I am hesitant to go into the pub today. Not because it’s illegal, but there is a crème coloured 1985 Mercedes 300D parked behind the pine tree. This means the devil is inside; that’s what we call Dr De Villiers. You don’t know whether you will encounter the good doctor with the charming bedside manner or the violent, bipolar bully. The problem is, most of the time, you can never be sure which it is, so it’s best to always keep a social distance.
I do the secret knock. Jan opens the door, wielding a spray bottle like a Glock 9mm: “Sanitise before entering!” he commands. He’s decked out in camo pants, his welder’s gloves and a balaclava. Pssst! Pssst! My hands smell funny. It must be strong stuff because my eyes are watering. “Sorry Comrade,” Jan says, “But this is a battle we all have to fight together.” “Viva,” I mumble and sidestep past him.
Doctor devil has taken office in the centre of the counter, sampling a Corona with a sparkle in his eye. “How are you doing, darling?” he asks and orders some drinks: “Two Bheki Celes for me and a Fake News for the lady please.”
“Watsegoed?” I ask. “Two shooters and a Castle Free,” the barman explains.
I give thanks and report that I am fever-free and thus fine. “Au contraire, my diagnosis is that everybody has Corona fever in this shebeen,” says De Villiers. “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to them.” He points to Jan: “Now Boetie over there was nie border toe nie like the rest of us. Dodged the draft. It’s something he has been deeply ashamed of his whole life. Suddenly, he is a soldier in a World War, and he’s put himself in the frontline. Sad Sack in real life, Captain Corona in a time of crisis.”
Jan is lurching around the pub, clumsily trying to salute with the plastic bottle in his one hand while asking for a donation with the other.
“He looks very intoxicated for a person who cannot afford to buy booze,” I say. “Well, some people like their alcohol with a splash of tonic,” observes the doctor, “Jan prefers his 70% alcohol with a 0.5% splash of Chlorhexidine.”
“He’s been dopping the hand sanitiser?” I gasp, “Then what is he spraying on our hands?” I smell again and recognise the aroma of Domestos rim block. I guess if it “Kills all known germs dead, even in the nastiest of places” it will work in one of the nastiest places in Germiston.
“You know this little virus is not just a force majeure for insurance companies,” Doc muses: “It’s an opt-out clause for many people. For once, everything is a catastrophe; your health, your business, those goals you never achieved – but this time, you have nothing to do with it. People are wiping the slate clean with breathtaking herd impunity. It gives them meaning. Purpose. Once in a lifetime opportunity.” I don’t want to agree with the guy, so I say nothing.
Billy interrupts the silence with a wet gurgling cough and a heavy sigh.
She’s sitting in her usual place in the corner, drinking beer through a straw and smoking her Camel plains through holes she’s cut in her mask. She says she’s terrified she’s caught the virus. The doctor reassures her: “Billy, as your GP, here’s the good news – you almost definitely do not have Covid-19. You are dying of cancer, sweetheart. With diabetes competing for a close second, caused by a life of hard-drinking smoking and eating rubbish. You are old, it’s the circle of life, my dear.” He walks over to her and consoles her by showing her a packet of tablets. “Do you want these? Proven to fight Covid-19?” Billy reaches for the pills, but the doctor pulls it away. His eyes flash dark and true: “I’ll have to charge a levy sweetheart, this stuff is not available over the counter. I’ll just add it to the loan you have with me, cheers?”
Billy nods her head and swallows a tablet immediately. “Thank you, doctor.”
“What’s in the tablets?” I ask. The Doc approaches, squeezes me firmly on the shoulder and answers: “Hope. It works better than anything else I have ever prescribed. Trust me, I’m a doctor.”
The barman switches the TV on. The president is about to make another speech. Between the devil’s medicine and a politician’s promises, I wonder which placebo will be the tougher pill to swallow.
Copyright © 2020 www.noseweek.co.za