Price tags. We lower our heads and let the world drape them around our necks like a hangman’s noose, or tie them around our wrists. Shackles, labeled without numbers. Instead of dollar signs, there are requirements. Those who fulfill the most requirements are put on display.
This model starves herself and lays awake at night with hunger pains; she’s worth more.
This man has two ex-wives and a girlfriend; he’s worth more.
This woman works 24/7 and makes millions a year; she’s worth more.
The cheaper models are shoved in the back, the ones that aren’t draped in glitter and shine. The girl waiting to share her first kiss, the stay-at-home mom, the hardworking but loving father, the nice guy. Nobody wants to see that. Nice is boring. Waiting is boring.
Why do we accept the price tags? Why do we let the world stamp their idea of value on our hearts and shove us into a line they created? Those tags, they’re just paper. That display up front, just a wall of glass keeping us locked in.
The lights flicker on, and the door to the storage room opens. It’s a rattling, clanking sound, accompanied by footsteps.
A man walks up to you. He doesn’t look at what you’re wearing, or even at the number scribbled on your tag. Discount.
Instead he takes the tag, and he unties it; without even glancing to see what you’re supposedly worth. The tag falls to the floor.
“You don’t belong in here,” he says. “You belong out there, where everyone can see you.”
You dare to glance sideways at the mirror. It has a crack, but you see yourself. Shiny white plastic, striking an unnatural pose – and yet you have a face, and hands, and legs. You look a little like the man.
“I can’t just leave,” you say. Your voice is quiet. Timid. “Not until you pay for me.” You reach down to pick up the price tag lying discarded on the floor. “I’m worth-”
He takes the tag before you can look at your price, to check again and see if it’s gone up since the last time you looked at it.
“You’re priceless,” he tells you. “I already paid.”
You don’t know what to say, because that doesn’t strictly make sense.
For the first time in your memory, you feel something warm. It’s inside you, it ripples across your skin like a breeze, and you glance at your reflection again. You reach up to touch your face. Less shiny. Less cold.
More like the man.
“What about the others?” you ask.
“No need to worry,” he says. “I bought everything.” He takes your hand and you follow him as he walks you to the door. “You don’t belong in here anymore.”
“Priceless,” he says again; gentle but firm. “And paid for.”
That warming sensation again.
You take a deep breath, and realize you can. Your chest moves, expanding with air. You step out the door with no price tag, no label.