Visible Wit


“Isn’t it terrifying how the cost of living is skyrocketing, isn’t it depressing how crime is getting worse and worse, isn’t it shocking how much corruption there is in government…  But what can you do?”

It’s the “ain’t it awful” game, and “what can you do” isn’t a question, it’s a statement of the most dastardly form of acceptance. Gag.  Take the question mark away, shrug your shoulders, let your voice drop on the “do”, and you’ve got it.  It’s part II of the Primo Victim Mission Statement.  Part I of course being “ain’t it awful”.   Is this just a peculiarly South African thing, or does it happen everywhere?   Makes me want to yell and jump up and down and shake people.  Yes, it is terrible and depressing and shocking, but there’s always something you can do, isn’t there?  Don’t for god’s sake just give up.  Thing is, there is almost a smugness about it.  Eugh.

I was in a local supermarket.  Trying to decide what to have for dinner.  Engaged in a debate with myself as to whether I should buy potatoes or not, I sensed a presence somewhere behind me.  Man presence.  I prolonged the internal potato debate for as long as I could concentrate, which wasn’t very long at all, as my heartbeat went into overdrive.  Hmm.  Doesn’t do that very often these days, alas.   Pretty soon I abandoned all thoughts of potatoes and dinner altogether as a far more entertaining image rose in my mind of an impromptu humorous conversation with the man whose presence was intruding so delightfully.  Just like in the movies.  The man who I hadn’t even looked at.  Amazing how much can flit through your mind in a split second.

But then a tricky thing happened: my mind went blank as I felt inexplicably bashful.  Shy of somebody I hadn’t even met?  Hadn’t even seen, actually.   There I was standing fumbling with a plastic bag, and wanting to look at the face which belonged to the presence.  Not to mention the body. Had to do something.  So I did the only thing a girl could do.  I put some distance in.  I moved over to the brocolli.  And casually looked around.

I nearly fell into the brocolli box.  By that time he was fumbling with the potatoes, so I casually moved back to them, trying to think of something to say.  Usually words are the one thing that don’t let me down, usually I have so many of them that I’m hard put to choose which ones to select, but this time?  Nothing.  Nada.  So much for an entertaining, humorous conversation.  So much for the movies.  Frozen in time I hoped for the floor to open up so that I could sink through to China.   Then he came up with the most original line I’ve ever heard in my life.  “You wouldn’t want to take some of these potatoes home with you, would you?”

I dared myself to look him in the eye.  Still nothing witty came to mind.  You’d think I’d at least be able to say “nope” with just the right kind of detached, sophisticated humour, but forget it.  So casting wit aside, I said the only thing a girl could say.  I said plain “no”.  No humour, no smile, no nothing, may the gods forgive me.

Meanwhile I’m thinking “Yes!  Yes! Yes!”

Notwithstanding my totally uninspired contribution to this budding conversation, he kept it up, bless his stalwart soul.  “I have to say that the vegetables at this store can be pretty bad sometimes, can’t they?”  He picked up an admittedly very rotten-impoverished looking blob of vegetable matter trying skulkingly to pass as lettuce.

I still couldn’t think of a thing to say.  Nada.  Nothing.  What was wrong with me?  In retrospect I could write a best-seller full of intelligent and entertaining responses.  Any of which would have ended up surely in dinner and dancing and romantic walk along the beach.  Right.

Then a funny thing happened.  There was a pause between us.  Time slowed down and my heart sank as I saw that it was the gap for the Primo Victim Mission Statement Parts I and II.  “Don’t” I said to him under my breath, which is to say, silently, for my ears alone.  “Don’t say but what can you do.  If you say it I’ll throw this rotten potato at you.”  Sotto voce (in an undertone), or senza voce (without voice), to be literal.  In short I didn’t make a sound.  I just stared at him hostilely.  He, however, grinned, opened his mouth and said – “Well, you just have to keep on telling the management. You gotta do something about it.”

Right answer.  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  I was so blown away with the pleasure of that empowered response that all I could do was nod my head and stare at him with visible pleasure, and I hope I did it with visible wit.

Hmm.  Stepping out of history?  Well actually yes.  It’s ages since any kind of man presence made my heart beat so fast and turned me into a gibbering idiot – at least into what would have been a gibbering idiot if I’d been able to gibber.  Thank heavens for small mercies.

Damn.  I’ve just remembered, I forgot to buy potatoes.

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