an incident in the pharmacy

One morning he was persuaded to drop in at the corner pharmacy and pick up some supplies for the baby. When he returned there was a hurt, schoolboyish look on his face that I had never seen before, and he was pressing his hand against his cheek.

‘She hit me,‎’ he said plaintively.

‘Hai! Allah-tobah! Darling!’ cried my mother, fussing. ‘Who hit you? Are you injured? Show me, let me see.’

‘I did nothing,’ he said, standing there in the hall with the pharmacy bag in his other hand and a face as pink as Mecir’s rubber gloves. ‘I just went in with your list. The girl seemed very helpful. I asked for baby compound, Johnson’s powder, teething jelly, and she brought them out. Then I asked did she have any nipples, and she slapped my face.’

My mother was appalled. ‘Just for that?’ And Certainly-Mary backed her up. ‘What is this nonsense?’ she wanted to know. ‘I have been in that chemists’s shock, and they have flenty nickels, different sizes, all on view.’

Durré and Muneeza could not contain themselves. They were rolling round on the floor, laughing and kicking their legs in the air.

‘You both shut your face at once,’ my mother ordered. ‘A madwoman has hit your father. Where is the comedy?’

‘I don’t believe it,’ Durré gasped. ‘You just went up to that girl and said,’ and here she fell apart again, stamping her feet and holding her stomach, ‘ “have you got any nipples?” ’

My father grew thunderous, empurpled. Durré controlled herself. ‘But Abba,’ she said, at length, ‘here they call them teats.’

Now my mother’s and Mary’s hands flew to their mouths, and even my father looked shocked. ‘But how shameless!’ my mother said. ‘The same word as for what’s on your bosoms?’ She coloured, and stuck out her tongue for shame.

‘These English,’ sighed Certainly-Mary. ‘But aren’t they the limit? Certainly-yes; they are.’

Salman Rushdie, The Courter


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