Friday, 11 May 2007

Muriel Goes to Town, and other fun stories for girls and boys

My friend Muriel lives not far from a one-horse town. Here's her account (emailed to me this evening) of a merry morning in the big city:

I spent an appalling day today in the seething metropolis (not!) of Nicotinesfontein dealing, with steadily decreasing patience, with the most astonishing display of inefficiency I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience all in one go.

First, J's optician couldn’t test her eyes because she’d been wearing her contact lenses all day.

‘Don’t you think maybe you should have told me that she shouldn’t wear her contact lenses today, when I made the appointment yesterday?’ I asked.

The optician gave me a cheeky look and said, ‘I didn’t know the appointment was for a contact-lens prescription renewal.’

‘Really?!’ I said, my eyebrows arching so high they practically disappeared down my back. ‘So when I phoned yesterday and said, "My daughter needs an eye test FOR HER CONTACT-LENS PRESCRIPTION RENEWAL," what did you think I meant?’

‘Oh,’ she said, avoiding my eyes (an ironic thing for an optician to do, really). ‘Well, that’s my problem then.’

‘It isn’t, actually, it’s mine,’ I pointed out, ‘because now I’m going to have to bring her back tomorrow.’ (And that’s what I’m going to have to do.)

Next stop, the Traffic Department to book P's learner-driver’s licence – only to find, gobsmackingly, that IT CLOSES AT 1PM ON FRIDAYS!! What a very nice job to have, doncha think? And I can’t return tomorrow, when I’m back in Nicotinesfontein to book it, because it’s also closed on Saturdays! Amazing.

Then on to the one-hour photo shop to get some pics developed. When I returned fully two hours later, the woman said (clocking my face and realising I wasn’t in a good mood), ‘Oh please don’t shout at me. The chemicals took a long time to warm up and your photos aren’t ready. But they’ll be ready in another hour.’ So I spent another hour kicking around N'fontein (and there is not a lot to kick around in that town, if you don’t count some of the people) and when I went back the second time, she said, clearly panicking, ‘Sorry, still not ready. Another hour…?’ I muttered dark things under my breath and told her I’d be back tomorrow. ‘And don’t tell me you’re closed on Saturdays, because then my head will explode and my brains will splatter all over your shop,’ I hissed (this being my threat of the moment, and very effective it seems to be too). She stared at me with real fear in her face. ‘We’re open on Saturday,’ she said, wringing her hands.

While I was waiting out the third hour for my one-hour pics to be developed (or not, as it turned out), I went to the chemist to get lice shampoo for J, who seems to be particularly prone to it and gets infestations regularly. When I asked the chemist, a snooty woman who seemed in no hurry to be helpful, for lice shampoo, she looked critically at my hair and said, ‘How bad is the infestation?’ I said, ‘It’s not for me, it’s for my daughter.’ And the next second, no kidding, my scalp started itching like buggery. I would rather have had a giant slug eat my hair than scratch in front of the snooty chemist, but it took all my self-control not to – I have half-moon marks in the palms of my hands from my fingernails where I made fists to stop myself. And the minute I got out the shop I attacked my head, much to the alarm of passersby. (I’ve just had P check my hair and I have no nits or lice – neither does he, I checked his too – so it was purely psychosomatic.)

And on to the cobbler, who is ‘fixing’ (a broad term) a one of pair of my sandals for the third time. ‘Can you come back tomorrow?’ he asked me. ‘Why in heaven’s name isn’t it ready?’ I demanded, close to petulant tears. ‘You’ve had it since Monday and all you had to do was sew a strap.’ He looked at me in embarrassment and said, ‘Sorry, I’ve lost it.’ (Let me repeat that: ‘SORRY, I’VE LOST IT’!!) I felt cracks appearing in my skull and he quickly said, ‘But it’s here somewhere, I promise, I’ll find it,’ and took refuge behind the desk. Okay, he didn’t really take refuge behind the desk but in my imagination he did, and then I tore apart his little cobbling shop, finally found my lone sandal under a pile of uncured leather, and slapped him soundly across the chops with it. In reality, I stalked out, hurling over my shoulder, ‘I WILL BE BACK!’ and sounding, I rather fancied, a bit like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I ordered pizzas to take away for the kids for an early dinner and they were – oh, miracle and wonder! – ready on time – the only bright spot in an otherwise infuriating afternoon. And tomorrow I have to be up at dawn’s crack to go BACK to the seething metropolis of Nicotinesfontein (which really does seethe on a Saturday morning, when all the shopgirls and officeboys and about a gazillion labourers from miles around descend on the town to spend their wages) and do most of the things I tried to do today. This is definitely one of the downsides of living away from a big city.

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