The Obscure, The Average, The Plain Jane

There are books that I love and then there are those that I love and then go on asking everyone I meet to read it. The Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is the latter.

Keiko Furukura is an obscure employee in a convenience store. She has worked in the store for 18 years and yet she has stayed at the same position. The sounds and rhythm of the convenience store is what keeps her going. It is her happy place. It is the anchor of her life. And that is what Murata has described in simple yet beautiful detail in this book.

We all know this book is a #Bookstagram favourite. I picked it up because it was highly praised from so many of my favourites here. But there was something else too that drew me to the book – the fact that this was the story of an obscure, middle-aged woman who loves her dead-end job to the core. Everyone writes stories about the extraordinary – people dig the extraordinary. But rarely we get to read about ordinary lives, rather the obscure ones, the plain average ones. The Convenience Store Woman is a book that undoes this.

It resonated with me because for a large part of my life I had felt like that obscure, hazy human being. Although, things have changed, but I can never forget the days when I would go on for days without being contacted by or speaking a word to people around. I felt like a unnoticeable smidge on the world’s canvas. Those days built me, and therefore I can never undermine them.

Keiko is an odd brick in the society’s wall. Although a lot of the readers found her quirky and funny, I largely felt an empathy towards her. Throughout the book, based on her actions and reactions to various situations, I kept thinking whether Keiko is autistic. Did anyone else feel that? There surely is a mention of people around her seeking a cure for her ‘condition’ but Murata has not made it clear.

Keiko has sharp observation skills. The way she could fathom the needs of the store just by looking at its surroundings and the weather in general blew my mind away. It might seem trivial to an outsider, but the world of a convenience store is a throbbing phenomenon, especially for Keiko.

Keiko was drawn to the world of convenience store when she was just 18. She did not just work at the store, she assimilated its cogs and bearings into her muscles and blended herself into its machinery. Just this adaptability made me wonder that had she been introduced to some high level government security agency, she would have turned out to be a world class spy, even a badass assassin. The fact that she can adapt to the tones and speaking styles of people around her just by observing them tells us that she is no less than a chameleon, and I say this with high regard.

Her one handicap is that she is extremely self-conscious, low on self-esteem. Keiko will do everything to live upto the expectations of the world. Early in her life she realized that the world does not think the way she does, and since then she has bent herself in every way possible to hide her real self from the world and show them the one they expect to see. This does reminds me of my old self. Although I could never go to the lengths of changing myself the way Keiko did.

Another aspect that I was enthralled by was Keiko’s love for her work. She is well aware that she is in a dead pan job, that there’s no real scope for gathering accolades or wealth in the role she performs. Even though everyone around her is always shocked at her living situation and job status, she defends it with all the might she has. Now here’s a message that I dearly loved – in a world where everyone is talking about hustling, here we have someone who is not rushing through life. She is in love with her job and she would have it no other way.

I had a really good time meeting Keiko and getting to know her. If I ever met her, I would probably want to hug her. But I doubt she would like it so much. May be I will just look at her from a little distance, smile and move on.