World Consumer Rights Day
Marianna held her baby close to her chest as she walked to the pharmacy counter at the back. The wrapped blanket kept little Devon as warm as could be expected during this harsh, continuous snowstorm. Chill wind reached even here, blasting through cracks in the storefront windows.
The man in the pharmacy coat didn’t greet her as she approached. Marianna cleared her throat twice, but he continued tapping at his computer keypad. It wasn’t until Devon let out a shrill cry that the man finally paused and looked up, annoyed.
Well, the baby couldn’t help making noise. He was sick and suffering. That’s why they were here!
Back when the televisions still worked, newscasters had warned everyone to stay inside, but when Marianna and her boy both got sick, she needed to venture out. Besides, their home was only a short distance from the town square. The journey through unplowed snow had been arduous. Marianna wore heavy boots, and followed in other travelers’ footsteps to ease the passage.
The main supermarket was closed. Peering in, Marianna had seen overturned and ransacked shelves. To her relief a tiny family-run pharmacy, one she’d never bothered to visit before, had lights on, the rattle of a power generator sounding a welcome-call.
Now that she’d made it into the store and to the back counter, she didn’t feel so welcome. The man stared at her and the bundled child without speaking. The nametag above the pocket of his white jacket identified him as “Marty.”
No attempt at a pleasant greeting. She would have thought the family-run store would offer better customer service, to compete with the lower prices and better selection at the Mega-Mart across the square. She flushed warm at the way he treated her — or possibly that was warmth from her fever, and the exertion of walking through rough weather.
“I need medicine.” Marianna coughed to emphasize the point. “My baby and I both need medicine.” Little Devon let out another shrill cry.
The man stared at her again. He was about the same age and build as her husband, who had gone out last week and not returned.
Then Marty reached over the counter towards her, towards the bundle in her arms, lifting the blanket for a clear view of the baby’s face. Devon kept crying.
Now was the time for a pharmacist to make his suggestion. They often considered themselves amateur doctors, loved to share wisdom gained from experience rather than a medical degree.
The man withdrew his hand, letting the corner of blanket flap rudely over Devon’s tiny, reddened face.
Perhaps Marty was mute, and Marianna would have known that fact if she’d shopped here previously. But he was making no other effort to communicate, other than his rude, staring eyes.
“We need the antibiotics,” Marianna said. “The kind that works with — ”
“Too expensive,” the pharmacist said, cutting her off. He went back to his computer, typing frantic letters on the keypad, then swiping his finger at the monitor screen.
Was she dismissed? Marianna couldn’t believe it. She had to have some recourse. “Look, maybe you won’t take insurance, but I have money. You can’t treat customers this way. We have rights.” Another wave of anger washed over her. In Mega-Mart, this was the moment she would have demanded to speak to the manager.
“The baby,” he said.
“Yes,” Marianna responded, “the baby’s sick. He might die if he doesn’t get help. I could die, too.”
“The baby is the payment.” The pharmacist stopped typing, then held both arms over the counter, palms upward. “Leave the child, and I’ll give enough medicine to help you live.”
No, Marianna thought, shaking her head. A heavy storm, a serious outbreak of illness, but she’d been telling herself it was only temporary. Civilization can’t have fallen this far, this fast.
“You’re not Marty,” she said. “This isn’t your store.”
The man shrugged, his arms still out. “It’s up to you.”
Marianna passed the baby over the counter, waited for the pharmacist to plink plastic-coated tablets into a small container.
Outside, the falling snow covered her footprints, obscuring her path toward home.