Here, it’s everyone for himself. You have to get here first, get in front of all the others, wait for your enemy to make a mistake. If some thoughtless idiot happens to feel the need to go to the bathroom, that’s too bad, he risks losing his place in the queue. That’s why people are so impatient. They stare at each other. They try to guess what each person has come for. It’s a war of nerves. At the same time, we might force a smile, we are still civilized human beings. But deep down, it’s Darwin’s theory to the power of ten.
The old lady opposite does not take her eyes off me. The kid on my left is coughing. I’m cornered. He might have flu, gastroenteritis or chickenpox, the bastard. My head is spinning. I’m having difficulty swallowing. I must focus on something. Quickly. I hesitate to pick up a magazine. Firstly, because I don’t know who’s touched it before me. Then, because the only choice is either a magazine about animals or a celebrity magazine with the princess of Sweden on the cover. Having said that, it’s a good way of hiding, disguising what you’re up to. I grab a random publication and start observing my competitors discreetly while pretending to be absorbed in my reading. I am a little tense but not too bad. The doctor is about to arrive.
The kid coughs again. I edge away. Hasn’t his mother taught him to put his hand over his mouth? I start to blink nervously. I clear my throat to show my disapproval, at the same time as I give an involuntary exaggerated shrug in the style of Nicolas Sarkozy. I have a sore throat. My head is spinning. I feel hot. I ought to wash my hands. With all these viruses all over the place. No, it’s too risky.
Next to me, the mother and her child are reading a Noddy story. I don’t know who wrote it, but at this precise moment I think the author needs brain surgery. I glance to my left. The young mother is still reading her stupid story about the boy scout with the jingle bell. The child seems entranced, that’s good, he’s not coughing anymore. As well as my back, my head is now itching. It’s the kid. He must have fleas. I shift further away, clearing my throat.
The old lady is staring at me intently. She is clutching a large envelope. “I’ll just pop in first to leave my x-ray with the doctor, it won’t take a minute.” She tries to get this past me. I’m having none of it. If you make a move, I’ll tackle you. I really will. Gosh, that’s funny, it seems to be getting hotter and hotter.
A deep blink of the eyes.
But the nastiest one is that other one over there. I’ve seen him, with his briefcase and his tacky suit. Another pharmaceutical salesman. It’s just a trick to get my place. He might have fleas as well. I cough. Not a good sign, I must be coming down with something not very good. The guy looks at me. I hold up the magazine to hide my face. They might all be in it together. They’re all after me. Who knows? Suddenly, I itch everywhere. It’s time now. The doctor is coming. Don’t be sick. Going to have to force my way through. I want to be first.
The back of my neck cracks, my toes clench.
That’s when I notice that my magazine is upside down. My bat on the cover has its head at the top. Those dirty creatures are always trouble. Breeding-grounds for disease. I’ve read about that. At that moment ‘Briefcase Man’ decides to rummage in his belongings. If he brings out his Ebola phial or a sample of H5N1, I’ll knock him to the ground and make him swallow it. I prepare to make the leap. I signal discreetly to the mother and child to tell them to lie down on the ground. I am in charge of the situation.
A wink, a movement of the shoulder, a few little coughs, a scratch of the head, the cracking of knuckles.
Then I roll up my magazine to use as a bat, while trying to keep control of my head which feels like an Exorcist rerun. It is not easy. I fall off my chair. Then I look at the old lady, opening my eyes as wide as I can to reassure her. Before I get up, I take care to wipe the dribbles from the corner of my mouth. Everybody is looking at me. I have been spotted.
At that moment the doctor comes in and recognises me. He looks neither surprised nor particularly pleased. When he sees the terror on the faces of the other people, he decides to see me before everyone else. Hooray…
Don’t shake his hand. No. Especially not him. He must be in cahoots with them.
Translated by Wendy Cross