Product Placement Gone Wrong
Strip malls might lure someone in with those giant signs and billboards that glow neon after dark. But under the guise of various consumer goods, they offer nothing but the utmost form of blandness. Their air is choked thick with the diesel from all the parked cars crammed in the parking lot. People flock in and out of the automatic doors, carrying groceries or takeout or whatever. I myself have had to stop at one of these capitalist wastelands hundreds of times to grab something or the other. Strip malls are such an intrinsic part of mundane life here, but even after all these years, the sight of one never fails to depress me.
The strange twisting and turning of the car wakes me from my slumber. It's only Rina trying to find a spot to park at yet another strip mall. This might be our eighth or seventy-sixth stop since the beginning of our road trip. By now, even she understands why I feel a bout of nothingness when it comes to these places.
"I get it," she said on only the third day. "They all look the same. Like suburbs."
"We didn't run out of gas, did we?" I ask Rina once we're parked.
"Not yet, we still have plenty to last the rest of the night. I just wanted a break."
She points her chin forward. "Do you want to go to that McDonald's?"
That big, yellow M is instantly recognisable, but something is odd.
"But that's not McDonald's. It's MacDonwald's. Must be a knock-off."
"What?" Rina chuckles, gets out of the car. "Come on, let's get you a coffee."
Maybe she's right. I'm too sleep-addled to think straight. McDonald's wouldn't let just anyone set up a knock-off without suing them for millions of dollars.
I get myself a black coffee because I promised to take the wheel after midnight, so I have to stay awake. Rina orders a Big Mac. She asks if I'm sure I don't want anything, even a small pack of fries. I'm not hungry, so I decline. My tastebuds have deteriorated to the point where I can't differentiate the taste of a fried chicken from a pizza, not even when my stomach growls. The brand names might be different, but all fast food tastes the same to me.
When Rina brings the tray to our table, however, my brain gets muddled further. My coffee cup does not bear the McDonald's logo, but that of "Munchkin Go-nuts". The typeface and colour scheme is the same as that of Dunkin' Donuts. I look at Rina, who appears completely nonplussed as she takes out her burger from a "Clubday" wrapper, which has Subway's exact green, yellow, and white lettering.
My gaze drifts to the cashier at the counter. He wears a red uniform. Everything seems fine for a moment until I spot the logo on the menu display board above him. A long-haired mermaid with a crown, smiling down at us. Starbucks. But wait, the writing underneath the logo says Barf-
"Hey, your coffee's running cold."
I look back at Rina and consider asking if she can see what I see. Just then, a grinning waitress appears at our table, asking if everything is alright.
"Yes, b-but isn't this a McDonald's?"
"Sir, this is a Bhendy's."
Please do not contact Adhora Ahmed. Even better, do not perceive her. For all practical purposes, Adhora does not exist.