Saturday, while one of the children loudly entertains herself and the other one loudly complains at us. It’s far better.

The problem is, as I am sure I have mentioned, online food shopping is utterly crap: they don’t have the same stuff as they do in the shop, they bring stuff on too short dates; they make substitutions I would not; they also occasionally drop an item from one person’s order in to another person’s order.

As you’ve probably already guessed, someone is missing a pizza. We normally only get a really basic Margherita, barely even worthy of the name. We only order one so that our eldest can have some food she is genuinely excited about while we eat something we are genuinely excited about, but which she will more than likely hate. Brown rice, tofu, lamb kidneys, stuff like that, basically.

The pizza we received is a few steps up from that. For a start it probably has actual cheese on it, rather than the flavourless cheese analogue used to bulk out the cheaper pizzas (It’s synthetic, of sorts, but behaves the same way as cheese: You have eaten it, trust me.) According to a programme I once watched about factories which make pizzas, it might even have been cooked with fire, in Italy.

It’s not that this is an exceptional pizza – it’s just a step up from what we would normally order. As in, we very much didn’t order it. But it came in with our order, and we didn’t realise we had it until it was far too late. The delivery van was long gone, so it’s not like we could run out and chase it down the street in the hope that we could return our ill-gotten gains. It’s still in our fridge at the moment.

A few weeks ago we spotted that a cucumber we had ordered had never shown up. We were both annoyed. We checked the receipt, and it was there. I’m sure it was there. We checked the shopping list, but we had ordered 97 things, and they would only display 88. We checked the menu, and the need for a cucumber was very much still there. We would have to buy a new one now. Such waste.

We could – I know, you’re telling me this – have got a refund by giving them a ring. I am very much aware that such arcane systems do exist. I am also very much aware that I have never done such a thing; partly due to my gut-wrenching social anxiety; partly due to me self-destructive laziness. It’s part of the cost of doing business with online food shopping. That and the delivery fee.

The loss of the cucumber almost shook us to the very core; it almost pushed us off the cliff edge: we almost stopped getting our groceries delivered to us. Gone would be our Saturdays; back would come the weekly fires of eternal torment. We grieved the loss of our lazy lunches and our long lies in with the girls. And then we forgot, and so we ordered the shopping online again next week. Hurrah.

We didn’t claim the compensation we were owed; it makes me wonder if the person who – I am minded to presume – lost their pizza claimed the compensation they were owed. I would bet not.

Is this, then, our modern world’s best approximation of a system of Karma at play? No, it’s not. But is it an analogue to a facile misinterpretation of a far deeper concept, much misinterpreted by modern culture, and our need for soundbites over deeper philosophical truths? Yeah, it probably could be.

We lost a cucumber: I am imagining an old lady, house-bound and on the point of malnourishment. She counts her meagre pennies in order to get what few groceries she can afford delivered to her, and brought in by the nice young man with the smart uniform. She could do with that cucumber.

And then, what of the pizza? I imagine a young couple, possibly a family: they were looking forward to that pizza. One of them was going to put a big pile of rocket on their half; the other was going to load theirs with chilli sauce. It would be Friday night treat, if the date was long enough. They have nothing now. But then, what if someone else down the line loses a six-pack of lager to them?

And so on, and so forth the ripples of the pizza and the cucumber ripple: everyone who loses some thing is set to gain; everyone who gains something does not necessarily have to lose. I think back to the old lady with the cucumber. I don’t want her to lose anything: I’m not sure I could cope with it.

We live in the shadow of a lie: that the loss is overlooked as too much fiddle for the cost of a cucumber, and that the gain is too celebrated, as something akin to divine provenance. They are two sides of the same coin, yet they are treated as different, because we want to imagine that what goes around will always come around. Instead, the supermarkets gain, as we all take our turns to lose out.

Part of me wonders if that cucumber ever did get dispatched, and whether they just pocketed the cash. It makes me question whether I actually did order that pizza, and then just forgot about it (I didn’t). That would be just like the money grabbing bastards in their infinitely stretching ivory towers. Meh.

We lose things, we find things. I do hope that what goes around comes around, so that I can get back that ten Euro note I lost in a toilet in Helsinki that time. That’s not a supermarket’s fault, however.