The pharmacist looked at me suspiciously and I felt compelled to embellish. ''It's a particularly bad cold - more like flu, really. I feel quite dreadful.''After a lengthy sizing up, during which I dutifully sneezed, sniffled and coughed, she reluctantly placed a small packet of tablets on the counter. I could tell she still didn't fully trust me with them though, because then she said, ''May I see your driver's licence?''
Really? I need a driver's licence to buy a packet of cold tablets? What's next? A polygraph test?
Pharmacist: Why do you want to buy cold and flu tablets?
Me (wired up): I have a bad cold. My nose is stuffy and I feel feverish.
Pharmacist (looking smug): Oh, is that so? Well, would you mind explaining to me then why the sensors just detected increased perspiration?
I should have quit while I was ahead, taken the contraband and run, but something made me press on and ask, ''Also, do you have a sugar-free lozenge that will help my cough?''
Well that did it. From the pharmacist's stupefied expression, you'd think I had asked for a lozenge that would give me a sex change. Thinking a joke might help lighten proceedings, I quipped, ''I need something to suck at bridge - other than my card play!''
She sighed and marched around to the front of the counter. She was clearly befuddled, and not a little put out by my request. ''A lozenge …?''
''Ah, yes. If it's not too much trouble.''
''A cough …?''
''Well I have this tickle, you see,'' I cleared my throat delicately to demonstrate.
She stood grimly before the vast array of medicated lozenges and I could tell it was hopeless. I had set her an unsolvable conundrum. It was like watching a fly hurling itself endlessly at a pane of glass, right next to an open window. She pulled out, examined and put back box after box, then gave up and passed me a pack of Soothers with extra honey.
''Um … sugar-free, if possible,'' I mumbled apologetically, and threw in a few extra coughs for good measure.
Finally, she grabbed the last packet on the end of the shelf and handed it to me in resignation. ''This is the best I can do.''
I glanced at the front of the box: Sugar-free cough lozenges. ''Thank you,'' I rasped. "You've been most helpful.