A conversation in a pharmacy

This morning I stood in the pharmacy with my two children and waited on the pharmacist to hand us some prescription medicines meant to ease The Girlie's cold. A strong, raspy cold, that's what she has again. Four weeks ago I enrolled her in daycare (one day a week) and within a week she started coming down with these back-to-back, never ending colds. It's like winter of 2015 all over again.

As we stood there waiting on the pharmacist, in came a middle-aged Maori woman. She looked rough: skinny somewhat, a little tired, wrinkled. She was talking to the pharmacist about some smoking cessation drugs her GP had prescribed her with, and I thought to myself how she does look like she's got years of smoking behind her already, and how it'd be good for her to quit, if she could.

We stood there, all of us waiting, and I thought to myself how she does look a little... scary almost. I find that a lot of Maori have that harsh look, kind of sharp around the edges, menacing. I also thought how it's unhelpful for me to be frightened of her by the looks alone, and so I made an effort to treat her as if she were any other person I would've come across in that pharmacy.

I said that I liked her boots.

I did. They were cowboy-kind-of boots, with upturned pointy toes and intricate details around the edges and so I told her out loud that I liked them, and I smiled.

She grinned back at me, widely and with a welcome, and her eyes softened from that serious look of menace I had found frightening before. They were given to her from a women's refuge, she said, and that's where the rest of her outfit was from. 

Instantly I knew there was a story. She had a story.

She'd spent the night there, at the women's refuge, she continued, but she'd got into a fight with a Polynesian woman who was her neighbour there - she didn't like her very much - and so she'd left the refuge and was going to spend the next night at a friend's place who thankfully had a bed for her.

I nodded and probably said something along the lines of, "Oh," or maybe, "That's good." Something like that. Something where although I was curious of how she was getting along, I was also embarrassed that I had a warm home to return to and a fridge full of food, and kids in nice, clean clothes. Something where I just didn't know what much else to say.

Words spilled out of her.

She'd gone to see her daughter the other day - her daughter is at a foster home - and it hadn't gone very nicely. Her daughter hadn't wanted to see her, and so she'd got mad at her daughter because her daughter had got mad at her, and now she didn't know what to do. She'd made an effort in going to see the daughter, but if that wasn't enough for her daughter then what was?

I was standing there, listening to her and feeling uncomfortable at how my offer of warmth at her cowboy boots had turned into her spilling the words at me with such... what looked like appreciation almost. Like she was glad that she could share.

And I felt sad for her, because it suddenly looked to me that had this woman been born into different circumstances, that fierce look in her eyes which now looks like a protection against the world she doesn't quite get along with, it could've gone into fierce work at achieving some spectacular goals instead.

I don't know, that interaction left me so... confused, so sad.

I work a lot to keep myself in circumstances where I am at a kind of an equilibrium, so I never let myself fall hard or deep, lest I have to dig myself back out again; but her situation just looked like such a deep hole to be sitting in, and how much effort it'll probably take to get herself back out of there again.

But then again, I don't really know, do I. It was only a few minutes that we talked, and so maybe there is an entirely different story there, but nevertheless, it moved me.

Soon the pharmacist handed us the prescription drugs The Girlie needed and we left to go home.

I don't know where she will sleep tonight, but I hope she sleeps well.


  1. And maybe it was everything she needed in that moment - to speak it all out loud. She spoke it out, started to think about it and will go and see her daughter again tomorrow.... This story is like a good book that leaves the end 'open' for all kind of possibilities.

  2. She probably badly needed to talk to someone, someone who'd showed some humanity towards her rather than ignoring her. That will have made a huge difference to her day, probably much larger than it seemed.