There weren’t that many people waiting in the queue when I arrived at the pharmacy. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that things will go quickly. Apparently, for some people, a visit to the chemist is a social event, matched only by the excitement of walking half a kilometre or so to the shop to buy the newspaper before trudging back to read pages of gloom and doom while indulging in ghastly instant coffee and sawdust rusks. Anyway, getting the attention of someone behind the counter of a pharmacy is a golden opportunity to indulge in all sorts of chit-chat. The state of your health is the obvious starting-point, and this covers a lengthy catalogue of ailments afflicting just about every imaginable component of the human body, both inside and out.
Constipation and in-growing toenails jostle with athlete’s foot and pneumonia, to say nothing of warts, halitosis, and a rash in some unmentionable place. Should the assistant be overcome by one iota of interest or compassion in a moment of weakness, photographs of the grandchildren in some distant clime will be whipped out with the speed and dexterity of a Western gunslinger.
So there I sat, waiting for the end of these predictable sagas: “I’ve got three grandchildren I’ve never seen. I want to see them before I die. And, you know, they don’t speak a single word of Afrikaans. It’s a tragedy. A tragedy.” I was tempted to interrupt by saying that, if I didn’t get my medication before the end of the day, I might go comatose right there and then. That would be a tragedy for me in any language. But then I thought better of it.
I was next – or so I thought. Then two young men eased their way past me, and went to the head of the queue. I explained their position in the queue vis-à-vis my position. “Sorry, uncle! We thought you might be waiting for an ambulance or something!” Ambulance indeed! I headed towards the forlorn assistant, taking out my own mini-album of photos on the way.