A large lady, getting on, but with still enough life in her to work, with a big forehead, over which hung straggles of hair, looked in equal parts, vacant, mesmerized, puzzled and sweaty. She had the brightest of red lipstick smeared over her thin lips, and she moved gently from one foot to another, anxiously, looking at the mess of papers and prescriptions in front of her.
A rather smooth, intelligent and nonchalant Bengali man, dressed in a grey suit, appeared from the back of the chemist and explained what needed doing. There was a pause whilst the lady comprehended the instruction, and the man, as if doubting the women’s capacity for comprehension, first advised, ‘other way round’ and then qualified, ‘put the leaflets the other way around’.
Once the cowed and silently spoken man disappeared, a conversation ensued at the back of the chemist, within sight of the customers, between a young lady, dressed in a single black robe, with hijab and a balding bespectacled man, bulky but small. They are packaging orders and processing papers, labels and invoices.
The woman at the back of the shop lightheartedly reignites a conversation with the woman at the front, about a bag she was planning on buying. The woman launches into a narrative, a softly spoken, and very honest, slightly naïve account, about how she has been looking at a range of bags, including one for ten pounds, one for twenty pounds and one for ninety, an Amani one, she stresses.
The mention of a designer brand fires the bespectacled man, a passionate, forthright and sincere fellow, into asking, as if the lady is being doubted again, ‘Armani?’ He laughs, and tells the woman, ‘I was shock when you said Armani’ and after some seconds thought, he heaves himself up off his stool, and goes to the front counter, where the woman is processing a customer’s prescription. ‘Listen he said, if you want to get something like Armani or any of those fashion brands tell me, and I’ll get you it when I next go to Bangladesh’.
He coughed, and changed tact, ‘You know’, he said, ‘there are bags here for sale, like Armani, that cost £200, £300. You know how much it costs in Bangladesh, twenty pounds. It’s because that’s where they make these things. Its just a piece of leather really.’
The lady stopped and pondered what she had been told, ‘That’s because its slave labour’ she opined, grist to the man’s argument, who becoming more rigid, lifted his chest half a centimeter further into the air, ‘Because the rich, they don’t care’ he impassioned, ‘they just charge what they bloody want’ he said, turning to and beseeching a response from the customer, whose prescription the lady was seeing to.
“That’s right” added the Bengali man, said, answering for the nonplussed customer, “They just do what they bloody want.”
He turned around, and started to walk back to his stool, whilst the lady, pondering both the mess of prescriptions in front of her, and the current conversation, started muttering something, which turned into another message to the customer, and said, “Its terrible, what they do in some of those countries”.
The Bengali man, back on his stool, in the packing room, returned to his original proposition, “But anyway, like I said, if you want, I can get you one of those bags, twenty pounds”.
“Well” said the lady, leaving the counter, shuffling back to the backroom, “I could always do with a spare bag”.